Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Big Me

As I've been listening all the anger directed at BP and the federal government because of the Gulf Oil Spill, I can't help but feel a tad bit annoyed.

I'm not as annoyed by the oil giant, or even the feds. Yes, BP was responsible, so I'm not leaving them off the hook. As for the feds, well last I checked the president doesn't have special powers to blow back the oil, or catch BP executives with his lasso of truth ala Wonder Woman. The federal government can only do so much.

No, what I'm upset about is that someone else is getting away scott free during this tragedy.

It's us.

As Americans we love to add the word, "big" to something we don't like: such as, Big Oil or Big Government. Well, I think it's time to add another one: Big Me.

Americans like their freedom and like to drive big cars. We want to drive big trucks and throaty cars and we want to do this all on the cheapest gas possible.

As we see the oil spill out into the Gulf of Mexico, I think we need to be reminded that this environmental disaster is as much our problem as it is the problem of BP. As much as might want to hurl BP execs into the deep to stop the spill, we might want to look at ourselves as well: the oil companies were only doing our bidding.

It is our thirst for oil that has prodded oil companies like BP to go out into the deep, hard place to extract oil to make sure our big cars have enough gas to get us going. It is our thirst that makes us beholden to regime that have what we want but don't like us very much: the Venezeulas, the Russias and the Irans.

Back in 2008, when gas reached well over $4 a gallon, Americans complained about the "high cost of gas" and politicians accused the oil companies of gouging the American public. We had a right to cheap gas, dammit.

For a while, Americans started buying more fuel efficient cars and even riding more mass transit. But when oil went back down the economy picked up again we went back to our old ways.

In the days following the spill, there have been calls for banning offshore oil drilling and more emphasis on alternative fuels. While some bans might be needed and alternatives to oil are needed, they won't solve the main problem at this time. Also "drill, baby, drill" is also not an efficient solution to dealing with Big Me. None of these can make a difference, because we are not focused on consumption and conservation of oil. We use a lot of oil because of it's relatively cheap. The problem of Big Me is a problem of not wanting make sacrifices to not only better the environment, but to enhance our national security and leave a better world for our children.

Which is why Americans have to learn to consume less fuel. That won't come from Washington offering edicts to automakers to make their fleets more efficient. Consumers will just ignore all those fuel-sipping cars in favor of the gas-guzzlers.

What has to be done is to make the cost of fuel more expensive, and that can only be done by raising the gas tax.

Republicans are supposed to abhor any and all taxes, but I am in favor of a gas tax because it will lay out to Americans the cost of oil and the cost of our choices.

The reason Europeans tend to drive smaller cars is not because they are more rabid environmentalists; it's because their governments have imposed taxes on gas making it more expensive and nudging Europeans in making choices that favor conservation over consumption. People aren't banned from buying a big car, but they will pay more in fuel costs for their choice: as someone once said, you are free to do anything, but you should be willing to pay the price.

We haven't raised the federal gas tax since 1993. No sane politician wants to raise taxes, but raising the gas tax will not only help us to consume less but it will allow us to fix our aging infastructure and save us money in car repairs.

Big Oil and Big Government have their hand in this tragedy, but we need to focus just as much on Big Me to find ways to help us use less oil and to atone for our own role in this mess.

No comments: