Saving Our Place

Here’s my column that appeared yesterday in the Hattiesburg American. I was nervous about this one. I thought people would leave rude comments on it. I usually write about things that aren’t in the least bit controversial for this column, and people leave rude comments anyway. This time when I thought people would have rude things to say, no one left a comment at all. Maybe this isn’t controversial after all, or maybe no one read it. 🙂

At any rate, it’s very difficult to say what you mean in less than 400 words, especially on a large and complex topic. I cut more sentences than I kept in writing this. I may not be finished with it yet, but here it is…

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The Onion (www.onion.com) had a story last week with the headline “EPA: Stubborn Environment Refusing To Meet Civilization Halfway.”

The Onion is all about satire, but satire only works when it resembles truth. This sentiment does in fact accurately reflect our societal attitudes toward the environment. We tend to think we have a right to do whatever we want for as long as we want.

Then something happens like an explosion on an oil rig that kills 11 people and pumps vast amounts of oil into the Gulf, endangering habitats and livelihoods across multiple states.

Something happens to make us take stock, to make us question whether we ought to keep doing what we are doing. Despite our carelessness, we humans are very good at momentary guilt.

We’re ready in the aftermath of disaster to make changes. The trouble is that real change takes a long time to accomplish.

We’re at a point now, though, where we can’t afford to be short-sighted. We can’t afford to just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We need rational, deliberate, determined, and long-term commitment to both conservation and alternative fuels.

I won’t claim we need to stop drilling for oil right now. I’m horrified by what has happened in the Gulf, but I’m not prepared to give up my car or my air conditioning.

I’m not prepared to see the many people in our area who make a living in the oil field lose their jobs. I’m not prepared to see our economy suffer because gas prices shoot to new and alarming heights. I’m not prepared to see us shift even more of our oil purchases to foreign sources, thereby further enriching the people who hate us the most.

There isn’t an easy answer, and there isn’t a quick answer. For now, we are undeniably dependent on oil. If, however, we have not radically shifted to other fuel sources in another 10 or 20 years, we are a foolish people indeed.

This isn’t just about saving the dolphins and the turtles; it’s about saving our own place in the world.

This week I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s “Hot, Flat, and Crowded.” He makes a compelling case for America taking the lead on clean energy initiatives. In a hot, flat, and crowded world, can we afford not to put our considerable industriousness toward finding new ways to fuel our own habits?

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