Recently I went to a seminar with this title in Los Angeles, and on a related note, I heard T. Boone Pickens present his plan for U.S. energy independence in Long Beach (22% wind… but I’ll come back to that).

The LA seminar, hosted by the Southern California Association of Governments, featured a terrific array of speakers, including industry experts, public officials, academics and environmentalists. Probably the best way to share what I learned is to, well, share some of the very interesting factoids I learned. I’m not sure they add up to a big picture, but I know they’ll inform my future thinking and I hope they’ll help yours, too.

Eighty-five percent of gas price changes are driven by the price of crude.

The price of crude went up 100% from the summer of 2007 to the summer of 2008.

It makes a bigger difference to overall fuel savings to change from a very gas-hungry car to a less gas-hungry car – say from 12 mpg to 16 mpg – than it does to change from a pretty efficient car to a more-efficient car. (So good on you for trading in your Hummer.)

In Ventura County, the transit operator is getting lots of calls from new customers, and their park-and-ride lots are full. (I’ve seen pictures of jammed parking lots at Metro stations here in our own county.)

Anecdotal public opinion suggests that $6 a gallon for gas is the “tipping point” and that $8 is inconceivable. (I’m not sure what happens when we reach the tipping point, but I’m open to ideas.)

Despite its famous car-orientation, Los Angeles is second only to New York in total transit use among U.S. cities. Even in per capita transit use it’s still number 10 in the nation (San Francisco is number two to New York).

Europe’s fuel taxes go into a general fund, unlike ours, which go into a dedicated Highway Trust Fund (which, by the way, ran out of money this month – check out the graph in this federal press release. Congress quietly moved some general fund money over to fix the shortfall).

The minimum wage in 1960 bought 5 gallons of gasoline. Today it buys 1.6 gallons.

Volvo’s developing a plug-in hybrid that will get 125 mpg. Now that might be my next car.

And my personal favorite factoid: UPS has found that its drivers are optimally productive when they avoid making any left turns. Them and my grandmother!

Though these aren’t factoids, I particularly enjoyed the remarks of Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus, who apparently would share my commitment to taking transit to work if only a commuter bus left West L.A. later than 7:30 each morning. Mr. Lazarus observed that we could cater to Californians’ desire to stay fit by making bicycle use safer and suggested a public sector “propaganda campaign” to get Angelenos thinking about public transit. For more of his intriguing ideas, see this column and browse others he’s written.

Now back to T. Boone Pickens. Mr. Pickens, a Texas oil executive and natural gas entrepreneur, wants to take advantage of a natural wind corridor in the center of the nation to produce 22% of the country’s energy needs from wind. Doing so would slash our oil import bill by about half in the coming decades. Mr. Pickens presented his plan during a lunchtime talk at the CAPCOA conference in Long Beach this week. While we ate lunch, he and an interviewer sat in comfy chairs on the dais and he described his briefings with both major presidential candidates. He got big applause for expressing support of any energy source as long as it’s American.

You can find out more about the Pickens Plan, which he will pitch to the next President, at the web link above and sign up to support if you think it’s a good idea. Though I certainly haven’t evaluated it extensively, it sounds good to me for two reasons at least: it’ll generate much-needed economic activity in the nation’s heartland, and just think what we could do with all the money we save on imported oil!