June 22, 2008
How Are You Adapting To High Oil Prices?

In a post on The Oil Drum entitled Have we passed "Peak Travel"? a commenter named WNC Observer made note of a development in how big recreational vehicles are getting used.

RR & Airdale: I'll tell you where all the RVs have gone - they have been parked at RV campgrounds. People pay the campgrounds a small fee to park their RVs there year round, then they drive up in a more fuel efficient car to vacation there. The RV becomes inexpensive "home base" lodging, and they can tour the area during the day in their car.

That's an interesting observation. It leads me to a question for all of you: What adaptations to high energy prices do you see happening around you? I see some people getting Vespas. Even former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bought a Vespa LXV 150. I also see a few more people walking to work and more bicycling to work as well.

Watching autotrader.com I've seen big increases in the prices of compact cars and declines in the prices of SUVs. Obviously people are bidding up the prices of smaller and more fuel efficient cars.

So what changes do you see around you? What have you done to adapt to higher oil prices? What ideas have you seriously entertained and what do you plan to do in the future as a result of high oil and gasoline prices?

Update: About 20 hours after I wrote this post the comments I've gotten so far suggest that prices will have to go much higher to put a significant dent in gasoline consumption. I suspect my average reader is smarter and more affluent than the average American. So they are more able to pay the higher prices. But so far most people are doing little to adjust and planning little more to cut their liquid fuel consumption. Part of the decline in gasoline consumption is driven by the economic downturn decreasing income since lower income reduces gasoline consumption:

DOE economists estimate that a 1% decline in personal income results in a 0.5% drop in gasoline demand.
Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 June 22 08:33 PM  Energy Conservation

K said at June 22, 2008 9:25 PM:

Pretty simple. I used a little less. Pumped up the tires, drove a little slower, tweaked the thermostat, and sweated. I already used fluorescent lamp bulbs. And I am gradually changing to LEDs.

Those changes make no economic sense, but do no harm, and are mostly for amusement. I began to do laundry around midnight instead of at my convenience.

I drive 1000 miles per year and use little electricity. I don't pay the surcharge for solar/wind electricity (I think it is $.05/kwh) because I draw power from a nearby nuclear plant and believe America should expand nuclear if we really intend to improve matters.

Better insulation, starting with double or triple paned windows, and solar water heating will be my next steps. The water heating can't save much power but I can put in recirculation at the same time so that I no longer run cold shower water down the drain. I can't see a good way to capture the gray water for use on my lawn.

My neighbors lawns are still mostly a beautiful green but that is changing. I have desert plants in sand, rock, and gravel (xeriscape?). And if I didn't I would convert right now.

My guess is that most families can cut 10-20% in consumption before facing major change and hurt.

Randall Parker said at June 22, 2008 9:36 PM:

K, suppose gasoline hits $6 per gallon and that heating oil does as well. Suppose natural gas doubles in price. What would you do that you are not doing now? What would you cease to do?

1000 miles per year: I am similar. In fact, for the last 2 months I have walked (about 1.2 miles) to work. On several occasions I've gotten rides while part way to work when co-workers recognized me and pulled over and offered a lift.

Walking: I like the walk home better than the walk to work. On the way home I can unwind. But in the morning on the way to work I feel impatient to get started working.

K said at June 23, 2008 12:05 AM:

Well if gas hits $6 I will pay $6. My profile doesn't tell you much about the typical American.

Everything I do many can do. That often be harder because I am have the time and enough money to be unconcerned. And consume so little anyway.

Getting a Prius would cut my gas usage from about 80 g/year to 50. The savings wouldn't buy the new license plates even if they gave me the car.

Perhaps I will buy a 2010 or 2011 EV or plug-in hybrid. Many models will be available then. I will never break even on the purchase. This year I walked more often to nearby stores before the temperatures hit 100 F. Walking is practical roughly 8 months per year here, nine if you go before 9 A.M. The problem for many is the extra time walking takes.

And I could do what a lot of people will be doing soon; combining shopping trips with neighbors or ride with my daughter who lives across the street. Where I grew up in a small town that was absolutely routine before 1950. Many still lacked cars.

I walked five miles to my first real job, one to elementary school, two to high school. That produces a different outlook. But it can't be done today, no way in hell will parents permit it. Nor should they in most cases. My grandchildren walk about a half mile on quiet residential streets but only in groups of three or more. They hate trudging home on hot afternoons. On the other hand, it is a blessing there are no diesel school buses stinking and roaring past our homes.

Inside my daughter's home the changes have been lights off (kids have never seen a light or TV they don't want on), making sure the dishwasher is full, upgrading the washer and drier (substantial savings of water and power). Next year their AC will be upgraded and more efficient and the remaining windows will be at least double pane.

Small changes to my house have the most potential. Many houses out here are now built with small windows high on the wall. It cuts AC a lot but the lighting remains fine. Few windows are ever opened in some climes. Expect to see more screened in porches, an almost forgotten pleasure, as AC took over everywhere.

