11 ways to reduce your oil use

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – the Buddha

Updated 8 August 2010

Chris Guillebeau’s recent article on the huge disparity between rich and poor in Equatorial Guinea triggered a small earthquake in my world.  It’s good to be shaken out of one’s self-centeredness every once in awhile, don’t you think?

Chris points out that people in many African countries “are poor not because they are meant to be poor, they like being poor, or because they’ve done anything wrong.”  Rather, he says they, “…are poor because of a lack of opportunities, and a system of corruption that discourages savings and investment. To put it more simply, a few people have a lot of money, and most people have almost no money.”

As it turns out, it’s all about oil.  Chris tells us, “Countries that have oil or other natural resources, like Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, or Sudan, end up with large pockets of the population that are completely left behind. Meanwhile, countries without a lot of natural resources (Botswana is the most frequently cited) tend to do much better in terms of reducing absolute poverty and providing healthcare for their citizens.”

Taking personal responsibility

Now whether you agree with the precise details of Chris’ assessment or not, oil is still an underlying thread along with greed.  I was further struck by a single remark among the 48 responses, which was offered by Terry: “All of us who consume oil are complicit in the oppression of others.”

It can often be a knee-jerk reaction to get mad about corruption and injustice; it’s often harder to see one’s own piece in the puzzle.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s important to hold people, corporations, and governments accountable for their actions.  Nevertheless, pumping up one’s own frustration and aggression is not generally an effective solution.  Anger and it’s associated emotions alienate others, and can also be harmful to your own health and wellbeing.

Spurred on by this article, I decided to re-look at my own levels of oil consumption and invite you to do the same.  In the wake of disastrous oil spill in the Gulf you too may be reconsidering the wisdom of an oil-based lifestyle.  Petroleum derived products are all-pervasive in our culture. To help you out, I’ve compiled a short list of ways to reduce oil dependence.

11 ways to reduce oil consumption

Since 71%  of oil goes to transportation—transporting ourselves and the goods and foods we purchase, there’s no question that a radical reduction in driving and travel are required to effectively reduce oil dependence.  The greatest gains will come from reducing our own driving and flying as well as the transportation of the goods that we purchase.

1. Change your vehicle use patterns.  Use your car a lot less or not at all.  Walk, bike, use public transportation. If it’s necessary to use a car, be sure to have a fuel-efficient vehicle or car pool.  Aggregate your trips, so there’s one weekly shopping trip, for example, instead of 4 or 5.  Reconsider and reduce travel by air.

2. Buy products that are produced locally, instead of one’s that require transportation from a distance.  In the same vein, buy vegetables and fruits in season instead of one’s that are imported from another country.

3. Buy used products instead of new ones, which will reduce oil use both in production and transportation.  Craig’s list, garage sales, and classified ads are good resources for used items.  Often, you can find items that are almost brand new.

4. Reduce the use of plastic, a petroleum derived product.  Reusable shopping bags are a great first step, but we can all probably do much more to reduce plastic consumption.  To stimulate your thinking, Beth at Fake Plastic Fish gives you 60 different ways you could decline plastic in your life.  If you gradually work your way through the list over the next 1-2 years, you will make a huge dent in your plastic purchases.  As Beth points out, sadly, “Our oceans are filling up with plastic: plastic that harms wildlife and never biodegrades; plastic that enters the food chain and leaches toxic chemicals.”   I’ve reduced my use of plastic considerably but, looking at Beth’s list, I see there’s much more that I could do.  How about you?

5. Buy natural fiber clothing instead of polyester, nylon, and other forms of synthetic, petroleum derived clothing.  Natural fibers include cotton, hemp, silk, linen, rayon, wool, ramie, and tencel.  Naturally, organic is a better choice, since pesticides are unhealthy and may also contain chemicals sourced from petroleum, although it’s not an affordable option for everyone.  It has also been pointed out that silk and wool are not necessarily the best options since their manufacturing process involves cruelty to animals.

