Thursday, November 3, 2011

"We Can't Quit Dirty Fuels Today": Enabling America's Oil Gluttony

Let's say you had an overweight coworker. One who repeatedly professed to be desperate to lose lots of weight. But you walked into the break room day after day to find him chowing down on Outback Steakhouse Aussie Cheese Fries with Ranch Dressing. Finally, you decide you have to say something. "Hey, Sam. If you really want to lose weight, why don't you ease off on the cheese fries?"

"What, you expect me to lose 100 pounds today?" your coworker scoffs between greasy bites. "It's going to take years to lose all that - I can't possibly stop eating right now."

Now as President Obama considers whether to green light a ranch dressing tar sands pipeline, some are warning against putting America on an oil crash diet:
[Third Way's Josh] Freed says you can't just pull the bottle out of the baby's mouth.

"Because the baby still needs to eat, and right now virtually every car and most of the trucking fleet in the United States relies on either gasoline or diesel fuel, and you can't switch over in one year or five years or 10 years," he says. "It's going to take a long time."
America: A helpless baby suckling at Big Oil's teat. Somehow I don't see that becoming the new slogan for TransCanada, the company behind the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

But who's arguing we should get off oil "in one year"? Reminds me of Tim Kaine's line that Virginia can't stop using coal today - a treehugging straw man set up to make the speaker look "centrist." It's a strategy David Roberts calls hippie punching:
Ever since the perceived successes of Bill Clinton's triangulation and the ascendency of the New Dems, the road to acceptance on the left has been paved with hippie punching. To be legit, one must signal to one's peers that one is not like those liberals, the old-fashioned, soft-headed, bleeding-hearted, slogan-shouting kind. One is a Pragmatist, not a Partisan, a traveler on the Third Way, not on the old, boring Left Way, a hard-headed, practical sort, not some kind of dippy dreamer. This pose is incredibly attractive to people whom I've called (clumsily, I grant you) "characterological centrists" -- folks who want to be, and be seen as, free-thinking and reasonable. What better way to demonstrate one's transcendence of mere partisanship than by rejecting the partisans with which one is most naturally associated?
Forget cold turkey. Aside from President Obama's moderate strengthening of fuel economy standards, what are we doing to even reduce our incredibly costly oil addiction? America's oil trade deficit was $265 billion in 2010, meaning we sent a net of $2,400 for each American household to other countries to buy their oil. And that doesn't event begin to consider the hundreds of billions we spend on the military to protect oil interests, the cost of oil disasters, or the cost of air pollution. How many people go around complaining about how we're burdening our children with the national debt without talking about how little we're doing to ease our oil addictions and the trillions in long-term cost that go along with it?

A sensible first step to reducing our oil addiction would be to stop putting new needles in our veins. I hope you'll join me & thousands of other Americans at the White House on Sunday November 6th at 2pm to ask President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Image via LeMay Gallery
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