Gas Consumption: California vs. China, India

According to Wired (via Manish), recent stats show that gas and diesel usage as transportattion fuel in the state of California was 20 billions gallons in 2006, an increase of more than 50 percent over the past 20 years. 20 billion gallons a year is more than the usage of the entire nations of China or India:

Given all the news coverage about the rise of the Chinese economy, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world’s most populous country is hogging all the world’s resources, while the developed nations are fighting for scraps.

But, at least with transportation fuel, you’d be wrong. California alone uses more gasoline than any country in the world (except the US as a whole, of course). That means California’s 20 billion gallon gasoline and diesel habit is greater than China’s! (Or Russia’s. Or India’s. Or Brazil’s. Or Germany’s.) (link)

It’s a remarkable statistic. The first question that jumps out is, of course, why do Californians need to drive so much? The number comes from a recent report issued by California itself (PDF here), and the report mentions some of the key reasons for the jump in consumption: more population, more cars, low fuel prices (until recently), lack of public transportation, lack of fuel alternatives, the absence of effective CAFE standards, and consumers’ preference for large, gas-guzzling vehicles. I would also add that California is a warm state, which means people like to gun the A.C., many areas have high speed limits, and most towns are designed so that you can’t really walk anywhere.

The second issue raised by the statistic is a familiar one — developing nations are sometimes blamed for challenging the comfortable life-style of the United States (for instance, see this post), when in fact the U.S. needs to start by looking in the mirror.

Which leads me to a related complaint. Environmentally-minded Americans have traditionally been particularly anxious about “overpopulation” in the third world (some of my students have said things like this to me, and not long ago I had an unpleasant conversation with a colleague along the lines of “India == Overpopulation”). Population growth is indeed a serious concern in big countries like India and China, but the number one culprit from the perspective of environmental degradation has for decades been the industrialized world. Arguably, the greatest immediate danger to the global environment is not overpopulation, but careless overconsumption.

45 thoughts on “Gas Consumption: California vs. China, India

  1. not surprising, considering the current president and his father have both declined to make americans change their “way of life” vis-a-vis energy. i also do think the lack of public transportation (in some areas), as noted above, coupled with increasing wealth means that 1. some people really do ‘need’ (relatively) cars b/c they don’t have reliable public transportation and 2. even those who don’t need them just want them, esp. because it is somewhat of a status symbol. conversely, even in countries where population is high. cars are still a luxury that are out of hand for the vast majority of the population.

    i recently read a great edition of india today (“spirit of india: 50 pioneers of change”, july 7, 2008) which highlighted various indians, including many who have created fuel-efficient or otherwise green projects – i highly recommend.

  2. “careless overconsumption” – very true! I see that around me ALL the time! I can’t quite understand why people do not switch off their AC when they leave the apartment for the day and come back only in the evening! I can’t understand why, in summer, the AC is set to around 66-68 deg F, while in winter, the heater is set to 70 deg F+! I can’t understand why people buy a huge SUV or a van when they have one tiny baby! (well, isn’t it cheaper to buy strollers that fit in your car than to change the car itself?!). I can’t understand why people allow the water to run all through the time they brush their teeth! I can’t understand why people need hot water in the house even in summer, when it is 90+ outside! Looks like finally, the land of abundance is beginning to learn that some frugality while using up precious resources will make sense in the long run!

  3. why people buy a huge SUV or a van when they have one tiny baby!

    heh heh. amardeep. kiddan? :-) )

  4. not surprising, considering the current president and his father have both declined to make americans change their “way of life” vis-a-vis energy.

    Bush whack much. I guess Bill Clinton was all over the airwaves proselytizing the benefits of a 1000 sq.ft. home and better mileage cars. One way to improve mileage (w/o getting a new car) is driving 60 on the interstate. Almost a 20% increase in mileage.

  5. amaun – Except the tailgaters won’t spare you even in the slow lanes in California. But yeah, saw the 55mph stat somewhere in tips to get max mileage.