6. Discontinue the use of perfume and scented products. 95% of the chemicals in most perfume are derived from petrochemicals.  Likewise, avoid products that contain synthetic fragrance and scents like personal care products (deodorants, lotions, hair spray, etc.), laundry detergent, dryer sheets, candles, air fresheners, scented cleaning products, and so on.  In addition to reducing your petroleum consumption, fragrance-free living reduces the health risks associated with the use of fragrance.  It is also an act of compassion, helping to create safer environments for people with allergies, asthma, and chemical sensitivity, who are triggered by the chemicals contained in fragrance.

7. Use soy based inks instead of the standard petroleum-based ones.

8. Forgo wall-to-wall carpeting, which is typically loaded with synthetic fibers, not to mention the backing.

9. Regular crayons are a petroleum derived product.  Beeswax crayons have been suggested as an alternative, but it’s been pointed out by vegans that these are an animal derived product.  Any suggestions?

10. Use alternatives to petroleum-based building and remodeling materials.

11. Turn down the heat.

Ubiquitous petroleum

In case you have any doubts about the degree to which petroleum has entered every nook and cranny of your life, take a look at the following list  of “things that get their start from oil and natural gas.”  This list is from the 2 page pamphlet called “There’s a lot of life in oil and natural gas,” which you can download as a PDF file from the American Petroleum Institute’s website.

  • “Aircraft
  • Antihistamines
  • Antiseptics
  • Aspirin
  • Baloons
  • Bandages
  • Blenders
  • Cameras
  • Candies
  • Carpet
  • CD’s
  • Cellphones
  • Clothing
  • Computers
  • Containers
  • Crayons
  • Dentures
  • Deodorant
  • Diapers
  • Digital Clocks
  • Dinnerware
  • DVD’s
  • Dyes
  • Eyeglasses
  • Frames
  • Fertilizers
  • Food Preservatives
  • Food
  • Storage Bags
  • Footballs
  • Foul Weather Gear
  • Furniture
  • Garbage Bags
  • Glue
  • Golf Balls
  • Hair Dryers
  • Hang Gliders
  • Heart Valve Replacements
  • House Paint
  • Infant Seats
  • Ink
  • Insecticides
  • Life Jackets
  • Lipstick
  • Luggage
  • Medical Equipment
  • Nylon Rope
  • Pacemakers
  • Pantyhose
  • Patio Screens
  • Perfumes
  • Photographic Film
  • Photographs
  • Piano Keys
  • Roller Blades
  • Roofing
  • Safety Glass
  • Shampoo
  • Shaving Cream
  • Shower Curtains
  • Slippers
  • Soft Contact Lenses
  • Strollers
  • Sunglasses
  • Surfboards
  • Surgical Equipment
  • Syringes
  • Telephones
  • Tents
  • Toothpaste
  • Toys
  • Umbrellas
  • Vitamin Capsules
  • and a whole lot more.”

The very nature of life is interdependence.  Any step you take—large or small—toward reducing your personal consumption of oil is a positive step for the people of Equatorial Guinea and for the entire world.  It will also help to avert future oil spills.

I would love to hear the steps you are taking to reduce your consumption of oil, and any new ideas you can add to the list of possibilities.

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks very much, Sandra

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25 thoughts on “11 ways to reduce your oil use

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Reducing your oil use « Always Well Within -- Topsy.com

  2. Thanks Sandra for an evocative and timely post, full of useful tips.

    I thought I was already well up on reducing my consumption of oil based products but after reading your article, I still have some way to go.

    I have already cut down on my car usage to the absolute minimum and now to tackle other areas in my life:-)

    Thanks again.

    • Arvind, I am very inspired by your commitment to a better world and your upbeat approach. It’s wonderful to see a personal development approach that goes beyond focus on the self alone. I wish you continuing success. Congratulations on cutting down your car usage to an absolute minimum. That’s fantastic. About reducing oil consumption further, I came to the same conclusion – I have aways to go too. We can move forward together! Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.

