Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Spill and You

The following is a transcript of my comments last evening to the trustees of the Village of Oregon, Wisconsin, USA. Perhaps you, dear reader, might find inspiration in it to get up on your hind legs and say something along these lines to your elected public servants...

If anything is clear to me, it is that if we fail to transform the public conversation about responsibility, we will fail period. We will never know whether seeds such as these will bear fruit if we do not plant them.

I am here this evening to speak with you about choosing a relationship to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Not just as individual citizens, but as trustees, as stewards of the public good.

So how might you choose to relate to the spill?

First, you could choose that there isn’t time to discuss the oil spill right now – you already have your hands full with urgent Village business…like budget shortfalls! As someone who has served on the Board, I would respect this choice. I mean that. But please hear me out anyway; I will give you some specific, practical recommendations in a minute or two.

So what else? You could choose that the spill, bad as it is, has nothing to do with us and how we live here. It’s a free country; it’s a free market; and people have a right to burn as much gas as they want.

You could choose that OK, the spill might have something to do with our way of life here, but it isn’t any of your business (or mine!) to tell people how to live. Who wants to rock the boat?

You could choose that if we don’t burn deepwater oil – heck, oil from anywhere else for that matter…well, someone else will. With a fungible commodity like oil, no consumer is responsible.

You could choose that the spill isn’t our fault because we get most of our oil from Canada…where they are clear-cutting forests, strip-mining tar sands, and burning a lot of natural gas to cook out crude. And you’d be right: about 80% of our motor fuel comes from Canadian tar sands right now.

You could choose to react to news of the spill like millions of busy consumers. “OMG those poor pelicans! Did you see John Steward’s spoof about BP last night? It was hilarious! Anyway, they need to nail the jerks who did this…{look at watch}…Oops, gotta go! Have to run my kid to a soccer game in McFarland… Hmm…where the devil are my car keys?”

You could choose that some “they” out there is to blame for the spill…and that “they” had better punish the bad guys…and make “them” clean up the mess…and do a better job enforcing regulations.

You could choose that advanced technology will provide us with all the clean energy we need. Cool! So all we need to do is sit back, wait, and buy an electric car when they are available.

You could choose that we have no choice but to burn gasoline. By God we need it! End of conversation.

You could choose that OK, we do have some choices here in Oregon about how much gasoline we burn…and yes, we should all do our part!...

…but realistically we don’t have that many options, and realistically, the little bit of oil that we use here (or don’t use) can’t possibly make any difference, so…

…really, what we need is a NATIONAL energy policy; we need higher prices to force people to conserve; obviously the President and Congress need to tackle these big issues. The most important thing for us to do is to elect the right candidates…and support the right legislation.

Here is another possibility. You could choose that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has everything to do with how we have chosen to live here. You could choose that a future without such spills – without raping the landscape – without occupations and wars over oil and other resources – without deprivation and misery visiting upon our children – you could choose that all these things have everything to do with how we choose to live here tomorrow.

You could choose that as citizens we have a duty to act. You could choose that as elected officials you will seek possibilities to learn, participate and be inspired; to inform, advocate, and enact.

I promised specifics:

(1) Commit to bringing commuter transit to Oregon. Put the wheels back on the Oregon-Area Public Transit Committee and get it rolling again. Tell trustee {name of the guy who chairs the moribund committe} that you’re on board. Let the Dane County RTA board know that YOU want to help make commuter transit a reality here. Work with the RTA. Attend its meetings if you can; keep abreast of proceedings in any case. The RTA board is looking for members of an Advisory Committee – especially representatives from outside the current RTA boundaries. How about volunteering?

(2) Tell the citizenry you believe that all of us have a duty to walk lightly on Earth. Tell them you want Oregon to be a community where it is NORMAL for us to walk…and roll about in wheelchairs…and ride bicycles…and push strollers…and pull Radio Fliers – and where it is NORMAL for us to share transit. These things work best when we do them together! That is why it is so important to bring transit service here.

(3) Choose to walk and bike when you “don’t have enough time”…when it is too hot, too cold, too wet, too dark. Choose to walk and bike when the streets are plowed but many sidewalks and bike paths are snow-covered and slippery. Choose to push a stroller to the library (or pull some groceries home in a wagon) when the curb-cuts are plowed shut. Roughly a third of your constituents cannot drive, and most don’t have access to 24/7 chauffeur service. Many motorists who could walk and bike are waiting to be led and inspired. More people than you might suspect are afraid to be alone on our sidewalks and streets. They are hoping and waiting for me…and you…to take the first step. You won’t learn the first thing about getting around in Oregon without a car – from the inside of a windshield. Choose to learn.