With gas prices through the roof, I—like 63% of Americans—have been trying to cut down on the amount I drive. Even though my car gets decent mileage, I can’t stomach the thought of paying $3.50 for a gallon of gas.
Gas prices have been wobbling from high to shockingly high, due, in part, to instability in oil-producing countries like Nigeria and Iraq and a looming hurricane season. The prices are just half of the story, though; soaring oil company profit, stronger and deadly hurricanes and a disastrous war are symptoms of a greater problem. The problem is costly in more than one way: our national 20-million-barrels-a-day oil habit is also wreaking on the atmosphere and our lungs.
We’re in a period where the consequences of our oil use have reached crisis proportions. Yet we’re stuck, it seems. Between a car-driven infrastructure, automakers that stubbornly refuse to make efficient cars, and a government wedded to oil interests, we’re clearly not free from our need yet—no matter its disastrous consequences. We’re seriously addicted. Even President George W. Bush has admitted that we, as a nation, have a problem.
I applauded Bush in January for saying we needed to kick this habit. I thought it meant that we were actually going to pursue viable alternatives to oil. Unfortunately, the President’s solution to his self-described ‘matter of national security’ was to call for a federal inquiry into price gauging, and to delay this summer's deposits to the reserve—a move that Peter Beutel, president of the energy risk management firm Cameron Hanover, said would “not even rearrange a single deck chair on the Titanic.”
Bush’s plan has found a receptive audience with just 25% of Americans, a number lower than his abysmal approval ratings. The question then becomes: what would satisfy the other 75%?
The answer seems simple. Get serious about kicking the addiction. Stop paying through the nose at the pump and declaring our independence from oil once and for all. And what better day to do it than on Independence Day?
In fact, declaring our independence from oil and declaring our independence from Britain have striking similarities. If we replace Great Britain with Great Oil, we have a fair breakdown of the problem today. Great Oil—that is, a society that’s completely dependent on oil, and the corporations that want to keep us that way—is telling us what to do. Great Oil is driving our foreign policy, in particular into a disastrous war in Iraq. Great Oil is forcing us to pay higher and higher prices to drive our cars, to heat our homes, to run our businesses, and more. Our oil-driven economy is setting the rules, and we are being forced to follow them.
It’s high time that we as civil society declare our independence from oil—in the same spirit our Founding Fathers did when they declared this country’s independence from Great Britain.
We already have the know-how to write this new Declaration of Independence. The auto industry could reach a fleet-wide average of 40 mpg today, using existing technologies. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can get more than 100 miles per gallon and drive up to 40 miles without consuming a single gallon of gas.
A green infrastructural grid powered by wind and sun can light up homes, recharge car batteries, and pull the plug on unsustainable sources like coal and nuclear. More energy from the sun hits our planet in an hour than humans use in an entire year. What if we celebrated this Independence Day with a rooftop revolution, slapping solar panels on all that unused surface?
The truth is, the Green Revolution is already in full swing. Though our government is still enslaved to oil interests, cities and communities are already declaring their independence in a thousand ways. From converting cars to biodiesel to endorsing the Kyoto Protocol, the grassroots are already figuring out how to meaningfully free themselves from the chains of oil addiction.
It’s time to join the new American Revolution. Stand up for our values and declare our freedom this July 4.
Mike Hudema is the Independence from Oil Director at Global Exchange. To learn how you can declare your oil independence, sign up for the Freedom from Oil Action Camp this summer in southern Indiana at www.jumpstartford.com.