Pointing Our Oily Finger

commuteAs the broken well off Louisiana continues to spew huge amounts of oil, killing wildlife and damaging the Gulf as a recreational center and major food source perhaps for decades, we’ve all taken our swing at the blame game.

On the Left, we delight in pointing to the anti-regulatory, anti-government agitations begun in the Reagan administration that flowered in George Bush’s woeful eight years. Surely that selfish and misguided movement played a major role in this disaster.

Our brethren on the Right are just as quick to hold up President Obama’s seeming lack of emotional involvement, comparing his administration’s prompt if so far indecisive and unsuccessful response with the Bush administration’s tardy, utterly ineffectual attention to Hurricane Katrina. Remember “Brownie?”

And BP, well, they can’t win for trying, no matter what they do — as perhaps they deserve, yachts and all.

But one key group gets off the hook too easily: you and me.

The reason we’ve got oil rigs drilling a mile deep into the ocean and fouling Alaska’s wilderness is because you and I insist on filling up our car’s gas tank anytime we want, right to the top, at a fraction of the cost others around the world pay, almost as an inalienable right. It’s why we’ve got soldiers dying in Afghanistan and Iraq these many years down the road, too, you know.

Now, if you drive a hybrid car, have solar panels on your roof, take public transportation, walk or bike to work and recreation, sensibly don a sweater or open a window rather than reach for the switch, grow your own food, vote for light rail and public transportation propositions, take those cute little cloth bags to the grocery store…well, then you’ve earned your smug expression.

If not, let’s you and I spend the next year cutting back on our energy use–reducing our carbon footprint, as people way into this stuff like to call it. If we can do our part, we can better demand that government and industry do their parts.

Currently, Americans use 8.35 TOE (tons of oil equivalent) per person each year, followed closely by Canadians at 8.16 TOE. But the French use half that at 4.25 TOE, the Irish make do with 3.96 TOE, and the Italians do nicely with 2.97 TOE — barely a third of what the average American uses. A third! Criminy!

True, much of America and all of Canada have much cooler climates than these low flyers. People up north need more heat and light to make it through their long winters–the Finns and Swedes are also pretty high at 5.7 TOE–but that’s not true here in Los Angeles. I’ve been to Ireland and France. I could live like that.

Some changes won’t be easy to make. Remaking our cities to put our homes closer to our workplaces, shops, and parks, and spidering them with effective mass transit systems is beyond our individual capabilities and will in any case take decades.

Dick Price

But even on an individual basis, this close to retirement, it’s not clear what I can do about my 30-mile commute, save work from home when I can. We’ll have to see if our house is suited for solar panels and then whether we can afford them. I don’t even know if I can switch to a more energy-efficient car either — but by next year this time I will have checked off every item on my list. We will have done the ones we can and will know why we can’t do the others. Watch this space.

There’s a group at church — our 7th Principle folks — who focus on cutting energy consumption and conservation generally. They’re all committed folks — some scientists and engineers — who know what they’re talking about. They can help. No doubt there’s people in your neighborhood who can help you.

Join us?

Dick Price, Editor, LA Progressive


  1. EDpeak says

    Sure doing a little can “make a dent” but it’s a cruel lack of fuller disclosure if you don’t also add “while swimming against the current”. Public policy should make doing the right thing the easier, “swim with the current” thing to do, not the “swim upstream” thing to do.(yes, I can name examples of doing the right things that are swimming with the current, too; those are the exception to the overwhelming rule) It’s not only cruel but also not very strong activism if we don’t also recognize the “Swimming upstream” aspect and work to change it. To focus on “more people should swim upstream and do the right thing” and then throw an insult at the public for its “oily finger” (when choices that would have made its finger much less oily have been much reduced, or even eliminated, in various industry-influenced public policy decisions over years and decades) is also therefore counterproductive. Yes, there’s a risk of “too depressing” articles on just the overwhelming laws and “Game” stacked against us and the years and years it will take to change, with little positive about what we can do, but if we want a better world the balance of what we call for must be proportional to the weights of the factors, and the main factor is institutional, legal, and systemic, taking away decisions from the public or making the right decision much harder, the smaller factor are personal decisions which (even in this horribly distorted set of rules and laws and market options we’ve been put into) can be made better. Anyway I think the article’s intention was good, but as so many have said, please don’t accidentally copy the mainstream media’s style of “ha, what a bunch of hypocrites the public who call for cleaner energy are” nonense

