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the Brattleboro Reformer (Vermont)

Living in the Petroleum Age

Brattleboro Reformer Editorial

The images have been horrifying and depressing.

Crude oil spewing like smoke from a broken pipe nearly a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Sea animals and birds coated in oil. Tar balls washing up on what were once pristine beaches. Marshes that are slowly being suffocated by the black viscous liquid. Satellite images of a stain on the Gulf almost too big to comprehend.

All of us want to know who is at fault for the continuing environmental disaster known as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Is it BP itself? Halliburton? The Minerals Management Service? Transocean? President Barack Obama? Former Vice President Dick Cheney?

But while we are all busy pointing fingers, let's not forget that old adage -- when you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

All of us, as consumers of petroleum products, have been swimming in a sea of crude as long as we have been alive and despite how hard we might try to avoid things made from oil every aspect of our lives is touched by it.

Those things include fertilizers, computer keyboards, disposable pens, shoes, basketballs, vehicle and bicycle tires, clothes, flooring, hair coloring and lipstick, dice, trash bags, anything nylon, CDs and DVDs, heart valves, shaving cream, toothpaste, anesthetics, skis and surfboards, shower curtains, restaurant to-go containers, carpets and upholstery, perfumes, tape, eyeglasses, detergents, mobile telephones and iPads, bandages, plastic water bottles, contact lenses, well, you get the idea.

Humanity has had the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Atomic Age.

Let's finally admit we have been living in the Petroleum Age for quite a while.

While most of us realize we need to someday free ourselves of our petroleum addiction, in all reality there is only so much we can do.

With so many people struggling just to put food on the table, is it realistic to expect that each and every one of us can take the steps necessary to reduce our dependency on or completely rid our lives of petroleum products?

Have you seen the price of a hybrid vehicle or the new electric car being built by Chevrolet?

How many of us can afford several thousand dollars to replace our old appliances with Energy Star appliances, even with a tax credit?

Put solar panels on your house or a windmill in your backyard? A 30 percent tax credit for the installation of a renewable power source doesn't mean much if you can't afford the other 70 percent.

A $1,500 tax credit for putting new energy efficient windows on a house when it costs, on the low end, more than $350 per window? Most of us who own our own houses have a few more than five windows in them.

And how many of us would be able to ride our bicycles 5, 10, 15 or more miles a day just to get to work and then still have time to spend with our families before we go to bed and start the whole thing over again?

It's impossible for us to rid our lives of petroleum products unless we are willing to grow our hair long and start a commune or go back to rubbing two sticks together to make fire.

It's a bitter pill to swallow, but our destiny, and the future of our habitat, is out of our hands. It's no wonder so many of us just throw our hands up into the air and shrug our shoulders in helplessness.

Or we could point our fingers at the one institution that could force a change of course.

The same institution, when it was enlightened, that put a man on the moon in less than a decade and the same institution, after it was hijacked by chickenhawks, that spent more than a trillion dollars, and counting, on an unnecessary war -- the federal government.

Truth be told, without a federal government that is willing to free itself from the shackles of big money interests and do what is right for its citizens and the world we will remain swimming in a sea of oil, slowly choking to death, waiting for the next big disaster.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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