Jason Henderson of AlterNet brings us this timely article on how our car culture is partially to blame for this most recent and almost all other oil spills. The Deepwater Horizon rig disaster has put offshore drilling back at the center of our political and social discussion, and self-proclaimed progressives need to take a stand. Henderson calls the focus on green cars “a distraction.” Green cars still need oil, and progressives need to examine how much their transportation habits contribute to this type of ecological disaster. To be honest, we still need oil–lots of it–to live how we live today, with computers, pharmaceuticals and plastics; but we don’t need to be drilling into the furthest corners of the earth. We need to conserve oil for things that are more important than driving.
It is well known that America consumes a quarter of the world’s oil, and 70 percent of that (17.5 percent of world oil production) goes towards America’s driving habit. Much of this is wasted on short trips that could be made by other means. 92 percent of Americans own at least one car, which consumes oil, puts out CO2 and costs them money in insurance and repairs. There’s no way that we could build enough coal or nuclear power plants to make the switch to all-electric cars. Even if we did, those power plants would produce still more CO2 or nuclear waste, and would necessitate an overhaul of our urban infrastructure so as to install charging stations all across America. Even alternative energy forms need oil to be produced and maintained.
Henderson argues that this should seem unintelligent to any thinking person, but more-so embarrassing to any progressive:
Any progressive-leftist-liberal-“green”-environmentalist cannot, with a clear conscience, drive his or her children to school and expect those children to find a planet they’ll thrive on. He or she cannot smugly shrug that the transit system does not go where he or she wants to go, or that the distances are too far to ride a bicycle. Any able-bodied progressive who regularly exclaims “But I need to drive!” is in need of some deep reflection on his or her values and especially the idea of a green car.
Green cars are still cars, which consume a lot of oil. “The Prius will not cut it,” Henderson says. He also argues against carbon offsets, which allow people with enough money to buy some sort of energy savings so as to “make up for” their not-so-green lifestyle. There are a number of reasons for this, according to Henderson:
Some progressives do this, admittedly, because they are lazy. Others feel “special” and thus entitled to live in scattered sprawl, drive across town to work in less than 20 minutes and then to a dentist on another side of town in another 20 minutes. Many progressive Americans, particularly in coastal “blue” states, expect to be able to drive to the beach and NOT see any signs of oil extraction. That is not progressive. That is imperialism. Those cars are fueled and built with oil from Nigeria, Iraq, Louisiana and Alaska — places laid to waste by unfettered oil extraction…Many of you “progressive” motorists are probably seething in defensive, self-righteous posture if you managed to read this far. You drive a Prius, so you’re doing your part. Or you don’t drive much. Or your groceries are too heavy — you need a car. In the Bay Area and many parts of California, a common refrain is that there are too many hills, so “I have to drive.” Populists will shout that the working poor need their cars to get to work on time and that child care and household chores all but require a car.
He also argues that, had the Gulf Coast disaster happened in the Bay Area, the outcry would have been massive, instead of the passe response that this disaster has generated relative to events such as Exxon Valdez and Cosco Busan. He encourages people to find ways that they could make walking and biking a bigger part of their lives. Most trips are under five miles, easy biking distance, and with minimal creativity (backpack, small trailer, jitney delivery service), hauling loads can be easy without a car. There are also the added benefits of better health and cleaner air, as well as using renewable bags and other resources instead of plastics. If we used oil more wisely, we could use it to prepare for a future with less or no oil, where communities will be closer together, transportation will be based on rail and other more efficient modes, and energy can come from sources that still need oil but much less of it, including solar and wind.
Henderson encourages progressives to either change their ways or stop being obstructionist. Making life easier for pedestrians and bicyclists often means making it harder (i.e. more fair) for drivers, who have been pandered to for too long. We need to stop letting rich out-of-towners park for free when we charge the urban poor to use transit. Henderson comments, “I see you progressives every day — the Prius in the bike lane, the speeding, honking Subaru and the hybrid SUVs careening at pedestrians and cyclists, with fashionable Obama stickers or save this/save that bumper stickers on the cars. Honking, hoarding, fighting for a parking space at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. It is madness.” Progressives need to set an example of living within our means, especially relative to oil.