Most anecdotal evidence suggests that only the price going up (or conversely, as in the recession, lack of money people have available to spend) makes much difference. Or strictly enforced laws like the 1970s 55-mph speed limit.
I think people will only use less oil when they have a comparable or easier method of traveling to oil (gas/diesel) using vehicles. Hybrids and bio-fuels may be a start.
It seems to me that most people have trouble caring or even conceptualizing issues as large as national security and environmental concerns if they don’t see how these have an impact on their own lives. In order for us to give up our dependency on fossil fuels, we will have to be confronted with an energy crisis of similar or greater magnitude than the one that occurred during the Carter administration. As long as gasoline remains the cheapest and most accessible way to power our cars, boats, etc, then it will be tough for people to see the inherent dangers of this dependence.
Ultimately, I think rigibson is right that the motavation will be economic. However, I think that only widespread personal economic hardship will be able to change peoples minds and create a significant demand for alternatives to fossil fuels.
In America, I think the answer would depend on whether you were a Democrat or Republicans. Democrats (in general) take environmental issues very seriously but are somewhat leery of the U.S. military, so the “it’s harmful for the environment” might work better. Republicans (in general) think that environmental problems are a load of hooey, but are very concerned about foreign threats. So framing it as a national security issue might have more of an effect on them.
I agree with the other posters, though, that the best way to get people to stop using so much oil is to provide them with cheaper alternative.
If using oil was a matter of immediate national security, I have a feeling it would mean more than an environmental concern. I believe this because human nature has a tendency to lean toward immediate concerns. The preservation of the environment is most definitely a reason to use less oil, however unless there is an oil leak, the effect of oil on the environment is not immediately seen; it is a slow process for the most part. National security is now; it affects our lives immediately especially in the wake of 9-11; parents will visualize the loss of their way of life and their children’s future, it sinks deeper.
All that said, the same can be true for the issue of environmental protection if only the public were more educated on the exact impact of oil. Most alternatives are useful, but also have their own impact on the environment. The best way to avoid this is to actually drive less and with that comes more relational contact with others which frankly I think we all need.
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