9 Things You Can Do About the Gulf Oil SpillAs BP continues to struggle to contain the oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, many of us are wondering: how can we help?

We can all take steps to reduce our oil consumption, which we believe is a critical part of the long-term solution to preventing future catastrophes. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels starts with one person, one household at a time.

Save How You Get There

A humbling 80% of petroleum consumed in the United States goes toward transportation. Time to take a bike!

  1. Get Efficient – Trade in your gas guzzler for a smaller, more efficient vehicle. Switching from a light-duty SUV that runs at 20mpg to a 50mpg hybrid will save, in the average household, 450 gallons of gasoline a year.

    Soon, electric cars like the Chevy Volt will be available, providing an option to have a “net-zero” car by offsetting your charge time with grid-tied solar power!

  2. Drive Less – Even better than driving more efficiently is to drive less altogether. Consolidate shopping trips. See if your employer is willing to switch to a 4-day work week. Telecommute if possible. Could video-conferencing avoid the need to travel out of town for a business meeting?
  3. Alternative Commuting – Consider non-motorized options when you do need to get out of the house.  Biking is one of the healthiest things you can do, for yourself and for the environment. Walk. Use public transport if it is available.

Save What You Consume

  1. Buy less – Avoid products with excessive plastic packaging – and recycle what you do buy. Bring your own shopping bags and lobby stores you buy from to use biodegradable plastics derived from plant matter. Many of the businesses in the Green Alliance have already made this switch.
  2. Buy local – It’s a simple equation: the fewer miles a product has to travel, the fewer gallons of oil burned to bring it to your table. And there are myriad other benefits – see the Portland Buy Local campaign and the Seacoast Local campaign for ideas and inspiration.
  3. Buy organic – According to the Sustainable Table, “As much as forty percent of energy used in the food system goes towards the production of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.” Organic food avoids petroleum-derived pesticides and other chemicals, which have adverse environmental effects of their own. MOFGA has a great resource list of local food retailers, farms, and CSAs. In New Hampshire, try the NH Farmer’s Market Association.

Save on Energy

  1. Plug the holes – Much of the old housing stock in Maine and New Hampshire is literally losing heat out the window. You can start down the road of weatherization with a professional energy audit, and take advantage of great incentives.  This year, instead of cleaning your boiler, have it optimized to burn less fuel.
  2. Save the juice –  Many homes are “leaking” electricity as well as heat, simply by leaving gadgets or other appliances plugged in when they don’t have to be, or running them at non-optimal times.  You can test this theory with a Kill-A-Watt meter, which will help you identify which appliances are using a lot of electricity (you might be surprised how many gadgets use electricity even while they’re “off”).

    For more robust electric use monitoring we recommend installing a TED (The Energy Detective), which provides tracking and graphs of electric use over time. Once you’ve optimized your consumption, off-set the rest with grid-tied solar power!

  3. Heat smarter – A properly sized solar hot water system in Maine or New Hampshire can save 300 gallons of oil per year. Want to go even further? Rip out your oil boiler and replace it with a clean-burning wood or pellet boiler, or with a condensing gas boiler.

Everyone can do something to reduce our perilous dependence on oil. Take whatever step you can today and plan for the next step when able.


Fred –

A wonderful set of tips! The Kill-a-Watt meters are great tools and actually kind of fun to use. It’s very surprising to see how we “leak” power out of our homes sometimes. These are very simple tips and habits we can all implement right at home. Thank you for this terrific post!


Matt Shaffer
Connecticut Energy News Board

Fred says:


So glad you found it useful! The general takeaway is that there is no “silver bullet” to ending our dependence on oil, but a number of small things that, cumulatively, make a huge difference. By acting to both reduce energy usage, and then use clean energy for what we do use, we’ll navigate this tricky road off oil.

Thanks again for the comments,

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