Partying on fossil fuels like it's 1998

The economic collapse at the end of 2008 brought U.S. oil consumption to its lowest mark in ten years. But so what? That's still utterly unsustainable.

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 27, 2009 6:32PM (EST)

On Friday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. oil demand fell to 19.199 million barrels per day in December, bringing overall consumption in the United States to its lowest level since 1998.

No surprise, perhaps, when you consider that the Commerce Department also released on Friday revised figures for fourth quarter 2008 GDP, indicating that the U.S. economy was shrinking at an annual rate of 6.2 percent, a far worse calculation than the initial estimate of 3.8 percent. That the sharpest economic contraction in 26 years would equate to a significant cutback in oil consumption isn't amazing.

But I did find this intriguing. The most brutal economic slide in at least a quarter century has only reduced our oil consumption to what it was in 1998, when the U.S. economy was booming, and SUVs and huge pickup trucks were selling like hotcakes. In other words, economic Armageddon has transformed Americans from unthinkably reckless, out-of-control, phenomenally voracious consumers of fossil fuels to just a little bit less awesomely overconsuming animals. Because by any sane standard, the 1998 version of America was as profligate an annihilator of fossil fuels as anything this planet has ever witnessed. Until 1999.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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