As opposed to emission or energy, what can we do about oil? As I’ve said in the past: not a lot. But “not a lot” is not equal to zero.

Here are some pretty immediate things we can do:

  1. There have been some real drops in oil use in response to increased prices. I think Charles Komanoff once suggested that various types of conservation and efficiency measures could reduce oil use 10 percent more or less overnight [PDF]. Many of his suggestions are not exactly pain-free, but neither are the reductions we are making anyway in response $100 plus per barrel oil.
  2. Alan Blinder’s proposal to buy oil guzzling clunkers back from owner at a premium — old, fairly cheap cars only. These tend not to be the cars driven the most miles. Still, there would be real savings.
  3. Increased telecommuting. We are not going to switch everyone with an office job to 100 percent work-from-home mode. But putting in place some modest incentives, along with public education that help rebut some of the most common myths about telecommuting could get some modest immediate increases.
  4. Increased subsidies to existing rapid transit. Existing buses and trains should not have to cut services right when more people want to use them.
  5. Increased support for car pooling and van pooling. More incentives for companies to set up such pools, plus funding for services (such as the ones we already see) will make it easy for people interested in pooling private vehicles across companies to do so.

Below the fold you will find some things we can do that are not immediate, but can be done pretty quickly.

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Medium-term oil reductions:

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  1. Increased funding for walking and bike paths. Note this is not about forcing people to bike or walk, just providing facilities for those who want to. Of course oil prices are not going down below $100 per barrel, so you may see an increase in the number of people who want to.
  2. Moving 85 percent of long-haul truck ton-miles to rail. This will require investment: Our existing rail system could not handle that load. Alan Drake has a proposal which seems more and more sensible about this.
  3. Pass a new CAFE standard that raises requirement so all new cars sold average 40 mpg (including light cars and trucks) and that the minimum acceptable standard for the next five years is 30 mpg.

In the long run, we can phase out oil along with other emission sources:

  1. Set requirements that as of 2012, 90 percent of all new cars and light trucks sold must be Battery Electric Vehicles, or plug-in hybrids — the latter able to travel at least the first 50 miles on pure battery power. Both must use no more that .33 kWh per mile at 45 mph. At least 10 percent of vehicles must be pure BEVs with at least a 100 mile range that use at most .29 kWh per mile. By 2015 the minimum ranges would be 70 miles for PHEVs and 150 miles for pure BEVs.
  2. Starting immediately, provide large scale funding to existing electric commuter transit proposals.
  3. For all their flaws, buses are not going away soon. Start funding transformation of the busiest bus routes not being replaced by commuter rail into “bus trolleys” — buses running off electric wires. Anywhere that the life-cycle cost of running a bus trolley is more than that of commuter rail, put in commuter rail instead.
  4. Fund some full-scale tests of ultralight rail systems (such as CyberTran). If they worked, they could lower the costs of light rail by at least half, perhaps by 80 percent.

Note that all of these suggestions focus on oil. Look at the spreadsheet Jon Rynn and I developed if you want to look at one set of comprehensive alternatives for phasing out emissions.