The US Energy Information Agency recently released data that our country’s implied oil demand was at its lowest point since 1996 this past September. The total was 2.6 million barrels per day (Mbd) below last year’s level, a drop of more than 10%! While some of September’s reduction is clearly attributable to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, they also signify an intense and enduring drop in US oil use.
Since most carbon emissions goals are framed in relation to 1990 levels, I would like to frame our oil consumption in those terms as well. September oil demand was only 7.8% above 1990 levels. So, for us to achieve 1990 oil demand levels by 2020, we would only need to reduce our oil use .65% per year (~.11 Mbd/year). But we would have to reduce natural gas and coal demand levels to 1990 levels as well, for 1990 level oil consumption to do the trick. And since we have ample domestic supplies of coal and natural gas through 2020, we might want to reduce their consumption levels at a slower rate than for foreign oil. If so, we could plan to reduce oil demand toward 1985 levels — which would translate into another 1.5 Mbd cut in demand that is achievable through a 1.4% per year demand reduction.
The likelihood of plateau world oil production by 2015-2020 may make us want to reduce oil consumption faster. But either way, it is nice to know that we are within striking distance of 1990 levels for oil demand and thus greenhouse gas emissions. These rough economic times will be difficult for most of us in the short-term. But they may help us get closer to necessary societal changes for the long-term prosperity of our Earth and all of us dependent on its health. We just have to support the efficiency and renewable energy industries that can get us growing in the right direction whenever economic recovery is able to emerge.