  2. EDpeak says

    To answer your question (which is a fair one), latest energy bills have billions in them for nuclear plants, “According to Friends of the Earth, the measure stands to add an additional $1.3 billion to $3 billion in tax breaks for every new nuclear reactor” (june 18 democracynow.org) and tax breaks are real dollars given up…. as if that’s not enough, “Feb 2, 2010 … The administration is asking to approve $54 billion in loan guarantees, up from $18 billion” You’re right that there are various types of cap&trade and the better ones are cap and dividend. #1, don’t give away for free to industry #2 give “dividend” back to the people so anyone using below certain level of carbon (which would include frugal folks like you seem to be) get it back. Bottom line, you can’t change the laws of physics and chemistry and so a “cap” is necessary, not some “options” or “industry regulates itself”. Google for “cap and dividend” for the better versions

  3. says

    In my opinion Dick’s message is an exemplary look at a key ingredient of both immediate and long-term change: change in our attitudes – individually and then in numbers – as to what resources, goods and services you and I really need to live well (not ostentatiously, faddistically, wealthily or wastefully, but truly well).

    Much of today’s waste and destruction can be blamed directly or indirectly on corporate greed. However, it won’t do to presume that we or our fellow human beings are – or should be given a free pass to be – supine before corporate advertising. Use of unneeded or extravagant or destructive products (SUVs or whatever) is enabled above all by people refusing to adequately (or at all) THINK through their own actual needs and priorities.

    Rather, individually and then in numbers, we need above all to get in the habit of thinking about and consciously deciding how best to use existing resources to meet the actual needs of life. This approach is precisely what will give us greatest economic as well as moral clout in dealing with corporate and other evildoers.

    In the long run, our societal future will depend on broadly shared attitudes about how thoughtful we must be, and in particular about the need to consider what stuff is really needed and reasonable in our lives. The most wealthy and powerful of the future – whoever they will be – are kids today, and the attitudinal examples and expectations that surround them now may vitally influence society’s future agendas – whether for reason or for craziness.

    • says

      Thank, Joe.

      Obviously I wasn’t saying that we should stop putting pressure on government and the business community to devise a better energy policy.

      And if it’s just a few people here and there who do what they can to conserve energy, that won’t mean a hill of beans.

      But what if it’s thousands of people who are switching to hybrid cars or similar vehicles every year and tens of thousands of people across the country switching to public transportation, biking, and walking?

      Politicians would sit up and pay attention. The business world would see these new opportunities and change what they offer. We’d start making a dent.

  4. says

    I would highly recomend looking into biodiesel if you live in a large, urban area. When I lived in AZ there was a biodiesel gas station – so we bought a diesel VW jetta which already gets some of the best mpg of any cars. We never used gas, and got stellar mileage on nothing but biodiesel.

    Biodiesel doesn’t get as much attention as hybrids, but it is a better option for the environment if it is available in your community.

    I think the spill is prompting folks to use less oil, a good thing. Here in Hawaii the state government, disgusted by the spill, started talks to build wind mill farms on the smaller islands like Lawai. Let’s keep the momentum for green energy going, while also recognizing that without government supporting new infrastructure, there will always be huge limitations on individuals ability to progress.

    • harry says

      this is good positive advise. we all must look for the best ways to save energy, but it is like saving money, not many people like to do that either. I seem to have a limited supply of money and only spend a part of it each month and put a part away for times when I may need it. Some what like the government should do, but can not. As for the oil spill, I think BP caused it and will be found guilty of that. Our goverment will be found guilty of a slow response to prevent the spill from reaching our coast. We did not suspend the jones act and I can only wonder as to why. we did not accept help from other countries that have the skills to help us and I can only wonder as to why that happened. My vote in 2010 and 2012 will be my response to my government for their inabilities to function.

  5. Nina Zvaleko says


    Good article. Good points. Two comments.
    We ARE paying the higher prices for gasoline. Around $15 per gallon higher, through government subsidies, our taxes. It is just hidden. (same for beef but more like $60/lb)
    Also, according to Derrick Jensen, if we ALL do ALL of those wonderful conservation acts, we will only save 22% of the energy resources. 50% of our oil use in this country is attributed to the military, again, paid for by our taxes, and subsidized as well. (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/07/08)

    Keep up the great works!


  6. Edpeak says

    Yes folks, it’s yet another “blame yourselves, Americans” article, presumably well-intentioned to try to get us to do things I AGREE we should do, which is bike, share rides, etc, but it misses the point.

    The line is that Americans “demand” so much oil. Americans didn’t “demand” SUVs until hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising brainwashed, um, pardon me, ‘influenced’ them into buying those SUVs. If the auto industry spend the same millions and millions of dollars advertising efficient cars as cool and useful and easier to park and sexy and on and on, probably just as many sales would take place, so why advertise the SUVs much more? higher profit margins, more profit per individual car sold, has a lot to do with it.

    We are told Americans “demand” lots of oil…but the truth is the public policy has given us very little (and even less top-notch west European quality) public transit….then people have fewer choices of public transit and they “demand” more oil.

    Public policy subsidizes oil and coal with our tax-dollars, where are all the rigth-wing deficit hawks on that issue? Only programs that help the hungry, the homeless, the poor, children, the elderly, the vulnerable, etc, are the ones they want to slash, not the $700 billion per year “defense” read, military budget, and not the subsidies for coal and oil (and nuclear). Much much much smaller amounts are used to subsidize solar and wind, let’s reverse that and take away ALL oil and coal and nuke subsidies and spend half on subsidizing renewables, and the other half on direct to the taxpayer funds to insulate, replace appliances, and maybe buy small scale renewable energy generators.

    We’re not given that, and then when we use electricity, which could have come from more renewables it’s instead mostly coal, so we are told and lectured that we ‘demand’ coal. No we don’t, we use electricity and we have public policy that has put coal at the front by not counting the true full costs of coal we have this fake “cheap” market price…

    You can’t just say Americans “demand” this or “demand” that, you have to look at “under what circumstances?” that demand happened? What other choices were we given?

    Public policy has to change, individual recycling and individual biking and car-pools help but if that’s all we do the planet is cooked and toxified all the same, we need public policy which we don’t get without massive public pressure and real public financing of all elections with no private money going into our public elections (except maybe 100 dollars per person, same limit for everyone).

    Meanwhile stop lecturing folks for taking choices which are not entirely, but to a large extent, forced upon them. And I say this as someone who never had an SUV, who bikes often, etc. Encourage folks to take positive steps, yes, but it’s not because of “our demand” but because of public policy by officials who either are in bed with the banks and oil and coal and nuke companies, or else are deathly afraid to ‘upset’ those and these industries have our representatives by the neck…

    • harry says

      We have not made a neclear plant in 30 years or so, how can there be tax dollars going for new plants? I look out at my street on trash day and I only see my recycle bin, no others. I have two cars, a 1996 and a 2001 neither is driven over 5000 miles a year, do I get a green cash back from cap and trade, no, but the ponzi boys do. I grow things to eat in my yard and share with others, neighbors, food pantries, try it, it is fun.

  7. Aaron says

    The reason we have oil rigs drilling a mile deep into the ocean is because for the last 80 years the oil and car industry has lobbied congress to make sure that 1) oil is the only viable option for powering cars and 2) the only way you and I can get around efficiently is to drive a car. This isn’t a matter of individual Americans making the choice to only use oil and to only drive cars, its a matter of massively powerful corporations lobbying congress to limit our choices.

    • harry says

      boy are you wrong,we have oil on land, where it is safer to drill but the tree hugers do not want oil, they want green stuff, which so far has not worked because of economics. You do not want wind off your coast, you do not want electrice plants anywhere near you, you will not even let them slant drill into the water from shore due to the noise. so far, NG is the only fuel that can run cars and not cost too much. Let them drill at the safest places, land clean up is easy when compared to 5000 feet below the water. XOM is working on alge for fuel, but that has to be mixed into gas, but it is not a food product so you would not be burning food in your car.

      if you think we do not have oil, then google us oil reserves, google USGS for oil reserves. 50% of the land west of the mississippi is federal land and we can not dril there. we need to have a multiple fuel policy and work towards non oil but right now it is the only thing that works. the social countries of Europe are using the atom for energy and oil for cars, why not us?

  8. dawn says

    it has little to do with our personal habits and butt loads to do with the bottom line.

    if the gas and oil companies were working with bare bones profits you might be able to pedal this shit line. . .but since it is one of the most profitable industries in the freaking world. . .kiss my ass i am sick of the average american being blamed for things that corporate america needs to step up and claim ownership of. . .wars, pollution, rape and pillage of the american dream.

    we have wanted alternatives for over 50 yrs. . .but since the profit margin sucks we are not offered anything useful. . .hard to charge for sun, wind and tesla’s free energy.

    greed has led us down this garden path and to see who is responsible look at the fortune 500 companies.

    if you are making more money than god than you have a stake in status quo. this would not be ‘most americans’. . .

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