Addicted to Oil

On 31 January, President George W. Bush delivered his 2006 State of the Union Message. In it he made a very powerful declaration:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources — and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

While history will be the final determinant of President Bush’s impact on history and the degree to which it was favorable or not, the statement, “America is addicted to oil,” may standout as a turning point for America. While this reality was not new news for millions who listened to or read his speech, the mere fact that he gave voice to it as the elected leader of the American people was a powerful expression of what it represents. It may very well constitute the most key assertion of his administration.

Addiction is a tough term to reconcile; it is a psychological reality that takes no prisoners, so to speak. Addiction means dependency in the most profound way. Such dependency in this instance drives three potential outcomes:

  1. Depletion: what happens if we run out of oil?
  2. Defense: what happens if government leaders from countries where we buy oil use the money to our disadvantage costing even more money to protect ourselves and our way of life
  3. Destruction:1 what happens to the environment if we persist in using oil (fossil fuels)?

It isn’t necessary to know exactly when we reach Hubbert’s peak, or to know how much money it takes to defend ourselves against foreign forces that are funded by money we pay to them for their oil, or to know how much burning fossil fuel affects the environment. It is only a matter of believing that any one or a combination of them is in play to trigger intense concern. Such is the powerful hold addiction has on those in its grasp.

The significance of President Bush’s statement is that it legitimizes conversations and commitments to seek viable alternatives. And because there are three motivating forces, each equally compelling, triggered by his statement, there is a much wider audience who buys-in to the notion that the fundamental issue of oil addiction warrants attention. Time and energy do not need to be wasted convincing people to get on board. It is proving to be an efficient way to mobilize people, resources, and investments in finding viable alternatives.

We do not have answers; at least we have questions that are moving us in a healthier and more sustainable direction. Swapping fuels derived from plant materials for fossil-fuels offers a way to ease the problem, but it is not a panacea. It will be a race to see if we can slow consumption, adopt non-fossil-fuel alternatives, and develop more efficient ways to produce and move what we make from one place to the other. This is an area of considerable interest to me as 2006 wanes and 2007 creeps closer. More later…

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Sunday, December 10, 2006

  1. The quoted 2005 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists is not available online, however, a later statement, Car Emissions & Global Warming, addresses the same issue:“Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming. Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas. About five pounds comes from the extraction, production, and delivery of the fuel, while the great bulk of heat-trapping emissions—more than 19 pounds per gallon—comes right out of a car’s tailpipe.” 

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