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.