Afterthoughts on a Presidential Address.
On June 2nd Sarah Palin released a statement to “extreme ‘environmentalists'” on Facebook about the oil spill in the Gulf. Now, normally I am quite anti-Palin, but one sentence resonated with me:
“Your hypocrisy is showing. You’re not preventing environmental hazards; you’re outsourcing them and making drilling more dangerous.”
On Tuesday, June 15th, President Obama addressed the nation for the first time in 17 months from the Oval Office.
The hypocrisy in his statement showed.
The U.S. E.I.A (Energy Information Administration) reports that 71% of oil consumption in the United States takes place in the transportation sector. That means the rest is used in the commercial, industrial and residential sectors. In his address to the nation, Obama offered few to no concrete ways we could cut our addiction to fossil fuels. Besides mentioning that “consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks” everything he discussed fell outside of that 71%.
This other 29% encompasses everything from oil used in all production facilities, the entire agriculture and meat industries, home, commercial and residential heating and oil used to create products (plastics, medicine, etc).
We cannot only focus on the amazingly large cross section that is this 29%.
This has been one of my ongoing battles with both environmentalists and non-environmentalists alike. Often, I’ll touch on how destructive our addiction to oil is and how we need to drive less, eat locally and stop constant cross-country travel on airplanes. Usually I’m rebutted with the same argument…about how oil is in everything and we can’t live without it. One of my favorites is “Well, it takes oil to make your bike.” Which is usually followed by a checkmate smile, and an assumption that the conversation is over.
Locating statistics on where oil is used in that other 29% is hard to find, but in Dilip Hiro’s 2007 book Blood of the Earth he claims that only 7% of oil used in the United States is found in products.
That being said, I am not intending that people go nuts using plastic-produced products or fossil fuels to heat their homes. We still need to exercise restraint and downscale our consumption in these areas, but it is ridiculous to not look at the other 71%.
If President Obama was serious about “seizing control of America’s own destiny,” we need to focus on that 71%.
Right now the military is the largest user of oil in the United States. The amount of oil needed to operate two active wars is unprecedented. Not to mention the ongoing operation of military bases around the world.
Personal oil use is absurd in the United States. The US has 246 million registered vehicles for just 209 million drivers. It is now often cheaper to fly than to take a bus or a train.
And the amount of oil expended to transport food within the country, as well as in and out, is massive.
So BP is going to pay to clean up the spill.
Great. It does need to be cleaned up.
33 oil platforms in the Gulf are going to be shut down. (Really? For more than six months? What’s the link on this? ~ed)
But, umm, where are we going to get the oil needed to maintain our current level of consumption?
When I hear people complaining about drilling within the U.S. I can’t help but wonder where these people think oil comes from.
Should we increase our imports from Canada, which is currently the number one provider of oil to the United States? Oh yeah, Canada drills most of its bitumen (crude oil) from the Athabasca Tar Sands which is the largest greenhouse gas emitting project on Earth. Not to mention the most costly oil extraction process in the world because of the low quality of the bitumen.
Maybe we could increase exports from Nigeria? So far in 2010, they have been the 3rd highest exporter to the U.S. We can disregard the human rights violations that take place there over oil and ongoing environmental disasters that are affecting the inhabitants of the Niger Delta. While we’re at it let’s forget all about Ken Saro-Wiwa too (Google him).
We could increase production from Iraq or Saudi Arabia? Let’s not worry about the unfortunate increased oil consumption used in transportation of the oil from such far off locations.
Now I don’t agree with offshore drilling. In fact, I am pretty much anti drilling of all kinds.
But the question remains, is it fair for Americans to resist drilling within our borders when the United States uses, as Obama said, over 20% (nationmaster.com puts it at 24.3%) of the oil in the world? Or are we just outsourcing our environmental hazards, as Mrs. ‘Drill Baby Drill’ said?
Considering the population of the US is roughly 4.5% of the world, the inequity of the previous figure is blatantly obvious.
Really there are a few questions we in America need to be asking ourselves while we watch another oil catastrophe happen.
What is the real cause? Is it faulty safety measures or our own addiction to that black crack called oil?
It’s not a question of whether to drill or not to drill.
The real question is what are we, individually, willing to do in our own life to change our oil consumption habits?
Before the next time we enter into a conversation about whether or not we should drill within our borders, I think its important we take a quick look in the mirror and ask ourselves three questions:
How many times was I on an airplane this year?
How many times did I drive my car this week?
How many times did I eat locally this week?
America will only truly change when we embrace a culture of individual responsibility and how our own actions affect the world we live in.
I’ll end with a quote from one of the great peace activists of all time.
“‘To Be’ is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Nathaniel Janowitz was born in Boulder, Colorado but moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia as a toddler with his parents who were students of the venerable Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. After receiving an Honors BA in English Literature from Trent University he spent two years overseas working, traveling and volunteering. In 2009 he returned to Boulder to complete his Master’s Degree in Naropa’s Environmental Leadership Program and works as the University’s Student-Sustainability Coordinator.