MOSCOW, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- In August, Spain introduced Europe's first plan for saving gas, diesel fuel and electricity, imposing stringent limits on speed and energy consumption. It is a logical starting place. Spain is the most hydrocarbon-dependent country in Europe, and imports 84 percent of its petroleum and coal.
Spanish Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian, who was charged with explaining the energy fast to the public, said the country had spent 17 billion euros (more than $26 billion) on petroleum imports in the past 12 months. Given such huge acquisitions, its foreign trade deficit is expected to soar to 43 billion euros (nearly $66 billion) by the end of the year.
The government decree stipulates 31 measures, including a speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph) on highways and 40 km/h (25 mph) in cities and towns. Air conditioners in all government agencies and public places (shops, restaurants, movies, sports facilities and the like) should be set not lower than 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer and not higher than 21 degrees Celsius (69.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter. Hospitals and private homes will be the only exceptions.
Electricity consumption is to be halved. The government plans to issue up to 50 million energy-saving light bulbs and prohibit the use of ordinary bulbs completely in four years.
European Union experts say up to 2 billion euros could be saved every year if each household in the 27-member Union, whose population is approximately 500 million, were to use one energy-saving bulb.
All state organizations are to convert 20 percent of their vehicles to run on biofuel.
The Spanish government has done what science fiction writer H.G. Wells once described as "the shape of things to come." Given current prices for fossil fuels, other countries in Europe and the rest of the world are bound to follow suit, and many of them already are preparing to do so.
The British government has instructed municipal and rural transport authorities to draft and submit in 2009 proposals for cutting the speed limit from 70 mph to 50 mph on highways and 25 mph in cities and towns.
Since early this summer, planes, trains, ferries, suburban and intercity buses, trucks and other vehicles have slowed down in Britain. EasyJet and BMI, the country's two largest low-cost air carriers, have cut the speed of their planes by 2 percent wherever possible. Air New Zealand, Air Canada, Brussels Airlines (Belgium), and U.S. Southwest and JetBlue have done the same.
British locomotive engineers have been instructed to coast whenever possible and diesel locomotive engineers to use just two of their three engines. First TransPennine Express, one of Britain's largest passenger railway companies, has reprogrammed train doors to close several seconds sooner so as to keep in more of the trains' conditioned air.
All ferry companies in Britain have reduced the speed of their vessels. A trip from northwest England or Scotland to Ireland will now take 15 to 20 minutes longer than it did in spring, and crossing the English Channel will also take 20 minutes longer. This minor change is expected to save ferry companies several thousand metric tons of diesel fuel a year.
After the cost of petroleum exceeded $100 per barrel, many companies looked for ways to save on minor things. Japan Airlines has cut the supply of beer on all domestic flights (with the exception of first-class passengers) by 94 kg (more than 207 pounds) per plane. It also has stopped distributing newspapers and magazines on international flights, reducing the overall weight by 25 kg (more than 55 pounds) per plane.
All air carriers have halved water supply for bathroom faucets and toilets. American Airlines and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific have reduced the weight of food distribution trolleys by 8.5 kg (almost 19 pounds); and Cathay Pacific has stripped "excessive" paint from its Boeing 747 planes, cutting the aircraft's total weight by 220 kg (485 pounds).
Many air carriers have cut cruising speed from 500 mph to 480 mph (770 km/h), but this has not affected their timetables as carriers usually allow 30 minutes for taxiing.
Tim McGraw, director of corporate environmental and safety programs at Northwest Airlines, said, "Every 25 pounds we remove, we save $440,000 a year."
Fuel now accounts for about 40 percent of a regular airline ticket, compared to 15 percent eight years ago.
A medium-haul Boeing 737 needs 26,500 liters of jet fuel, and a Boeing 747 needs twice as much.
According to The New York Times, American and Southwest Airlines have taken to scrubbing a few jet engines every night to eliminate the drag caused by dirt and debris. The process has saved Southwest $1.6 million in fuel costs since April. American predicts the practice will shave $330.7 million from its $9.26 billion fuel bill this year.
Italy also has decided to enforce speed limits on car drivers. The speed limit in downtown Turin, the home city of the Fiat motor company, is now lower than anywhere else in Europe, at 30 km/h (19 mph). If the experiment succeeds, the Italian authorities will extend the limit, introduced in late July, to the whole of the city.
Romantics from the city hall say they have been encouraged by Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca, the tutor of Emperor Nero, who warned against hastening life. He said, "One should count each day a separate life."
(Andrei Fedyashin is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)