  3. It’s incredible how many things oil has found its way into! If someone is able to do it, I think the easiest option is to simply develop a minimalistic lifestyle. That way, even if you are forced to use something that includes oil (computers for example), you will be able to make up for that by your lack of other things (I travel the world and live with around 25 things).

    • Raam Dev, Thanks so much for your visit. It IS mind-boggling to see how many products contain oil! In the West, our lives are almost inextricably linked with oil, so much so that we don’t even notice or know. But we can change this and I am heartened by the level of awareness that is blossoming thanks to the internet in particular. I so much appreciated the point you made in your last article from India about poverty, sustainability, and abundane, encouraging everyone to share whatever abundance they have,
      —whether it be money, materials goods, love, wisdom, positivity, and so on. That gave me a more holistic slant on abundance. Wishing you well in your travels.

  4. Sandra,

    These are wonderful suggestions. Many of us who are living in western countries have no idea how hard situation can be in other part of the world, and we can do lot of things to help, first being less of consumer of oil and gas is a great start. Maybe driving a less, using AC less and so on.

    I like you site here, thanks for stopping by at my blog, because of that I got to know your great blog here.

    • Hi Zen Girl, Thanks for your comment and your kind words. I appreciate your journey to find harmony between heart and mind and your wish to help others do so too. Wishing you all the goodness in the world.

  5. I thought I was making a good effort to reduce petrochemicals in my life, but after reading this post, I see there is so much more I can do. Thank you for pointing out many more opportunities to make my life and the world more healthy.

    Kathleen

    • Hi Kathleen, I had the same thoughts when I started to investigate this more. I’m so happy to share what I’ve learned with you and others. I’m planning to have a fun, no-stress exploration, as I learn and make more changes. Warm wishes to you.

  6. Thanks for a thoughtful post on this issue.

    I’ve been working to reduce our use of plastics in particular, and to become more localised in the things we use, over the past few years. It’s great to get new, fresh perspectives on these issues.

    • Welcome Leanne. Thanks for stopping by. I am so thrilled by your journey to a more peaceful and simple life and your goal of creating a permaculture paradise! The most fantastic thing about blogging is seeing people like you changing the world by living the change they wish to see. I’m so glad to meet you. I saw your article on cutting out the plastic wrap, excellent! Best wishes to you. Now I’m going to go out and put my hands in the dirt.

  7. Pingback: Toxic Food Packaging Labels :: Fake Plastic Fish | Live Life With Less Plastic

  8. Thank you so much for writing this. It is so important that people realize how much petroleum is in our day to day lives. It is my mission to get rid of as much of it as possible, and according to your list I’m doing a good job. : )

    • Whitney, Congratulations on doing such a great job getting rid of the petroleum products! I would love to follow your path and become vegan so much. At the moment, most vegetables and fruit make me ill. Looking forward to healing enough so I can eat more veggies again! Thanks so much for your shining example of living eco-vegan. Your comment is very much appreciated.

  9. Kim, I am so glad you left your comment, which happened to go into the spam queue. When I was removing it from the spam filter, the comment got inadvertently permanently deleted and I could not retrieve it.

    I APOLOGIZE. You left a very valid comment and I truly wanted to share it with all my readers. I will paraphrase your comment as best I can and apologize if I repeat anything incorrectly.

    Kim said she appreciated this list of ways to reduce oil consumption but she has a problem with some of the suggestions like the use of beeswax, silk, and cotton, which result to cruelty to animals in the process. Kim provided several links with more information on the topic. Kim, if you read this, I would be grateful if you could provide those links again.

    I’m really glad you raised this point. I had an unwell feeling when I typed in “silk” because I know the silkworms are killed in the process of manufacturing silk.

    I’m grateful you raised this point. I think this is also an important issue to consider. I find this a tricky issue though. Being vegan does not make anyone exempt from killing or cruelty if you consider all the thousands of insects that are killed when the rice fields are flooded, when you water any plant for that matter, or when you walk on the ground to harvest plants. It’s virtually impossible to stay alive and not partake in killing/cruelty in one form or another. I’ve read of some yogis who only drink milk because they consider it is the only freely given food. I agree that it’s honorable to minimize killing and cruelty in any ways we can. So I’m glad you raised this point.

