Monday, April 18, 2011

Leaving It In The Ground

How is it possible we are not discussing how much fossil fuel we will LEAVE IN THE GROUND, just in case our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren need it for truly important purposes like growing food?

This is not merely a prudent form of insurance. Responsible stewardship – including a willingness to sacrifice present consumption – is a profoundly moral imperative. What kind of people would grab for all they can get from the Buffet Table of Life…and not give a second thought to leaving some for those who follow?

There are no guarantees that replacements for cheap and abundant fossil fuels will magically appear just because our heirs happen to need or want them. Hoping or expecting technology or market forces to “save” them is criminally irresponsible. If their inheritance from us is a continued structural addiction to oil – but not enough oil to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves – our generation will have perpetrated an unprecedented injustice.

A great deal of our current energy consumption in the United States is discretionary. We burn millions of barrels of petroleum to play, mow lawns, and blow leaves off our sidewalks. We drive and fly billions of miles for vacations. We demand uniform indoor temperatures year around. Perhaps as many as half of our high school juniors and seniors drive to school – even though school buses and transit are available. None of these are essential for civilized life.

And consider the lunacy of automobile-based access. Surely there is not enough energy on Earth for 7 billion people to drive everywhere in 2-3 ton motorized exoskeletons! Moreover, when most of us drive to most of our destinations, we make our communities unsafe, impractical, and unpleasant for non-motorists – which is to say, we force high levels of energy consumption on all who live in our midst.

What is needed? Increased efficiency is necessary but not sufficient. We need to CURTAIL our discretionary fuel-guzzling activities. Any comprehensive accounting will show the possibilities are vast. The more we curtail now, the more fossil energy we leave for a what may prove to be a difficult and lengthy transition.

Does our generation have the decency and determination to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job? Do we even have the backbone to make those who chant “Drill baby drill!” hang their heads in shame?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Alien Nation

I believe the physical isolation and socio-economic segregation afforded by the automobile are integral to the cultural alienation and political bipolarization which afflict our times. There can be no meaningful discourse among us if we spend most of our lives withdrawn into suits of armor – metaphorical or actual.

For it is not merely the shells of automobiles which separate us – it is the lifestyles and community patterns we have built to accommodate them.

I think of the tremendous joy I felt mingling with the crowds on Madison’s Capitol Square during the last few months. Then I think of how terribly lonely I felt yesterday, standing with a campaign sign along Main Street in the village of Oregon as rush hour traffic surged by. Yes, some drivers honked their horns and flashed a thumbs-up – and more than a few cursed me and flipped me the bird – but there was precious little HUMAN connection in any of it. For these motorists I did not persist; like the torrent of images on a television screen I was a phenomenon that rapidly came up before them and just as quickly vanished in the rear-view mirror.

And yet one great irony struck me amidst this fleeting interaction: how many motorists seemed to resent my imposition on their solitude – as though I was standing in their backyard peeking through their windows. Is this our expectation – that motoring is a personal and anonymous act, and that public thoroughfares are extensions of our private property?

P.S. You may ask why I chose Main Street. Because it is the closest thing to a “public square” in my village.