  6. “greatest immediate danger to the global environment is not overpopulation, but careless overconsumption.”

    sardar, kanakku varala ? your limsoup less than his soup na, pinna yeppdi ? paaru, x=ky. ( chindia pop approx k times us pop. k itself about 7 today, but growing linearly. ) if we consume 1 unit oil, gas, anything, they only need to grossly underconsume just a tad over a seventh of our consumption to beat us. say you turn on your lights 14 hours a day ( sleep for 10 hrs ). then indian needs to turn on just for 2 hours, he will beat your consumption. what with powercuts etc, indian is already doing that. imagine as powercuts fade away, chindia improves, they beat you i n s t a n t l y. once k grows beyond a point, you’ll never catch up. because end of the day, only 24 hours , how long can you turn on the lights ?

  7. High gas prices are the single best “cure” (if you will) for too much gas consumption. I suppose many will blame Bush&Co for this too.

  8. Ahhnold’s idea of conservation is having his hummers converted to hydrogen. California is largely style over substance. California Uber Alles.

  9. High gas prices are the single best “cure” (if you will) for too much gas consumption. I suppose many will blame Bush&Co for this too.

    True, the market has had a tremendoes impact with small cars replacing SUVs as category leaders within a year. But I do get the feeling that the govts, including Dems, have been fiddling to keep oil cheap over the past few decades. We would be further ahead on the alternative source/conservation curve if we were faced with the crisis 10 years back

  10. 7 · vinod said

    I suppose many will blame Bush&Co for this too.

    I know how nice of him to rack up the deficit and plough a trillion dollars into Iraq, while intervening to bail out Wall Street: all brilliant examples of making the market work.

  11. Everything is too damn far in CA.

    I compare my 80 yo father in the desh – he walks to market, post office, rickshaw stand (AHA!), laundry MY 60 yo neighbor on a fixed income in CA – normal health, but everything is at least half a mile away. This is the problem. You can talk about bikes and Prius but they all sound faddish for regular folk with regular aches and pains.

  12. High gas prices are the single best “cure” (if you will) for too much gas consumption. I suppose many will blame Bush&Co for this too.

    Every war in the middle east causes the gas prices to go up. Bush administration knew that, but they thought that this was going to be a cake walk so initially there will be a spike and then we would be good. Didnt turn out that way. ISnt that Bush’s fault. Notice that ExxonMobile made $40 billion in profit (that is pure profit mind you) since more than 2 years. There is wealth transfer that has occured during the disastrous presidency of Bush. Wealth going from the poor to the few very rich.

  13. Let the invisible hand jerk you off

    LOL!

    That said…

    I know how nice of him to rack up the deficit and plough a trillion dollars into Iraq, while intervening to bail out Wall Street: all brilliant examples of making the market work.

    That only accounts for the dollar’s depreciation. Oil prices have gone up even in real terms. The reason for that seems to be that we are not finding enough of it. We have basically consumed stuff we found between the 50s and the 80s.

    Those poor chindians are in just as much trouble as we are.

  14. We have run out of OIL. It got over. We consumed it on 2 years. In 2002 there was no problem and OIL was trading at 22, but in the following years we finished it off. The demand from India and China is the culprit. The demand went so much high in the last 2 years that a 700% increase in price is justified (nevermind that fact that Americans, the biggest OIL users in the world, cut down driving for the first time in 24 years).

  15. Bush whack much. I guess Bill Clinton was all over the airwaves proselytizing the benefits of a 1000 sq.ft. home and better mileage cars. One way to improve mileage (w/o getting a new car) is driving 60 on the interstate. Almost a 20% increase in mileage.

    i was just pointing out a blatant statement reflecting a view by the current administration that there is no need to change overconsumptive ways – which is particularly important in light of the current war, esp. as it relates currently to inflation and gas consumption/prices. this is not to say that other presidents were such vociferous proponents of less consumption – but it’s not the smartest statement to make in light of the current situation.

    But I do get the feeling that the govts, including Dems, have been fiddling to keep oil cheap over the past few decades. We would be further ahead on the alternative source/conservation curve if we were faced with the crisis 10 years back

    i agree. we have been extremely lucky re gas prices relative to the rest of the world, and now we are much more on par.

