A little more than a year ago, the Deepwater Horizon exploded, spilling 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That much oil is hard to wrap your head around. It's obviously enough to power your car for an astronomical number of trips to the store, but how much oil is it really? This video explains exactly what we could have used that oil for, instead of killing pelicans and dolphins:
At our current levels of use, nearly half would have gone to those trips to the store: 94 million gallons of it would have been made into gasoline. That's a lot of polluting cross country trips (see above).
Another 37 million gallons would be for diesel fuel, and then 16 million for jet fuel. In short, we use a lot of fuel getting around. Want to use less oil, find better ways to do that, or stop those trips? All that oil that would end up vaporized as 1.6 million tons carbon emissions, and another chunk would have made 20,000 tons of plastic (that's enough to fill the Empire State building with milk jugs).
Three-quarters of that plastic wouldn't be recycled, and a lot of that unrecycled plastic ends up in the ocean. Turns out, we would have used that oil to kill pelicans and dolphins, its just a question of what form the oil is we would have used to do it. You could argue that the oil spill simply cut out the middle man. And as much oil as it looks like we poured into the Gulf, it's a tiny drop of all the oil flowing around the world and doing horrible damage to the environment in various other permutations. In the U.S. alone, we churn through 205 million gallons in less than seven hours.
Once the video has done such an excellent job putting into perspective how truly massive our addiction to oil is, so much that it could destroy the Gulf with just seven hours worth of our consumption, it makes the awful mistake of trying to tell us how to make a difference, and doing it in the most insipid way possible. Suggesting using a thermos instead of bottled water and limiting your trips to the store make the same mistake An Inconvenient Truth did by suggesting that we change our light bulbs.
In the face of these massive problems, those actions are a mere drop in the bucket. Sure, using a water bottle instead of bottled water will cut down on a tiny amount of plastic, and if we did that en masse, water bottle companies would start producing less as demand declined. But oil has become so essential to the very fabric of our society, its going to take more than the actions of committed individuals to pry us lose — we need action from governments and game changing technological innovation to do that.
On the other hand, using a thermos and limiting your trips to the store will save you money and make you feel good about yourself. Isn't that enough?