06 May 2010

Car Addiction and Oil Tragedy

Where is the outrage at the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?
Eleven men were killed, the water continues to be polluted, wildlife
is being killed, fisherman cannot fish, globules of congealed oil are
beginning to wash ashore, and most of us just shake our head say "what
a shame". And there is no outrage, because we know that the real
culprit is us. Our demand for oil, specifically cheap gasoline,
caused this tragedy.

Gasoline is subsidized and the price kept artificially low by
politicians that want to get the suburban and rural vote. Shortcuts
are taken on safety and oil companies are subsidized to keep oil
cheap. Lets be honest. If gasoline was priced to truly reflect the
external costs: the environmental damage caused by spills, the wars
waged to secure supplies, the human costs of the instability of
countries like Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, the disease caused by
exhaust, the cost of the US Navy constantly patrolling the Persian
Gulf and guarding every tanker, and the surface excavation of
thousands of acres of pasture to procure tar-sand, and the smog, and
the carbon emissions, to the costs of local spills, local damage done
at refineries and gas stations etc etc...If all these costs were truly
figured into the cost, a gallon of gas would be totally unaffordable.
Yet, it is political suicide for a politician to call for even a
modest increase on the gasoline tax, even when the reason is that the
current tax doesn't even cover the costs of interstate road
construction and maintenance!

In the US, over the past half century, we have reconfigured our
patterns of settlement, our cities and our countryside, to a paradigm
that is fundamentally supported by one thing: cheap oil. And this
paradigm is so ingrained into us that we don't even see it anymore.
And there is no substitute, no affordable replacement to run our
254,000,000 cars. You cannot run hundreds of millions of
rubber-wheeled vehicles on used french fry oil or hydrogen or methane
or solar or whatever. Americans have a communal delusion that when
oil starts to get expensive, we will solve the problem with nuclear
powered cars of some sort that will allow us to continue driving
everywhere. But this is delusion. We have to wake up to the fact
that we made a mistake, a huge mistake in re-developing our country
around the automobile. It is time to kick the habit, time to live in
walkable places, and a modest start would include increasing the
gasoline tax.


Unknown said...

Honking in agreement.

Unknown said...

Great post!

Radarman said...

Amen, brother.

Dave said...

I don't think MI voters will approve a gasoline tax hike; yesterday a proposed operational millage increase for a fire station failed to pass for the fourth time in less than two years.

Fiscal situation here in such a sad state that school districts are cancelling/considering cancelling school busing; net effect is more cars on the road and increased gasoline consumption.

Catherine said...

Augh! I so agree with you and I was just ranting about our insupportable infrastructure the other day. Seriously, it is such a trap, though. It's not as easy as moving to walkable places if there aren't jobs there, right? EVERYTHING needs to shift. Businesses need to come back to the downtowns instead of in strip malls, etc. People need to realize that maybe they don't need a "media room" in their insane suburban mansion. And I'll admit, I drive a fairly substantial SUV and honestly, with two small children, I feel safer driving in that on the freeway than when we had our Honda Civic. Total catch 22 and I feel the guilt. By the way, when I lived in Florida in 2000, I totally voted for the high speed train! And then they repealed that vote in 2002! AUGH!!!! *sigh, anyway, I'm definitely sharing your post, it's so so true.

5chw4r7z said...

The way my co-workers defend the oil spill is mindboggling to me. And they complain that BP will unfairly pass all the cost on to them.

Catherine; how do expect people to live without their giftwrapping room? ;-D

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that we are so far down the rabbit hole of sprawl any disruption of the cheep oil would be catastrophic to the nation and economy. It took us 50 years to settle into this way of doing things and it can’t be quickly undone. Its like we are a crack head hitting bottom!

catherine said...

bwahaha Julie!
We do need to kick the habit