Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, San Luis Obispo, CA for July 17, 2008
Fill ‘er Up? No Thanks, I’m Driving
Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt
Junkie Nation and the only question now is, Has our moment of clarity finally arrived? From the politicians pandering and from too many letters-to-the-editor, I’d have to say, Nope. Instead of a serious, sober evaluation of what steps we need to take to recover, we’re still in full-blown junkie mode: More gas! Cheaper gas! Drill in the ANWR! Drill off the California Coast! Drill in My Back Yard! Pump! Pump! More! More! More!
Yep, in full meltdown junkie withdrawal mode, crazy as a bedbug, convinced that the cure for oil addiction is . . . . . . MORE oil.
Wrong. The cure for oil addiction is to understand that cheap and plentiful oil is what got us into this pickle in the first place. Europeans were paying twice, often three times as much for their gasoline years ago and as a result, they developed very thrifty, gas-sipping cars. They also maintained and expanded on their urban rail systems. In short, they understood the connection that market price could have on real-world behavior and consumer choices. The Japanese understood too.
Americans did not want to understand. They thought they were outside history and outside time, and that their exceptionalism would protect them from reality. That’s Junkie Thinking. I mean, only an American would actually buy and -- seriously -- drive a Hummer. Or be fooled by a slick marketing campaign into buying mass quantities of huge, roll-over-prone, dangerous, gas guzzling SUVs or ginormous, macho, engine-booted pick-up trucks that have nothing to pick up, except the kids after school. We became a nation of Work-a-Daddy corporate drones stuck in freeway traffic dreaming of becoming Mountain Men zooming up the side of the Grand Tetons in our whippy 4x4s, when, in reality, the only thing our 4x4s climbed was a curb outside our suburban homes.
Like all junkie thinking, when the drug wears off and reality sets in, our national addiction becomes painfully hilarious. And sad. Thirty five years ago, President Carter, an adult in his boring cardigan sweaters, told this nation of children that the pudding they were consuming would kill them. Told them they needed to eat their broccoli. But children, being children, wanted more pudding and elected a man who promised them lots of pudding and Morning in America, and so ignored the coming darkness while the party raged on.
By contrast, here’s what the New York Times reports Japan was doing at the same time:
“Japan is by many measures the world’s most energy-frugal developed nation. After the energy crises of the 1970s, the country forced itself to conserve with government-mandated energy-efficiency targets and steep taxes on petroleum. . . . It is also the only industrial country that sustained government investment in energy research even when energy became cheap again. . . . Japan taught itself decades ago how to compete with gasoline at $4 per gallon . . . it will fare better than other countries in the new era of high energy costs.”
Only now are we beginning to understand just what those 35 years of brain-addled neglect will cost us – an auto industry tanking because nobody wants to buy gas guzzling American tanks, an economy in disarray, fueled by the high cost of gasoline that caught Americans flat-footed. All the pain coming down now was totally avoidable, had we paid attention to the message during the 1973 oil embargo: junk will cost you your life and your nation’s life. It’s time to get serious and sober.
Are we now ready for our moment of clarity? It’s especially important since an incredibly lethal component has been added to our drug of choice. A Hummer and a Prius still burn gasoline which contributes C02 to the atmosphere, thereby increasing the effects of global warming. So while cheaper oil and/or more oil might keep our Junkie Nation going a few more years, the effects of global warming from the burn may well end the game permanently.
That’s the real connection that’s now becoming clear. The pudding that has us hooked is also the pudding that will poison the frugal and the profligate alike. But the response to the coming crisis will require a nation of sober, very clever, innovative, committed adults, not feckless, addicted children. It’s 2008. We’ve lost 35 years. The bell has tolled once again. Will we listen this time?
(added note: A commenter (below) noted it wasn't 1973, but 1977. So we lost 31 years, not 35. Wet noodle for me and thanks for the correction!)