  16. MY 60 yo neighbor on a fixed income in CA – normal health, but everything is at least half a mile away. This is the problem.

    i sorta agree. i’m a city guy myself and only keep a car around because of weekend trips into the jungle to hunt cheeta and bison. even in desh though, things are pretty shitty. ever tried commuting in gurgaon or bangalore. if gaumataji does not al gore you then an 18 yr old in a scorpio will.

  17. 5 · Gigi said

    amaun – Except the tailgaters won’t spare you even in the slow lanes in California.

    This is very true! If you are going less than 80 in the fast lane you better move over or prepared to be tailgated.

    Part of the reason gas consumption is so high in CA besides the fact that things are so far apart and spread out is the distance many people drive to get to work everyday.

    BART is great if you live in the east bay and need to get the city. But if you want to get to the south bay or peninsula for work and you live in the east bay you are SOL! Even if you live in the south bay or peninsula, caltrain is not as frequent or convenient as bart is to get to SF.

    I live in the east bay and my client this week is on the peninsula. I take 7 highways to get here, it’s ridiculous. Lucky for me, I’m only doing this for a week. But for others, they have no choice, because they can only afford housing much further than where they actually work. Housing affordability is huge issue in general in CA, but very acute in the greater bay area.

    I have to say though that I’m seeing a lot fewer SUVs on the road. And it’s very rare when i see a Hummer anymore whereas a few years ago, they were all over the place. I have to laugh when I see people driving those, especially the brand new ones with no plates yet. What kind of dumba$$ buys a car like that with gas prices the way they are and the kind of mileage they get? I mean, just to go pick up grocercies could cost you $10 round trip! There are also A LOT of hybrid vehicles on the road, much more than I’ve seen in other parts of the US.

    What can I say? We californians love our cars and will never give them up. Sadly, it’s my sanctuary at times. After a long day of dealing with a client, I sometimes enjoy the ride home, in silence, no radio, just the slow crawl of traffic and my thoughts to keep me company…

    But californians are ahead of their time in some ways. Or at least those of us in the bay area. Casual carpool has been in place for over 15 years and works very effectively for the commuters and the drivers. I have never heard of something like that in place anywhere else, correct me if i’m wrong?!?

  18. Arguably, the greatest immediate danger to the global environment is not overpopulation, but careless overconsumption

    .

    Telegraph: The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.” He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock

  19. 7 · vinod said

    High gas prices are the single best “cure” (if you will) for too much gas consumption

    Actually I second this. Hybrids/plug-ins will help US to switch from gasoline. And if Democrats come to power we may as well see some renewed push towards many unconventional forms of energy sources. So there is nothing much to worry for the rich countries atleast with respect to transportation. Technology will help them. It is going to be disastrous for overpopulated developing countries as they try to mimic the rich countries in consumption as they grow.

  20. Forget Bushes and Clinton. At least they dont go about preaching something and doing something else. How about AL Gore. I have never understood the logic of the greens supporting AL gore – with his 10000 sqft house and all that. Physician heal thyself….

    It is going to be disastrous for overpopulated developing countries as they try to mimic the rich countries in consumption as they grow.

    why is it going to be disastrous…..

  21. Gore’s house is also his office, it’s completely understandable given all his advocacy work and staff.

  22. California alone uses more gasoline than any country in the world (except the US as a whole, of course). That means California’s 20 billion gallon gasoline and diesel habit is greater than China’s! (Or Russia’s. Or India’s. Or Brazil’s. Or Germany’s.)

    Another measure of America’s disproportionate consumption of energy is its use of electricity:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_consumption

    Global Average: 297

    America: 1460

    Japan: 868

    EU: 700

    South Africa: 581

    China: 248

    India: 50

    Bangladesh: 16

    Afghanistan: 3

  23. I think the figures also include all the trucking that’s done in California. California has a massive economy and there is a huge amount of trucks that go around the State transporting food, animals, meat, other products, etc. A lot of people also come here for vacations and then rent cars; that may add up to the massive fuel usage. Ultimately, people that live here are going to have to start biking around more often and buying more fuel efficient vehicles.

  24. Of course. People blame China for polluting its rivers and air, but where do the goods that cause the pollution get consumed? In Europe and the US. The US merely outsources its pollution, but that desnt work any more because the world has become too small.

