SUVs, if you please,
and much, much more

This column was published the S-T editorial pages January 12, 2003.

by Greg Stone

I sympathize with the SUV owners who feel burned by the new ads linking SUV's to terrorism through oil. At the same time, I applaud the ads. (S-T, page 1, 1/10/03, "Campaign puts focus on oil use").

I sympathize because I agree, it is unfair to single out SUV owners. They are simply a symbol of a much larger problem for which we all carry some blame. Afterall, I drive a car and sail a fiberglass boat, and perhaps take more frivolous trips in my car than some others. And it isn't a matter of what I drive - it's a matter of whether or not I'm willing to pay a fair price for the privlege to drive.

But I applaud the ads because they do raise our consciousness - they point to what no politician wants to point to - us. Politicians will not point to us because they get elected by telling us how wonderful we are and by pledging to cut our taxes. They wouldn't dare ask anything of us, or in any way suggest that we might, as a country, be doing some things that are unjust and offensive to a large proportion of the world.

Sacrifice? Not us! Not now!

September 11 has been repeatedly compared to Pearl Harbor. But after Pearl Harbor every American was asked to sacrifice - gas rationing, food rationing, women taking over jobs normally done by men, and of course many men and women uprooted from their careers and education and going off to fight in foreign lands. No politician asked anything of us after September 11. They simply pandered to our anger and pain, telling us what we wanted to hear. I am not talking just about the current administration. I heard nothing of the sort from Democrats either - and in 1998 Clinton's response to an attack was identical to the Bush response, right down to the nice-sounding nonsense about them hating us because of our love of freedom.

But the point is, much of the world is angry with us and one of the reasons they are angry with us is the way we mindlessly consume oil. I don’t think for a moment that an SUV driver, or anyone heating a huge home, or whatever has an intention of hurting someone else by doing so. We simply do what we do, largely unaware of the consequences of our acts.
And so I applaud the ads. I only wish they were more broadly directed. But they point out the fundamental truth that Pogo, the comic strip Possum, pointed out 30 years ago - "We have met the enemy, and he is us!"

Where are the leaders who will ask us to conserve oil? Who will promote the use of more energy efficient vehicles? Who will wean us away from this dependence on the natural resources of the mid-East? Why isn't there a "Manhattan Project" focusing on renewable energy resources? Everyone knows oil is at the heart of the current tensions. Everyone knows that the current administration is neck deep in the oil industry. Everyone knows that North Korea presents a far more potent security threat to us than Iraq, but North Korea has no oil, so we're being diplomatic there while planning to escalate our decade-long war on Iraq.

The mirror of public opinion

But all that is a matter of leadership and the leadership is simply reflecting us.

And what we are telling them is we like our boats, cars, planes, and huge houses and we don’t like to pay big bucks at the gas pump. We don’t like to be reminded of the way our leaders achieved this special status for us over the past several decades. We act like whatever happens in other countries is the fault of the people in those countries and has nothing to do with us, even though we are the dominant military and economic force in the world. If it's good, it’s because of us. If it's bad, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with us.

And before someone starts talking about my running down our country, I will say that I love this country and I'm proud of many things Americans have done in the past century. I am especially proud of what we did immediately after World War II when we helped our former enemies - and all of Europe - rebuild. But only a fool thinks he, or his country, is always right. I know I make mistakes. I know I've done things that I am not proud of. When I take off the blinders and see these, I admit them. Why should I do any less with my country? But today, when it is increasingly clear that political boundaries are more and more meaningless - that they are constantly crossed by economics, environmental issues, disease and terrorists - we have to think and act as responsible citizens of the world.

Yes, it is uncomfortable to consider the consequences of our lifestyle on others. We don’t want to look closely at oil rich countries where our government supports leaders who not only don’t represent their people, but squander the natural resources of their countries giving us favorable prices while ripping off their own people. And someday, in the not-to-distant future, the oil will run out. We may have found other sources of cheap energy by then. But the countries who had this wonderful resource will have squandered it. It never will have benefited their people.

We aren’t going to get any help on this one from our leaders. They don’t lead any more. They read polls and they follow. So if the situation is going to change, it is going to change because citizens groups, such as "Americans for Fuel Efficient Cars," have raised our consciousness enough - yes, pricked our consciences. Perhaps such efforts will lead us to demand that our leaders stop pandering to our immediate greed and really try to meet the long-term needs for health, security and happiness - of people in this country and the rest of the world.

Comments - email to:

Last updated January 10, 2003


Column index page

Site home page

Americans for Fuel Efficient Cars

Many excellent background links on the Gulf War, Iraq history, and Hussein can be found here.