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Unconscious Choice

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of being in New Orleans for that town's annual Jazz and Heritage Festival. At the time, the Deepwater Horizon had just suffered an explosion, burned, and sank, rupturing the oil well it had tapped a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Since the incident happened only 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, it was the subject of much barroom banter and idle talk.

So there I was, way in the back of a giant crowd (where the cool people hang out) watching a guy named Eddie Vedder on a giant projection screen while some band named Pearl Jam ground through its set. At one point, between songs, Eddie suggested that the executives at British Petroleum (BP) should do the thoughtful thing and send their children to vacation on the Gulf's beaches where they could also bask in their parents' handiwork. After Eddie's brief rant, the friend I was with began talking to another festival-goer about the then-nascent oil spill. The other fellow, oddly to me, seemed to almost defend BP (or perhaps, more technically, Transocean, the rig's actual owner from which BP leased the rig). In particular, he noted that such an event was inevitable and just sort of a cost of doing business in the modern world. With an unnerving smile, he said, "It's not like your gonna give up your car or anything. Drilling is just a product of our demand." He just kind of smirked and shrugged and went on his way. La-de-da.

At first, I was put off by the guy's attitude. I thought to myself, "Only in America do you find people who are actually PROUD to be part of the problem." But he did have a point, if an inconvenient one. The fact is that much of America is constructed in such a way that dependence on oil is simply built into people's lives. Many Americans choose to live a good distance from their employers and live in low-density suburban or exurban housing that makes traditional mass transit systems unattractive. Many modern communities have literally designed people out of the picture; they're scaled for cars, not people. Thus, many Americans, consciously or not, are in situations where they must drive their own vehicles as opposed to opting for more energy-efficient methods of getting around. A choice many inadvertently made when they made other choices.

Given our thirst for oil, one might argue that, indeed, the occasional environmental disaster is inevitable. Or is it? After eight years of a senseless pro-regulation Clinton Administration, BP and other oil companies found friends in the Bush Administration, who apparently believed that the oil industry could be trusted to police itself. You know, because Clinton-era safety measures were, like, expensive, or something. More choices...

Maybe extra layers of safety precautions would have prevented the disaster in the Gulf. I guess we'll never know.



The saddest part of this whole dilemma is that some on the conservative side have painted conservation as an all-or-nothing proposition. You either are a tree-hugging lunatic greenie or a red-blooded Hummer-driving American. Conservatism equates to consumption in many circles.

It's sad because reality is that we don't have to drastically change our lives on a dime to make a real difference. If everyone does a little every day while we work to toward energy independence (and drill baby drill is not what I mean), then we can affect some real change and benefits. That has been obscured--willfully and cynically.

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