IMO nothing, no how, from the government or utilities or oil companies is going to improve the energy situation in months and maybe years. People can improve it for themselves but they will have less to spend on other things. Maybe cable will go, or only the premium channels, gym memberships and iced mocha, library use will rise, fewer books and magazines will be bought, bottled water no more, less for clothing, ornate Halloween costumes and indulgent birthday parties will be rarer, and the endless variety of new electronic gizmo purchased less often and more carefully.

I am not discussing the truly poor. The near future seems dismal for them. But most of us are not truly poor or even remotely so by world standards. Affluence has been so great for so long that many have never thought about what is vital and what can go. And beyond that, some cannot grasp austerity; their mind is comatose at the prospect in much the same manner that hysterical blindness nullifies sight or disuse atrophies muscle.

Brett Bellmore said at June 23, 2008 4:17 AM:

Got new tires, mostly because I needed them. The only real effect at this point has been that I take more care to consolidate errands.

jb said at June 23, 2008 5:09 AM:

We consolidate some trips. I have a long commute, and I practice some of the easier and less obnoxious hyper-miling techniques. My wife is starting to talk about buying a more fuel-efficient third car for around-town driving.

Ned said at June 23, 2008 6:17 AM:

As the cost of heating oil and gas continues to rise, i wonder if we will see more wind turbines installed on homes (and maybe business as well)?

Dragon Horse said at June 23, 2008 7:55 AM:

I've done nothing. I take the train to work like I always do and the price has not increased in synch with gas prices, in fact it went up once in the last 2 or 3 years. Since I primarily drive on the weekend (my wife takes the train as well during the week day commute) the amount of gas we buy per month has increased (yes per month, as we fill up the tank only once a month unless we are taking a trip somewhere far out)...uhm it went up about $15...then again we have one car and it is a Toyota Corolla...good gas mileage. I feel sorry for folks with those SUVs. :-)

Brock said at June 23, 2008 8:27 AM:

Very little, personally. I already drive a Honda Civic with a manual transmission, so the fuel efficiency is already quite good. It's not worth buying a whole new car to save 5 mpg. Technically I could take a bike to work, but since my time at work is worth $100/hour (to me - quite a bit more to my employer), that wouldn't save me anything. My wife continues to take the train in to work, as she always has.

On the home front I rent, so I don't have control over insulation, choice of appliances, etc. There is little I could do even if I wanted to.

I think it's silly how far prices have gone up on fuel efficient cars. You'll need to drive a Geo Metro for many years at current prices to pay back the recent premium run-ups.

aaron said at June 23, 2008 10:58 AM:

Most people are responding by driving worse.

Fuel consumption is only down .3% April 2008/April 2007.

James Bowery said at June 23, 2008 11:49 AM:

Thanks to recent H-1b visa "restrictions" (if you want to call them that) I'm more likely to find software consulting over the internet.

I'm therefore relocating to fly-over country in the heart of the agricultural breadbasket -- to a location with relatively high median income to median house price ratio, anticipating increasing economic localization of material needs and a socioeconomic collapse of areas with high immigration hence low median income to median price ratio.

KevinM said at June 23, 2008 1:39 PM:

we've switched work hours from 5x8 to 4x10 - half of the company takes off Mondays, the other Fridays.

Randall Parker said at June 23, 2008 6:04 PM:


Yes, prices on fuel efficient used cars have gone up more than the gas savings possible at current oil prices. But some of the people buying them are higher mileage drivers. We are seeing a swapping of vehicles between low and high mileage drivers to get the most efficient vehicles into the hands of higher mileage drivers.

Since GM and Ford made decisions aimed at higher oil prices 2 years ago we will see more efficient vehicles 2 years from now. For example, the next Ford Focus will have direction injection in each cylinder and 6 speed automatic transmission. Also, the Germans are coming with diesels which still cut fuel costs even with the premium on diesel.


THe US population grows 1% per year. So the amount that each individual has adjusted is much larger than the amount that fuel consumption has decreased. The changes in May, June, July, will be even bigger as people have time to adjust. The changes next year and following years will be even bigger still as the vehicle fleet gets more efficient.

James Bowery,

My advice: move to a place near a rail station where some unloading and loading gets down. It'll lower your cost of goods. Also, consider heating and air conditioning costs.


You describe the biggest adjustment already of anyone in this thread so far (aside from James Bowery who hasn't moved yet and so I'm not counting him).

I know two guys in my town whose company is just now going to 5x9 4x9 for alternative weeks. Then next year the company goes 4x10 each weeks.


Like you I already use so little fuel that there's not a lot I can do to cut back. My main concern is job security.

David Govett said at June 23, 2008 6:16 PM:

I work at home, so you guys can enjoy the gas I don't use.

Paul F. Dietz said at June 24, 2008 7:23 AM:

K, suppose gasoline hits $6 per gallon and that heating oil does as well. Suppose natural gas doubles in price. What would you do that you are not doing now?

Many people would find it economical to switch to electric resistive heating for their homes if this were to happen. Unless the price of electricity also jumped, of course.