  25. But overpopulation is also a major problem because it leads to rapid deforestation and pressure on the land for food and habitation. As the excess of population gets more consumerist, disaster looms large on the horizon. India needs to get serious about population control.

  26. I have to laugh when I see people driving those, especially the brand new ones with no plates yet. What kind of dumba$$ buys a car like that with gas prices the way they are and the kind of mileage they get?

    I laugh every time I visit SoCal. What kind of dumbass would buy a 3000 sqft home with a lawn and a pool in the desert. The cost of maintaining it must be draining their retirement fund. Oh and insuring it must be a bundle since there is always the danger that some dumbass could start a fire inadvertently.

  27. I am not surprised at all! Infact I have always been highlighting this fact to other Desis who feel like India is oh so environmentally unsafe and American air is oh so cleaner and healthier. Indians in India have always been using “GREEN” products for decades. For Example, My grandparents/parents always carried jute bags when going grocery shopping. We always used steel containers/glasses as opposed to plastic. Never threw empty containers but always found a way to reuse them. Always used water sparingly since it was always a scarcity. And I would be yelled at if I ever kept the fan ON and left the room. My grandma used to make beautiful bags out of old clothes. Never used paper napkins, but always carried a handkerchief. I remember as a kid, My mom used to pin a tiny napkin on the front of my school uniform. And this was the norm in almost all middle class households we knew. My parents did this not because they could not afford to throw away a plastic container, but the “why throw away a perfectly usable thing” or “why waste” tendency was so ingrained in them that they never thought anything of it. I am so proud and happy today that this is what is ingrained in me too!! The “use and throw” tendency is just not going to work!! I agree it is convenient, but we cannot use the excuse of convenience to pollute this beautiful planet.

  28. good post. But in the quoted passage, it seems to be only talking about “transportation fuel,” which then seems more obvious (china doesn’t have as many private cars, indians use alot of bikes and low gas stuff), but what about overall burnt fossil fuels?

  29. I have always been highlighting this fact to other Desis who feel like India is oh so environmentally unsafe and American air is oh so cleaner and healthier.

    Have you seen how filthy the Ganges is? Or the pollution in Delhi?

  30. Have you seen how filthy the Ganges is? Or the pollution in Delhi?

    Did you run out of footballer names like Kaka and Pele? What about the Vyasa-Prema-Dev-Deva-thons? Or are you following instructions from Dear Leader to duck and hide?

  31. Indians in India have always been using “GREEN” products for decades. For Example, My grandparents/parents always carried jute bags when going grocery shopping. We always used steel containers/glasses as opposed to plastic. Never threw empty containers but always found a way to reuse them. Always used water sparingly since it was always a scarcity.

    Yes, I’ve definitely noticed this too – But it seems with the increase of commercial products in India, there’s going to be an increase in plastic bags and an increase in pollution. How this compares to the number of plastic items thrown away in the US is probably negligent, but I hope the everyday Indian will start becoming more aware of the pollution in their country b/c it will only help our country – and this is a ABD speaking – I still feel very tied to India.

    There was an news article on NPR on cows in INdia dying and the reason was b/c they were eating too many plastic bags that were being thrown away:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91310904

  32. Indians in India have always been using “GREEN” products for decades. For Example, My grandparents/parents always carried jute bags when going grocery shopping.

    it’s not because of any grand plan old chapstick. the country’s damn poor. you see urchins sitting by the side of the road with magnets to pick up bits of loose metal that they eventually sell to scrap yard dealers. in an environment like that, when there’s a price to everything – people just hoard their scrap so they can make the pocketchange through scrap sales. there’s much to be proud of in desh – but frugality isnt the same as illuminated temperance. thus spake khoof toruntoowalle*.

    *the hindi dark comedy ‘jaane bhi do yaaro’ has this pungent line that progress is measured in how much one wastes, ‘thoda khao thoda phenko’ [eat a little, waste a little]. desh has come a long way in that respect.

