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July 01, 2011

Let's Think Differently and Move Beyond Oil

Americans will fill their tanks with at least 400 million gallons of gasoline today as we prepare for Independence Day weekend. Don't know about you, but the family and I will be in the redwoods in Northern California. Because so many of us will head to mountains, lakes, oceans, and other beautiful landscapes to celebrate our nation’s independence, I must assume that we want to protect the natural world. But to do that, we need to adjust our collective thinking about how we get from point A to point B. We’re going to have to recognize that it's time to move beyond oil as a transportation fuel.

Here are two recent examples of how thinking differently can powerfully and positively affect policies that will safeguard our nation and our planet. The Obama administration is preparing to set fuel-efficiency standards for car fleets produced from 2017 through 2025. The final decision will be announced in September, but word is that the administration has put a number on the table (56.2 mpg) that they think "splits the difference" between the wishes of automakers and environmentalists.

OK, stop right there. Think differently. This is the most important step we can take to move beyond oil. Let's forget about "special interests" for once and do what's best for our country. Yes, consumers will actually save money, but it's the overall benefits to our country from breaking our oil addiction that are even greater. There’s no difference to split. We can achieve more than 60 mpg standard and go well beyond by 2025. Let's invest in America and do it. (The Sierra Club's got a fun way to send that message to Obama, too.)

Here's another way to think differently about the challenge of moving beyond oil. In addition to getting more mileage out of our cars, we can invest in getting more mileage outside of our cars. About 60 million of the 400 million gallons of gas we buy today will be used for trips of less than one mile. Talk about low-hanging fruit! We would save millions of gallons a day just by making it easier for people to walk or bike more of those trips. So why not invest in things like sidewalks, bike lanes, bicycle/pedestrian bridges, bike/transit connections, and secure bicycle parking?

Well, in some places, we have been, and the results in cities like Portland, Minneapolis, and San Francisco are impressive. (Anyone who thinks adding bike lanes won't increase the number of bicycle commuters hasn't seen San Francisco's Market Street at rush hour lately.)

And yet some naysayers are still stuck in old ways of thinking. When modest funds for bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure were included in the 2009 economic stimulus bill, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina tried to introduce an amendment that would specifically have prohibited spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects. Of course, the senator and everyone in his party have been enthusiastic supporters of extending tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans.

Time to think differently. Sure, encouraging bicycling and walking makes our cities and communities more livable. Yes, there are significant health benefits. And there are those millions of gallons of gas we could save. But, according to at least two different studies, it also turns out that stimulus money spent on cycling and pedestrian infrastructure creates significantly more jobs than that spent on highway projects. Score another one for clean-energy solutions.

This weekend, Americans will be celebrating the birth of our nation.  Let's honor those revolutionaries of days gone by and build the best America we can dream -- the one where we are free to spend less money on gas and more time outside our cars.



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Michael Brune

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