The economic case for domestic solar heat would also become more compelling, both for space heating and water heating.

What I am doing now is cutting out non-essential driving, and also optimizing my driving profile for efficiency. Low acceleration, driving during times of low congestion, attempting to drive so that I don't have to brake, and turning off the engine at red lights when that is feasible. I'm keeping the tires overinflated, within reason, and not running the vehicle AC unless really necessary. When it's time to replace the car I hope to get plug-in or other similarly fuel efficient vehicle; a 'one person' car for commuting is a real possibility, such as those treated-as-motorcycle three wheel vehicles.

aaron said at June 24, 2008 9:17 AM:

I've already considered that. The 1% population increase should lead to a little more congestion and more starts, but that still doesn't quite explain the large difference. I'd be interesting to see the population growth, miles driven, and gas consumption all next to eachother for the past several years. Perhaps the tipping point we've reached is the capacity of our infastructure. Maybe that 1% growth is happening primarily in already congested areas.

Paul F, Dietz said at June 24, 2008 9:31 AM:

In the face of rising energy prices, it's interesting to look at the price of another energy resource: uranium.

The spot market price of uranium has declined by about 50% this year (depending on where you get your numbers). New supply is ramping up, and some people are predicting a uranium glut within a few years.

It's not surprising that nearly 400 new commercial power nuclear reactors are under construction, in planning, or being proposed around the world.

Nick G said at June 24, 2008 11:39 AM:


There's a good chance the data is simply inaccurate. Never forget the likelihood for minor random variance.

"Less efficient fuel mixtures may be being used; ... We've known for awhile now that accelerating faster is more fuel efficient"

I'm not clear on this. First, I understand high-octane fuel to not really help (see wikipedia article below). Is this what you were referring to? The article mentions acceleration at full-throttle being more efficient, but then suggests low acceleration. Could you give more info (you might want to enter it into the article, while you're at it)?


K said at June 24, 2008 12:08 PM:

Paul: I have always been pro-nukes. That 400 reveals something. Something not all that good for the US.

As a rule of thumb the US is perhaps 20% of the worlds economy*. We have no nuclear plants under construction and 20 - 30 applications pending.

If present totals indicate 400 are in various stages then the US is doing 0 percent building and well over five percent of the talking about building.

* Expect objections to every number. No matter, they are roughly right and good enough for the big picture.

aaron said at June 24, 2008 12:11 PM:

The reformulation may be something like E85. After E15, the burn rate is too fast for the engine to capture the energy effectively. I don't know whether reformulated is generally better or worse.

The wiki article is a garbled mess for sure. I think the point they are making is that accelerating gently prevents over accelerating. If you open up the throttle without paying attention to what's in front of you, you'll end up having to use the brake and then accelerate again to get back up to speed (wasting fuel).

Paul F. Dietz said at June 24, 2008 12:27 PM:

About half of that 400 are proposals, not approved or under construction, and a fair number of those are in the US.

There's a definite change in the air, driven by a convergence of factors, including escalating natural gas prices, instability of NG supply in Europe, concern about CO2 emissions and future regulation/taxation thereof, and understanding of the limits of wind and other renewables (although continuing to drive those down their experience curves is also a good idea.) It's good to see that even with all this, the uranium price bubble could not be sustained.

K said at June 24, 2008 12:45 PM:

aaron, Nick. The idea of accelerating briskly is to get into the highest gear soon. There is a catch.

Automatic transmissions will stay in a lower gear longer when the driver is demanding maximum acceleration. Some automatics have an 'economy' and 'sport' mode to allow a driver a little control over the shift curve. Newer automatics allow the driver to shift into any gear.

To accelerate at just the right rate you would have to study the specs of the car. Forget that. Stay under 65. And if your driving habit is to brake sharply you are not driving economically.

Re: the national statistics. I suspect the miles driven figure is not accurate. That would explain why it disagrees with actual fuel sold. Miles driven is an estimate, fuel sold is a measure.

aaron said at June 24, 2008 1:36 PM:

If you stay under peak torque, you should be fine. For most passanger cars and gears it's usually around 4000RPM, easily avoidable. For trucks it's usually closer to 2500.

Brett Bellmore said at June 24, 2008 7:09 PM:

Of course, if they're putting more ethanol in the gasoline, we're going to see some worsening of MPG; It's got a lower energy content per unit volume, after all! As that link said, "Less efficient fuel mixtures may be being used"

Ron said at June 27, 2008 7:59 PM:

I work closely with Big Oil. A man from Shell told me he thinks oil prices will never go down. There's plenty of oil here, oh yes...however, it gets more difficult to get them out of the ground. Discovery is one thing, production is another. There is an estimated 11 million barrels a day increase in refining capacity in the next 3 to 5 years. While these companies try to tap these resources with new technology, its interesting to see that demand for oil is also going down. People don't want to spend that much on gas at the pump anymore, and as a result, its pure economics 101 in play. Prices at the pump are falling, and pump owners are hardly getting any good margins. I think these stations are just simply going to shut down.

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