Californians use more gas than any other state.
Californians use less gas than inhabitants of 44 other states.
Those are both true statements (according to a story in this morning’s Chronicle), but only one of them is meaningful. Fortunately, although the story included them in the wrong order, it did include both. Unfortunately, most stories of this sort only include the equivalent of the first.
Glossing the two statements:
Taken as a whole, California consumes more gasoline than any other state.
Californians consume less gasoline per capita than inhabitants of 44 other states.
Statements in the first category are almost always meaningless, because they leave out the key fact (which people may “know” but tend to be fuzzy about): California has more people than any other state–and not just a few more. 2004 estimates are that California has nearly 60% more inhabitants than the second most populous state: just under 35.9 million people compared to Texas’ 22.5 million.
Thus, saying that California has the most X of whatever is usually a waste of ink, unless you’re comparing it to countries (e.g., “the sixth largest economy in the world”–compared to nations, not other states).
The second statement is interesting, particularly given that California is a long state whose inhabitants are used to driving long distance, with most cities really not designed for pedestrians. It suggests that all those Priuses and Civic Hybrids and regular Civics and the rest really do make a difference.
(Similarly, despite the fabled affluence of Californians and our reliance on air conditioners and all that other stuff, the 2004 figures for electricity consumption are pretty startling:
Residential: California average, 2367 KWH per capita. U.S. average: 4405 KWH per capita
Total (including industrial and transportation): CA, 7041 KWH per cap, U.S.: 12081 KWH per cap.
Interestingly, the percentage of all electricity devoted to residential use isn’t much different: 34% in California, 36.5% U.S. as a whole.)
Updated a few minutes later: One other calculation would make the energy-efficiency of Californians (drummed into us for years, successfully, apparently) a little more obvious. Namely, taking residential power consumption for the rest of the country on a per capita basis.
That yields 4688 KWH per capita.
Which means that Californians, on average, use barely over half as much electricity as non-Californians in the U.S. (50.4%).
Recycling numbers would be interesting (Mountain View substantially exceeds California’s 50%-diversion target, that is, manages to recycle considerably more than 50% of what was formally trash), but I haven’t looked for them.