How crude it is

By Maureen Foley 02/15/2007

Everybody knows that oil is a dinosaur. Now that An Inconvenient Truth spelled out in giant red letters the connection between car use, gas emissions and global warming for the American mainstream, there is no question that oil’s days are numbered. (The death of oil is a possibility that many people on the progressive fringes have pondered for years.) Even President Bush, during his 2007 State of the Union address, dropped the b-word (biodiesel), after proclaiming last year that the United States must end its addiction to oil.

Now, we are finally witnessing the slow death march of the behemoth, international, multibillion-dollar petroleum industry. Hybrid cars and alternative fuels are now a reality, not a distant hope. But like old habits, oil use dies hard and the millions of investors, corporations, gas station owners and other oil industry stakeholders (not to mention American car drivers) will not let oil go without a long, vicious fight. It could be years before this country effectively transitions from the dead-end street of using petroleum-based fuels for cars and into using more sustainable fuel and transportation options.

After all, like many lovers, America’s current relationship with oil is complicated. One only has to look at our president’s former career (as an oil executive) and at his good friends (the oil czars in Saudi Arabia) to understand that there is more to the oil game than meets the eye. There are also international political issues related to petroleum production. For instance, Iraq’s economic future is dependent on the strength of its oil profits; those future oil profits were written into its plan for economic independence and stability. As well, Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and many other countries’ future economies are closely tied to oil consumption. In the last year, China negotiated huge trades with Africa, helping the continent with infrastructure projects in exchange for barrels of cheap oil.

But it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture of oil. Instead, consider how small changes in one Ventura County person’s oil use could affect the area. What if half the people in the area chose to convert their cars to biodiesel or to use biodiesel instead of diesel for their tanks? (Since biodiesel is now commercially available at USA Gas in Ventura, this is now easier than ever.) What if half of the remaining regular car drivers chose to carpool, take a bus, walk or bicycle to work even one day a week? What if a quarter of the remaining drivers switched to a hybrid car or to a gas-efficient car? What if the local governments banned traditional gas stations? Or required each gas station to offer biodiesel? Or gave incentives to people to use public transportation, car pools or bicycles?

Oil will never totally go away. But the current dependence on it could shift, if local governments and people consciously chose to find another way. Less reliance on oil means greater economic self-reliance, as a country, and fewer greenhouse gases for the environment, globally. Locally, less use of oil translates into less smog and could even mean less traffic. It’s time to wake up and address the insidious oil monster. After all, global warming is the silent terrorist that we all support financially, every time we fill up at the pump.

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