    Thanks very much for your comment.

  10. Pingback: Gulf Oil Spill: We Said the Night Was Full of Zombies :: Fake Plastic Fish | Live Life With Less Plastic

  11. A comprehensive list like this one is so great in that a reader can take action – immediately. When we take action, we feel power, and when we feel power, we have hope.
    Thanks Sandra for a thoughtful, useful and relevant post, and thanks for turning us on to Beth’s Fake Plastic Fish site.

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  13. Thanks for this helpful list! It’s true that oil is in all sorts of things. I have been reusing plastics for years, which seemed like I was avoiding adding new plastics to the waste stream. Now I am trying to cut down a lot because of the health issues. Unfortunately, my husband loves plastic bags!

    • Hi Jennifer, You definitely seem ahead of the curve on curbing plastic! I appreciate the steps you are taking. I don’t have a total solution to the plastic bag issue. I use reusable cloth bags for shopping and have a stock of plastic bags that I reuse for produce. I find it hard to cut out plastic entirely when it comes to trash, so I use recycled trash bags. I will need to hop over to Fake Plastic Fish one day to see her solution for trash. Evidently, paper is not necessarily a good alternative because it uses a lot of resources in its production as well. Every step is definitely a step forward.

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  15. Hi Sandra,
    It would seem to me since 71% of oil is consumed with transportation wouldn’t it be a lot easy if we all began right there? Hubs wanted to buy me an new car, WANTED BADLY to buy me a new car about a month ago. I didn’t budge. Don’t want or need one. Bless his big heart…sometimes I think I drive him crazy;)

    Our new home is also in the city so we’ll use his car less. Also we have hardwood floors throughout but something tells me there’s oil in those somewhere!

    I went to the other website but I find some of her tips very very impractical. For example unless one is buying very little produce it’s not very practical to put it all in a cloth bag. What are you suppose to do sort it all out in piles at the check out when it’s weighed?

    Then she says to buy food in season. What kind of fruits and veggies is one suppose to buy in the winter time in the Midwest? Oh I won’t even think frozen because that comes in plastic lined boxes or plastic bags. What’s a person to do…go without those months?

    Again I’ll stick to only one car…a Prius. (My beetle is refusing to die so until it does we really have two cars)

    About cutting down airline travel…then what…we’re just suppose to not see family that live in other areas of the country? We’re not suppose to explore other cultures. Seriously I’d like your thoughts on this.

    My daughter works as a flight attendant for Southwest so we do fly free standby. However we are filling up a seat , on the other hand the plane is heavier because we are on it and then it’s using more gas is my guess. What would all the people who work for the airlines do for jobs? If we want to take these things away I hope someone is making a plan to create other areas of employment.

    Anyway thanks for letting me rant. Tess xoxo

    • Hi Tess,

      You always ask good questions that challenge us.

      You’re right – the best place is starting with reducing our driving. My solution with the plastic bags is that I just have my own stash that I reuse and I bring them with me to the grocery store each time. I would sometimes forget in the beginning, but now I remember almost all the time. About fruit in season in the Winter – how about apples and root vegetables. There are a number of cultures in the world that only eat small amounts of fruit contrary to popular opinion about it. Many health advocates also believe in eating according to the seasons as being better for your health. The book Staying Healthy with the Seasons by Eldon Haas comes to mind and this is also a theme in Macrobiotics.

      The question of flying is a challenging one. We each need to look at our own situation and make our own decisions. Some of us may decide to see family less often. My concern is this: if we don’t make significant changes now, there may be no planet for our children and grandchildren or it may be quite a horrible one. So although it’s hard to make these choices now, we also need to consider them in light of the future.

      I don’t think there are any easy answers or the same answers for everyone, but I think we can all agree on taking some action. I want to write more about this soon on my blog.

      A big hug.

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