My politics tends to skew conservative but there’s a couple issues on which I stand firmly in the the progressive camp and one of those issues is our systematic destruction of the environment, specifically our totally ludicrous dependence upon oil.
The fact that a nation as great as ours, with a vast wealth of innovation and human capital, the fact that in our superiority we cling to an archaic energy system baffles me. A full disclaimer before I rip BP a new one. I am a big environmental offender. I currently commute 90 minutes one-way a day totaling about 140 miles a day. I know it’s a tragedy but due to some unforeseen circumstances I am stuck with possibly the worse commute known to man. (I hope to have my commuting problem solved really soon.) My car gets OK gas mileage but no matter how you slice it, I am driving excessively. But my mom drives about 10 miles a week so I say our family is balancing each other out. 🙂
Anyway, what incenses me is that I do not have an affordable, viable alternative to gasoline. I fault our refusal as a nation to divorce ourselves from oil. Though crude oil and its sister gasoline is the king of the road today it was not so when the automobile was first invented. Researching old-school engine make up and pioneering automobile makers for my book about fueling with vegetable oil, I discovered that we as a nation have been duped by the oil industry.
Henry Ford created an entire car made out of soy. Rudolph Diesel predicted that all manner of the earth would provide cars with the energy to move including vegetable oil famously heralding:
“The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in the course of time as important as the petroleum and coal tar products of the present time.”
Fuel Wasn’t Always Fossil
It’s a fact that oil was not the dominant source of fuel for automobiles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Oil was discovered until 1850 and by then people were using cars that ran on steam engines, electricity and even air. When Ford created the non-handcrank engine the use of gasoline, refined crude oil, became popular.
But it was by no means the only way to fuel a car. Because gasoline was a cheaper way to fuel a car it became the only way. It was also because barons like John D. Rockefeller crude oil and all its uses began to be the main source of fuel in America. Energy innovators were marginalized, ridiculed or like Dutch air car pioneer Johannes Wardenier just disappeared. Since it’s discovery oil has had a Svengali-like stranglehold on this country’s energy policy that even the 1970s oil crisis, terrorism and rising oil prices have yet to deter. Yet there are tons of viable options to using refined crude oil for fuel. From growing our own fuel to dismantling the behemoth energy industry in favor of smaller more localized fuel distribution strategies, to electricity and even water.
Don’t Blame BP
Whether you are a global warming fan, skeptic or hater you can’t look at the Gulf of Mexico and not be disgusted. On April 20, 2010 British Petroleum’s offshore oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing a whopping 5,000 barrels of oil a day. A second catastrophe occurred when the supposed fail safe cut-off switch broke, leaving oil to gush unabated into the Gulf. According to the EPA the oil spill is about 80 miles east to west and 42 miles north and south. It is on pace to surpass the Exxon Valdez and be the worst environmental disaster in recent memory if ever. President Obama and his entourage were kick to point the fingers at BP but I say we are all to blame. For our immovable love of oil, for our refusal to push for a new energy policy, for our ignorance of alternative fuel options and our refusal to accept energy innovators. We are all to blame for what’s going on in the Gulf right now. And because we are all to blame we cannot expect BP to remedy the problem.
Do Your Part
We can all get energy-friendly light bulbs, and retrofit our windows to be more energy-efficient but until we as a nation stand together against this insatiable thirst for oil all our small environmental-friendly gestures are like spitting in the ocean. The need for crude oil is by far our biggest culprit in our environmental dilemma. It is here where we can start. Some ways we can do is by:
1. Eating Locally. Make sure your food does not have to use gasoline other than your own to get onto your plate. Check out Localdirt.com, an online directory that hooks you up with growers in your area so you don’t have to shop for food at grocery stores. Stores often ship their food which adds to gas-dependency.
2. Volunteer in the Gulf. Oil Spill Volunteers.com does just what its name implies – hooks up volunteers who want to help during oil spill crisis. They’re having some trouble with BP now but you might check them out.
3. Drill Down Oil Subsidies. One of the reason oil still holds it’s vice grip on our economy is the billions of dollars in oil subsidies and tax incentives it receives. Why not pressure Congress to transfer more of those perks – especially tax incentives – to the fledgling alternative fuel industry to including biodiesel, electric cars and hyrdo-fueled vehicles.
There are of course there are other ways to help but I just wish we could lessen our thirst for oil. It’s price is getting far too costly for ourselves and our children.