I was traveling the past couple of days, or I would have been all over this story. As it stands, I certainly won’t be the first one to make this point.
You may know that Barack Obama recently suggested that if all Americans kept their tires properly inflated and their cars correctly maintained, this would save as much oil as we could get from new drilling. Here he is making these comments, courtesy of YouTube. Obama’s critics (and his political opponent) jumped all over this, and are having a field day with it, suggesting that this is Obama’s energy plan, that he said “that’s all we need to do”, or “this will make us energy independent.” That’s not what he said. Time has already weighed in with a definitive rebuttal:
The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right.
I thought the issue had probably passed, but apparently not. I am presently in the Netherlands, and during my visits here I have a roommate who is very conservative. This morning, he was listening to Fox News, and I overheard Sean Hannity ask “How on earth is keeping your tires inflated going to reduce dependence on foreign oil?” As someone who has long advocated this as a way to reduce gasoline consumption, I had a hard time believing that Hannity had asked that question. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that under-inflated tires alone waste about 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline a year. To put that in perspective, that’s 28 million barrels of gasoline a year, worth over $3 billion that we won’t send out of the country for foreign oil purchases.
Of course I mentioned this to my roommate. I said “You know, Obama is correct about that.” My roommate then said that he has a device in his tires that enables his tire pressure to be monitored remotely. He said – completely tongue in cheek – that we should require this on all new vehicles and have someone in the government monitoring everyone’s tire pressure to make sure they were properly inflated. If not, fine them $25 for being unpatriotic and supporting foreign dictators with their unnecessary gasoline purchases.
Whether it’s a good idea to get government involved in monitoring our tire pressure is beside the point. The bottom line is that the suggestion that this would reduce our dependence on foreign oil is correct. While I have criticisms of some aspects of Obama’s energy plans (McCain’s as well; his gas-tax holiday is a joke) – and I believe he is definitely pandering on this windfall profits issue – his comments here are on the mark.
Further, I have a real problem with people who would ridicule someone for suggesting that we conserve. This sends the wrong message that this is not a serious issue. Our energy problems aren’t going to be completely solved by increasing supplies (drilling our way to independence) or by conservation. It’s going to require both. Let’s keep that in mind, and not suggest that conservation won’t have an important role to play.