SUVs, if you please,
and much, much more
This column was published the S-T editorial pages January
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 dont
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
And what we are telling them is we like our boats, cars, planes, and
huge houses and we dont like to pay big bucks at the gas pump. We
dont 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, its because of us.
If it's bad, it couldnt 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 dont want to look closely at oil rich countries where
our government supports leaders who not only dont 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 arent going to get any help on this one from our leaders. They
dont 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.
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Last updated January 10, 2003
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