I am one person air conditioning 1400 square feet of space for just one person, a couple of cats, and a couple of plants. I drive about 50 miles a day just going to work and back. I go to the store where I buy individually packaged dinners in individual plastic wraps. The dinners are made of ingredients that have been shipped for hundreds of miles in one direction and hundreds of miles again in another.
If there is even a place in my town to take cardboard, plastic, or glass for recycling, I don’t know about it. I save aluminum cans and put everything else in the trash.
I drive to the store sometimes just because I am bored. I drive to a town ten miles from where I work to eat lunch.
I drive 100 miles to Jackson when I am bored with the stores in Hattiesburg. I drive slightly more than 100 miles to Raymond for a meeting that could have taken place over the phone.
I listen to a book on an iPod along the way. This is efficient and seems to incur no real waste because I know absolutely nothing about the cost of running the servers that hold the books, the cost of keeping them cool enough to run.
I am describing my life, a typical life perhaps for where I live. Maybe the energy and resources I consume are actually less than typical. I drive a small car. I don’t buy that many products, all things considered. I reuse where I can. I often hang my clothes up to dry in the bathroom to avoid running the dryer.
Yet if we compare the energy and resources I consume to those a typical person consumed 75 years ago, my wastefulness is phenomenal. We call it poverty now when we look back at the way our grandparents lived. We would call it disaster if something happened to force us into a similar lifestyle.
We sit in our air conditioned houses, watching our satellite TVs, and we cast judgment on the environmental disaster happening right now in the Gulf of Mexico. BP ought to pay, we say. The government ought to do more, we say.
Some of us are even going so far as to say we should quit drilling for oil in the ocean, quit taking such chances with the one earth we were given.
But what are we willing to do? Who is going to voluntarily give up dependence on oil? The plastic casing on the computer I use to type this article is a petroleum product. If I print the article out, the ink will be made of petroleum products.
My shampoo contains petroleum. The carpet under my feet contains petroleum.
This need for oil permeates every last inch of the lives we live. Who is going to take a real and meaningful stand? Who is going to say enough?
It is one thing to say the drilling should stop. It is another to give up your car. It is one thing to say the government should find a solution to our oil dependence. It is another to quit purchasing products made with petroleum.
In truth, anything an individual does to give up oil is a gesture only. You won’t change the oil culture all on your own. But it is our collective demands for more and more personal conveniences that have caused the energy problems we face today. It is our messages to politicians that they cannot be elected or reelected if gas prices go too high, if plastic is not abundantly available. It is our collective indifference to more fuel efficient vehicles, more conservationist measures in our daily routines, and more demand for alternative energies.
My friend Patti said on her blog yesterday that the big oil companies have only been answering our own demands.
So what are we going to demand now? And what are we going to do to make those demands real? It doesn’t mean a thing to say we want to quit drilling for oil in the Gulf if we aren’t willing to dramatically reduce the use of oil in our own lives.
How many of the people making the loudest demands are opting now to bike to work, to make their own soap, to stay home in the evenings rather than drive unnecessarily no matter how bored they become?
Not many, I’d say, and that’s why their complaints won’t accomplish anything.
What are you willing to do? What are you really willing to do?