I was watching Rachel Maddow's coverage of the current environmental clusterfsck that is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and while I enjoyed the good Dr.'s usual coverage, I did note that there is one connection that few people are willing to make.
Rachel won't say it. None of her guests will say it. Not even the hard-hitting Vote Vets clean energy ad will say it.
Our oil addiction springs not from just general societal energy needs. The oil that Deepwater Horizon was harvesting isn't lucrative because we burn it for electricity, nor because it produces plastics, nor because we use it to lube bike chains and other various and sundry items.
Our oil addiction, the one that is driving conflict in the Persian Gulf, the one that is currently destroying the environment of the Gulf of Mexico, the one that is only now releasing its grasp on the Prince William Sound in Alaska... it is fed by another addiction: Our addiction to driving. Between 60 and 70 percent of the oil that we use in this nation is used for transportation fuel, much of that for single-passenger automobiles.
The Vote Vets ad urges us to move to clean energy sources- electric energy sources- to cut our dependence on foreign oil, but only 1-2% of our oil is used in power generation. Dr. Maddow's disdain for our environmental short-sightedness is refreshing, but the fact that her show is sponsored by a plethora of automobile manufacturers keeps her commentary firmly in the "outrage" column, not quite reaching solutions. The automobile has a stranglehold on this nation, and because nearly everyone in it is utterly car-dependent, nearly everyone will conveniently fail to connect the oil now gushing into our oceans and washing up on our shores with the oil that they pump into their vehicles every day. Clean energy is doubtless an admirable goal, but unless we start powering our transportation sector with it (and I don't mean electric cars), it will make very little difference in our oil consumption- and we need that difference badly.
The lesson from this massive oil spill is a clear one, and urbanists, livable streets advocates, and alternative transport activists need to shout it loudly and as often as possible- we need to end our dependence on oil, which means ending our dependence on the car.
(Figures are from the conservative Institute for Energy Research. They cite DoE.)