Power Line reports that a bill allowing drilling in ANWR is set to pass.
On Laura Ingraham’s show the other day, Laura played a clip from the Oprah Winfrey show claiming that “if everybody bought the most fuel-efficient car available, the United States would save approximately 1.47 billion gallons of gasoline each year!” (The same claim is on her web site, here.) She said the word “billion” with a Dr. Evil level of excitement, and the audience ooohed and aaahed as, I presume, the flashing signs told them to do.
But the odd thing was, Oprah also ran a clip on her show that contained this factoid: “It’s estimated that Americans use more than 380 million gallons of gas every day.” (This claim is also on Oprah’s site.) Oprah didn’t bother to do the math, but it wasn’t hard for me to do even while driving (and I’m no mathematician): this means that driving the most fuel-efficient hybrids out there would save us less than 4 days’ worth of gas every year.
I was immediately reminded of ANWR opponents’ claims that ANWR would bring us only 6 months’ or so worth of oil. Again playing amateur mathematician, I calculated that 6 months is about 45 times more than 4 days. So, it would take 45 years of all of us driving in the best hybrids possible to save as much fuel as drilling in ANWR would produce. (And that’s accepting the six month claim at face value — and there are good arguments to suggest it’s not even close to true.)
Don’t get me wrong: I think hybrids are great. The next time I purchase a car, I hope to get one myself. I have my eye on the Toyota Highlander, which is the model that Glenn Reynolds just bought. My brother-in-law just got one and I rode in it when I was in Kentucky earlier this month. It’s a tank of an SUV, it’s safe, it’s powerful (zero to sixty in eight seconds), and it gets better gas mileage than a Corolla. It’s incredibly quiet because the engine isn’t even running a good part of the time. The technology is so simple that all cars should use it.
I’m just putting things in perspective, that’s all.
UPDATE: As Nels Nelson points out in the comments, these numbers sound strange. After all, hybrids are much more efficient than gasoline-powered cars. Nels’s theory as to why hybrids apparently make such a little dent in the amount of fuel used per year is that a relatively small percentage of the oil consumed in this country is used to fuel passenger vehicles. But this theory doesn’t pan out, as 40 percent of our oil use is for passenger vehicles. Another theory: Oprah’s numbers are off.
If anyone has any insight on this topic, feel free to leave a comment.
Regardless of the exact numbers, my overarching point is how you can describe the same phenomenon in different ways and achieve a substantially different effect. If you want to make the savings of hybrids sound substantial, you go Carl Sagan on us and talk about the billions and billions of gallons saved. If you want to pretend that ANWR wouldn’t help much, you make the unrealistic assumption that all of our oil consumption would come exclusively from ANWR, and then argue that it would last us only a few months.
As the ANWR vote is reported over the next few days, watch and see which way the media spins the benefits of ANWR.