How to cut American oil use in half in 20 years

Older, gas guzzlers are lined up for scrapping as part of the popular "cash for clunkers" program at a lot in Torrance, Calif.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Union of Concerned Scientists has figured out how Americans can cut their oil consumption in half within 20 years.

Sound impossible?

Not really, according to scientists and engineers who have done calculations for us non-math majors.

It all boils down to making a few choices to conserve and deploying existing technology or technology already in the pipeline, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, best known in the 1970s and 1980s for warning us off the nuclear arms race.


With the threat of global nuclear annihilation in decline, the nonprofit science advocacy group has retooled to offer us well-studied advice on how to survive other global challenges. That’s where its focus on climate change comes in, including its new campaign, Half the Oil plan.

It’s got a new video to show the United States not exactly how to kick the oil habitat, but to help us better manage it. The first step was taken in August, when President Obama decided to double fuel economy standards for the U.S. fleet of cars and light trucks, average 54.5 gallons by 2024.

“It was a monumental achievement,” said UCS spokesman Eric Bontrager, putting us “right on track to halving our oil consumption in 20 years.”

Other needed steps, he said, are raising fuel-efficiency standards for commercial trucks, expanding production of biofuels and electric vehicles, retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and being smarter about other forms of transportation including trains, planes and ships.

The union has broken its plan into steps, showing how each step can save a million barrels a day here and a million barrels a day there. Expect resistance, the group warns. It urges Americans to stay the course, resurrecting Rosie the Riveter as its cultural icon. In the new drawing, she looks much more modern and has -- these are scientists, right? -- oversized safety glasses.