Americans Use A Lot of Gas

There’s so much going on with this article in Jalopnik that I love. Let me break it down for you in rough order. First…. cars and geography and we all know how I feel about those. Second, the point of the article, which is to show we use a lot of gas in the US. But those are just the superficial, kinda uninteresting bits, especially to geographers.

The really cool part for me rests in a two things. This is an excellent example of how to lie with maps, or at least deceive. We know the US uses a lot of gas, but where and why is a bit of a mystery. One theory is the ‘fly over’ states tend to have older and less efficient cars and most importantly trucks. Furthermore, they tend to drive greater distances because they’re more spread out than an urban area like NY or LA. If you use the swipe bar in the middle (more on that in a second), you can flip between two views of the data. The left map shows annual gallons of gas used per capita and it clearly shows the middle of the country is the worst offenders. Again, the efficiency plus distances would make sense for the average person to use more gas than someone in an urban or suburban environment. However, the picture changes dramatically when you look at the map on the right. Here we see not per capita use, but total use, and it’s the more urban areas that tend to be the worst offenders. As Jalopnik points out in the text, the math is pretty clear – it’s because there’s more people. Even if a large number of people only drive a short distance in highly efficient cars they can still use a lot more gas per year than a small number driving large distances with inefficient cars. So how do you lower gas use? Thus far the focus has been upon fuel efficiency standards, but it looks like that might not be the only approach to take to tackle the problem. I just love the idea you can look at the same data totally differently and get a completely different compelling argument. It’s kinda awesome, I think.

And to round it out, the final really cool thing about this post is the great use of a swipe for displaying two maps. We use it a lot in our professional work as GISers, but I’d love to see more use like this ‘in the wild’ so to speak. It’s such a compelling way to present counter arguments just like this.


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