The phrase “addicted to oil” gets bandied about a lot with reference to the USA’s massive reliance upon – and consumption of – fossil fuels.
It’s worth taking a look at what drives an addiction, any addiction.
First, there is the physical element – the fact that, due to your genetic predisposition, you crave a substance, such as alcohol or drugs. In the case of the USA and oil, that translates into some unique factors in our history and our geography. Settlers from Europe “discovered” a vast, sparsely-populated continent. They found oil there, invented the automobile, and the land grab already underway switched into high gear. Behind romanticized notions like “frontier” and “cowboy” lies a wasteful low-density settlement pattern that renders mass transit a virtual impossibility. As a result, “the American Dream” always seems to involve owning a big house far away from everyone else, and driving hundreds of miles per day in a gas-guzzling car.
The second factor spurring addiction is aggression. As the addict awakens to the cost of his behavior, it begins to take on a different tinge – it becomes about anger. As one of my clients, a recovered alcoholic, told me – when you’re doing something so obviously self-destructive, there’s always a “to hell with it” attitude running things, an attitude of aggression. You can wrap yourself up in excuses, but deep down every addict knows what he’s doing is not only self-destructive, but destructive, period. Feeding the addiction becomes an outlet for aggression.
There are good evolutionary reasons why discharging aggression feels good. The aggressive animal can intimidate his rivals and mate widely, producing the most off-spring. The animal who most enjoys aggression, like the animal who most enjoys sex, is the animal who reproduces most successfully.
The problem with discharging aggression, at least in humans, is that it produces a hang-over. You awaken to remorse.
It’s fun to chant “drill, baby, drill” with cheap demagogues like Sarah Palin and Michael Steele. There’s a major “to hell with it” factor at play. You don’t care about pollution – you just want to have fun, like Arnold Schwarzenegger storming LA in a Hummer or Palin blasting around a pristine forest in a snowmobile. You hate feeling deprived and controlled. You want what you want, when you want it. Get out of my way and let me guzzle! I’m going to get drunk tonight and Par-TAY!!!
Sounds like every alcoholic on a binge since the dawn of time.
Then comes the morning after.
It will take more than a single morning-after and one bad hang-over to wake this country up to its addiction. At very least, it will require hitting a true bottom – like the environmental holocaust happening right now in the Gulf of Mexico. After this calamity, there can be no more denying how far things have gone. The USA is a sad case. A wreck. Let’s be realistic – we’re hard-core users. If that oil weren’t swirling in deadly currents in the Gulf and the Atlantic right now, it would be burning in power plants and a million internal combustion engines, its deadly currents rising into our atmosphere to wreak a different kind of havoc. We’re unleashing astonishing destruction each and every day. We know that.
We are Americans and we are fossil fuel addicts. We know it is bad for us. We know it is bad for our neighbors and our family – the Earth and every species on it. The question is whether this is it – we’ve hit bottom – or whether we’ll go right back to bingeing. How bad does it have to get? Can we get clean, or will we continue as we have been – following in the footsteps of so many addicts before us – killing ourselves and wrecking the lives of others.
It is a common trope in books and films about alcohol and drug addiction that to truly hit bottom you have to do something you regret for the rest of your life. Typically, that involves causing harm or death to a helpless innocent, like a child. The alcoholic who drives home drunk and hits a third-grader crossing the street usually sobers up, because that’s a pretty awful bottom to hit.
We’re there. Take a look at the pictures of wildlife destroyed by this spill.
We did that, because of our addiction.
It’s time to own the situation – to get clean and sober. Enough is enough.