Preliminary data from the US Energy Information Administration suggests that total oil consumption in the United States fell by about 1.5 percent last year—meaning that the country as a whole used about as much oil in 2012 as it did in 1994.
But meanwhile, the nation’s population grew by 19 percent. And falling consumption coupled with a rising population has led to a striking decline in per capita consumption. Just take a look…
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Don’t you dare attribute that trend just to “the recession.” No siree: the sharp decline in per capita oil consumption started in roughly 2004, when the economy seemed to be humming along quite nicely. That’s when oil prices started rising sharply—leading industries and consumers to start looking in earnest for ways to cut back on consumption. Some of the oil cutbacks came from fuel switching, particularly from oil to natural gas. But much of the cutback came from plain old conservation: driving a bit less, boosting energy efficiency in homes and businesses, and so forth. The recession certainly added to the trend, but didn’t start it.
I take all this as pretty good news. In many ways, we live a lot better than we did back in 1960—but as the data shows, it’s not because we’re using more oil.