Fries and Fast Cars…the problem with oil

As the oil spill in the Gulf approaches its two month anniversary, we who read widely find ourselves swimming in an ocean of commentary on the tragedy.  There’s enough blame to go around, it seems, as suddenly the tea party is begging for big government to step and solve the problem, and Obama is looking for someone to kick because, of course, it’s the corporation that’s to blame.  It’s what’s missing in the blame game, however, that’s most tragic of all:  a sense of personal responsibility.

Deep water wells are being drilled because we need the oil – all of us.  We need oil because we want the cheap food, fortified with petrol-chemical fertilizers.  We want to enjoy climate controlled air space so that we’re never too hot or cold.  We’ve painted a grid of oil-based asphalt across America so that we can drive from Seattle to Boston to Miami to Los Angeles and back north to Seattle again without ever stopping our car, except of course, to buy gas.  We like it light in the middle of the night.  We like living in big houses, driving big cars, flying (in my case about 20k miles a year) to far places, and enjoying cheap steaks from cattle raised in South America, and cheap clothes made in Asia.

Oil is a concentrated form of energy.  Potatoes that are fried in it offer cheap, quick calories.  Cars that run with it offer cheap, quick transport.  The testimony of the big puddle of destructive oil in the Gulf is this: though “cheap and quick” is rarely the right path, it is the wide path, the path of least resistance – the path we choose. And, though this is a global problem, it’s an American problem more than anywhere else, as we, 5% of the world’s population, consume 20% of the world’s oil.

I’ll let others sort out who will pay, who will regulate, who we’ll blame.  Those problems are complex.  But meanwhile, I’ll own up to the fact that the tragic images from the Gulf are the result of our collective lust for cheap and easy, rather than life giving.  I’ll repent by:

1. buying local every Friday at my Phinney Farmers market

2. riding my bike as often as possible

3. turning the lights out and the heat off

4. walking

5. building some raised beds in the front yard this summer

6. taking the bus

These are hard choices, but the results are life giving:  Health, scalable pace to life, cleaner air and food; this is the good life that eludes us in our lust for a quick fix of comfort, mobility, and the most for the least amount of money, be it calories and fries or miles and fast cars.

No one person’s lust for oil creates the problem.  No one person’s conservation will solve it.  But I believe it was Voltiare who said, “no single snowflake creates an avalanche”.  I’m a snowflake, praying for an avalanche of change because, God knows, we can’t keep living like this.

For more on spill, and learning to read the cries of creation, click here.

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  • Thanks, John, for a fresh and responsible perspective!

  • Lucky

    Pastor Richard,

    Another option is alternative fuel such as compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG is cheaper than gasoline or diesel by about half, the emissions are significantly lower, the engines last longer, and the US currently has a glut of natural gas, which is causing a concern for gas suppliers since the glut is resulting in “low” gas prices. Here in Alaska, as in Ohio and other places, we have an entrepreneur willing to buy methane gas from the city landfill and turn it into CNG. But rather than be paid for the gas, the municipality is flaring the gas and paying a fine to the EPA if air quality deteriorates as a result. Additionally, the vendor will sell CNG to the Municipality to run its fleet of busses, police cars, fire engines, etc. at a price much lower than that of gasoline and diesel, thereby helping the muni cut its budget. But after a couple of years there seems to be no interest.