    ** much as i adore my city -hug hug kiss kiss- i do hang my head at our collective profligacy. so rest assured, i share the blame.

    imagine 35,000 hulking African elephants barrelling down Yonge St., and you’ll come close to picturing the quantity of food we throw out each year in Toronto alone. That’s more than 210 million kilograms of food. Most of it edible. Much of it still in its original packaging.
  33. Infact I have always been highlighting this fact to other Desis who feel like India is oh so environmentally unsafe and American air is oh so cleaner and healthier. Indians in India have always been using “GREEN” products for decades.

    Yes, desis have always been using reusable grocery bags. In fact, they don’t even have to leave a carbon footprint to get groceries! The vegebatle-wallah with his hand push cart will come right to your door everyday.

    And what about the dudh-wallah? He will ride up on his bicycle, you take your vasun out and he measures out the daily amount. No industrial dairies with industrial waste by getting your milk that way.

    If you go out to the streets early in the morning you will see groups of families who make their living from picking up recycleable items like bottles and plastics off the streets and selling them to a processor.

    My cousin has always said that recycling has alawys been around in India, because everyone is too cheap to throw anything away OR someone else will find some other use for it.

  34. 28 · sunshine said

    ndians in India have always been using “GREEN” products for decades. For Example, My grandparents/parents always carried jute bags when going grocery shopping. We always used steel containers/glasses as opposed to plastic. Never threw empty containers but always found a way to reuse them. Always used water sparingly since it was always a scarcity.

    Vandana Shiva’s book Water Wars starts off with a great anecdote. She takes a train (to Rajasthan, I believe) and is overwhelmed by the number of discarded water bottles littering the train tracks, stations, cars, streets–they’re everywhere. Plastic that won’t decompose for a long time. She contrasts that to the “jal mandirs” where community members gave free water to thirsty passersby in little clay pots that could be smashed (and returned to the earth) after use. (Actually, the preface to that book is available here–pages ix-x.)

    I love eating off of banana leaves or out of those “disposable” bowls made of pressed leaves.

  35. And what about the dudh-wallah? He will ride up on his bicycle, you take your vasun out and he measures out the daily amount.

    I beg your pardon. He does WHAT with your vasum?

  36. it’s hard to waste in the desh because the trash doesn’t go anywhere – if it can’t be eaten by crows or sold by scavengers, it will sit there and stare at you for days. hardly related: when i was a little amreekan girl visiting my grandmother’s village, i had a Chunky bar hidden in my suitcase (i was a hoarder). one day i looked outside the window and i saw a Chunky wrapper lying on the ground. somebody stole my Chunky!! short of digging a hole to bury it, there was really no way of hiding the wrapper anyway. never helped me find the culprit, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Newman

  37. I used to tease my grandmother for saving stuff like the bit of string a box might be tied with. I thought she was cheap, but now, looking at the Mad Max kind of scenarios that might lie ahead of us, I think she’s wise and strive to be more like her.

  38. Reminds me of Talab Vobgon where all the behenjis recycle all the bhaiyas milk their own cows and the bachchen never need plastic slippers.

  39. Conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham claims that Indians & Chinese peeps are using their autorikshaws (however you spell it) in greater numbers, and thus, we have high gas prices.

  40. I love eating off of banana leaves or out of those “disposable” bowls made of pressed leaves

    so do I. Northern Australia has lots of banana leaves – no one has figured out to make $$ out of those leaves. Yet.

    The “Green” of the West is mostly hypocrisy. Just talk. Bah and I dont have time for them. Vandana Shiva on the other hand ….sometimes I disagree with her positions but she does not annoy me as much as Al Gore or Bob Brown.

  41. I am surprised nobody has made any political hay out of this. If I were a politician I certainly would be taking Pelosi and Reed to task…especially Granny Pelosi. I guess Californians are just culturally and morally superior beings that hold some kind of sacred high ground….like elves or something. “Let the lower entities such as the Texans and the Okies and the Alaskans drill for oil. Ignore the billions of cubic feet of natural gas off our coastlines and the hundreds of millions of barrels of oil (proven and suspected) out there. We need our Pacific vistas. Let the rest of the U.S.A. eat cake”. It makes me want to convert my S.U.V. to run on baby seals :)

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