I Sound Like A Goddamned Hippie, But ...

A reader writes:

Watching the Earth bleed and the Gulf die as a result of us humans is bracing to say the least. I'm all for being at the top of the food chain while cranking out some impressive art and science; but man, we're a nasty virulent organism.

Another adds a caveat:

I would say that the more precise description isn't one of addiction, but rather one of dependance. We have built our society in such a manner that, without oil and the energy fossil fuels provide, it would collapse.

Addiction implies that we simply must have oil, and that only oil can satisfy our craving. That strikes me as untrue - what we desire is the freedom cars and airplanes provide, heat in our homes, electricity for our computers, and so on. If an alternative energy source was truly a valid option, I don't think even the most stalwart "drill baby drill" chanter would be truly opposed to dropping oil and other fossil fuels entirely from our energy diet.

Dependency, however, implies that we need it because it is a necessary part of our societal structure, and this is when environmentalists begin to propose what looks, at least in my eyes, to a sort of forced austerity. Give up your cars and airplanes, a portion of the heat in your homes, the amount of electricity you use - this is what seems to be the basic anti-oil message. And right now, I don't think that is really an acceptable option, and I think most Americans, rightfully or wrongfully, are thinking along those lines.

What I think the oil spill did is indicate an absolute disregard for the method by which we procured this resource that we require. The blame is one we must all take - Americans in general did not demand the oversight necessary to engage in this kind of deepwater drilling, the government foolishly did not mandate or enforce the regulations that did exist, and BP did not care to adequately protect both its own purely selfish interests in profit and the national interest in protecting our shores from environmental catastrophe.

I do not think it follows that because of this disaster America, and the rest of the world for that matter, is quite in a position to truly break free of oil and fossil fuels being completely necessary for the maintenance of our current way of life. Until that changes, oil is here to stay.

I don't disagree as an empirical matter. And obviously, we need to keep the current system from being even less responsible than it need be. But few things have brought home to me the precariousness of this level of material well-being if it destroys the environment that makes it possible. Which, I guess, means to say that alternative energy is surely the highest imperative we could possibly have right now. And yet in refusing to re-price carbon, Americans are refusing to go there.