Monday, June 28, 2010

We keep calling it an addiction. When do we hit rock bottom?

I'm home safe and sound now, my cats sitting at my feet in silent welcome. There was some doubt about the getting home part...

I've had more trouble with my car in the last three weeks than I've had since I have owned it. Battery went dead; replaced it. Someone backed into me. Car randomly wouldn't start again. Then the tire went flat. The first and third item could be connected, and be the kind of random mechanical thing that goes wrong with a car of a certain age. The others? Not so much.

In any case, I'm taking it as a sign. There's that video going around, wherein cats re-enact the BP oil spill in ninety seconds or something to that effect. At the end, it says, "You're still not pissed enough to stop driving your car."

Indeed. Our last two Presidents...if not more...have referred to our dependence on oil as an "addiction." One of the symptoms of an addiction is that the addict continues the addictive behavior, even in the face of evidence that it is destructive; even after it harms those he or she should care about; even after it ruins the addict's life and reputation, even after it causes him or her to violate previously held principles and associate with questionable people because they are the ones willing to continue to feed the addiction.

We watch birds and dolphins and communities dying on the news and are horrified; then we turn the TV off and drive to work. We ignore strong evidence that we are making our planet uninhabitable, over-inflate anything that suggests otherwise and crow that it PROVES those scientists were wrong all along, then ignore it again when those allegations turn out to be false. Our continued military entanglements in the Middle East, including at least one of our current two wars, are directly related to our desire to protect our access to the oil resources of the region, and our reputation has suffered profoundly as a result. We cozy up to and support regimes whose values we do not share, because they have oil and we want it. We have become a people who think it's ok to invade a country that did us no harm, and to torture suspected enemies, and to swallow obvious lies about our government's motives with equanimity...when that country happens to have a lot of oil. Oil has shaped US foreign policy in profound ways for the last 70 years, and the results are ugly.

Our Gulf coast is dying. So is the Nigerian coast, and that's our doing too, because 40% of our imported oil comes from there. The Gulf disaster is already the biggest ecological disaster in US history, and it's not nearly over yet. It's full impact has not yet been seen or estimated. It is much, much worse than we think. The last biggest ecological disaster in US history was also an oil spill.

Another symptom of addiction is amnesia.

They say addicts won't change their ways until they reach rock bottom. Have we reached rock bottom yet? God, I hope so. I don't want to see what is worse than this. Of course, "rock bottom" is relative. People reach it at different points, objectively; but they always reach it when they look in the mirror and say, "I don't want to live like this any more."

I don't want to live like this any more. I don't want to feel like I am purchasing lives for the sake of my convenience every time I fill up my gas tank.

Yet...and this is the bitter horror of it...I can't simply declare my personal independence from oil just like that. I have a car because I need one. Like a lot of you do. Our whole culture is built around cars, which is precisely why this is such a huge intractable problem. But cultures are made up of individual people, and there's a whole lot of room between everything and nothing. There are more ways to beat an addiction than going cold turkey. Instead of boycotting BP, boycott your own participation in this collective oil addiction. Find a way that counts, that matters to you.

I don't drive a whole lot anyway; UGA has a pretty good bus system, and Athens is a relatively walker-and-biker-friendly city. I could probably cut down my driving to one day a week, run my errands on that day, and walk or ride the bus the rest of the time. If I drive to Atlanta for the weekend...which I sometimes do...then I'll make up for it by skipping a week. If I go to visit someone who lives outside the reach of the bus, I can go by the grocery store on the way home. I can save my pennies so the next car I buy will run on biodiesel or be electric.

Another way would be to calculate my typical mileage per week, and cut it down. Could you cut a third of your driving out? Half? What about buying local produce instead of something shipped in from halfway across the country? That counts too.

Use public transportation. Politically, push for more of it...more buses (ours run on natural gas) and more trains. If Amtrak went where I wanted to go in a rational amount of time, I'd never get on a plane. If there was a train from Athens to Atlanta (like there used to be) I'd hardly ever drive. Walk, ride a bicycle, carpool. Do it like your life depends on it, and the lives of our descendants.

Oil is energy; energy is power. Being addicted to power is never pretty, and never good. We can change the way we relate to power, politically, inter-personally, economically, and in our relationship with the natural world. We have to. It's the way forward, out of this hole.