Deep Within the Well.

©Eli Reichman, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

I’m a hypocrite.  I admit it.

I’ve been watching and listening to the commentary on BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and I can’t help but ask, aren’t we pointing our collective fingers in the wrong direction?

Yes, BP must be held financially accountable for creating this latest environmental disaster.  If they survive this debacle as a viable corporate entity they will deservedly face heavy fines in addition to paying for the clean-up.  Hopefully the entire off shore drilling industry will now be subjected to stricter safety standards.

It’s easy to be angry with BP, but that doesn’t attack the root of the problem.  Don’t we all share in the blame for this catastrophic event with our continued excessive use of oil?  While none of us caused this spill, we haven’t curbed our appetite for all things fueled by petrol either.

It boggles my mind when I think about the exponential growth of my own energy consumption.  I am guilty.  With every keystroke of this  computer,  every piece of clothing I wear, every meal I consume, every picture I shoot, all the music I listen to, and every iPhone app I download, I’m consuming oil.   I’m just one of nearly  7 billion people in the world using non-renewable resources everyday, and our scales are out of balance.

The impact of the US economic recession showed that the world is more interdependent then ever before.  George H. Bush’s  “New World Order,” is upon us, and its economic engine is driven by expansion.  We need to switch out this business model in favor of one based upon sustainability, and there’s no time to waste.

For me, any meaningful change is best achieved by taking baby steps.  Living in Kansas City, where there is no  light rail system, the majority of commuters rely on the car for all their transportation.  When gas prices began spiking three years ago, I modified my driving habits. Previously I gave little thought to running an errand, grabbing a meal, or seeing a movie.  Then I began thinking about the environmental and financial ramifications of my actions.  Those random, yet frequent trips have now been replaced with better planned activities, purchases, and driving routes.  Yes, I’m still using oil, but I am using less of it.

Americans should consider riding bikes en masse.  The benefits could be far reaching.  Less oil would be consumed, air pollution would decline, streets would be quieter, and we’d all enjoy healthier bodies.  Also, a healthier body equals a healthier mind.  The bike has a way of neutralizing the angst of driving, probably due to being in oxygen debt while riding most of the time.  Another value added benefit: it’s awfully difficult to email, text, or talk on your cell while you’re cycling down the road.  With fewer accidents and better living, one could hope our car, health, and life insurance rates would drop accordingly as well.

I came to a proverbial T in the road (this happens regularly) halfway through my morning ride today.  To the left was a nice moderate flat, to the right was a bear of a hill to climb.  Both routes lead me home.  I really wanted to turn left, but I went right knowing the hill is better for me in the long run.  The future is challenging all of us to sacrifice many of our comforts and live more modestly.  It’s difficult when there is no clear path, no infallible answers to tough questions. I hope to have the necessary discipline and fortitude moving forward through this sea of constant change laying ahead of us.

The BP spill caused me to look deep within my personal well, and ask, “What more can I do to decrease my dependence on oil?”  How about you?


Addendum 6/14 – This op-ed by Friedman in the June 11th edition of the NY Times carries essentially the same message:


7 thoughts on “Deep Within the Well.

  1. Great comments Brad and an excellent link too. I’ll be adding Abby’s blog to my list of favorites. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. I’ll give you another more compelling example. The phone in my pocket is about 3x more powerful than the first PC I bought back in 1998. The phone cost cost me about $100 and the PC cost me $2200. The phone weighs 4 oz and the PC with monitor weighed about 30 lbs. So in 12 years the electronics industry has been able to compress the technology size and price by about 100x while making it more than 3x more powerful.

    Still alternative energy improvements limp along. Millions of $ have been spent every year since the early 1900’s on Internal Combustion Engine technology but still fuel economy has only shown incremental improvements over the last 40 years. Meanwhile, plastic use in the last 30 years has skyrocketed.

    I think there is alot more in play here than any of us know. The petroleum companies are the biggest investors into alternative energy and it’s not in their best interest to have alternative energy succeed right now. As soon as it is, you will see huge strides being made. But for now, the petroleum companies stand to lose a boat load of money if we use alot less petroleum.

    Basically, we’re all peons and we don’t make policy decisions on a grand scale. Until those policy decisions are made to make alternative energy viable, we individuals need to make smart personal decisions so we can influence the big decisions.

    Here are some examples and/or reminders:
    -Don’t get plastic bags at the grocery store. If you already have some at home, use them for other things like trash bags in the bathroom. Or return them to the store in their bag recycling collection bin.
    -Drive as little as possible and drive the most efficient vehicle possible. Or, consider buying a diesel and switching over to veggie oil.
    -Invest in alternative energy indexes and stocks
    -Buy food and other products made locally
    -Vote for politicians at every level who support alternative energy

  3. Yeah Lisa, I know our cities, let alone our lifestyles won’t support the cycling idea. But, one can dream, right? btw – no guilt intended there.

    I do wish municipalities would get on the mass transit bandwagon though. I’d happily give up my set of wheels in lieu of an effective city wide rail system. But, all I’ve ever heard is it’d take too long to build and cost too much.

    It makes me wonder, people have been talking about alternative energy sources since the Carter administration and the technology is still just creeping along. When we wanted to put a human being on the moon, it took something like 8 years didn’t it? What gives?

  4. You’re completely right, Eli. While I shake my fist at BP (whose leadership still deserves the world’s biggest bitchslap) I drive around and consume. But I don’t think Americans will ever embrace bikes as a primary mode of getting around. We’re too lazy, over-committed and vain to sweat it out.
    I do wish Mr. Obama would use this as platform to finally force alternative energy down the throats of the oil-funded lawmakers. It’s too ridiculous that we’ve decoded DNA, seen the farthest reaches of the universe and invented the Snuggie but still depend on a one-hundred year old energy source.
    But you keep biking and making me feel lazy!

  5. Thanks for all those good comments + suggestions. We’re all going to learn to pay more and take less. There’s simply not enough supply to continue meeting our demands.

    The BP spill causes me to think, “what more can I cut out of my daily excess.” I know I’m contributing a lot of waste. In KC (don’t know where you are) the bus system doesn’t provide adequate coverage throughout the greater metro area. We’ve havd countless elections to vote on light rail system, but nothing – nothing ever gets passed. In the meantime, everywhere I look there’s a highway expansion.

    A good friend of mine is considering cycling to work now. True, she’s not commuting 30+ miles one way, which is unrealistic. I’ve encouraged her to try just 1 day a week, at least for starters. I think that’s where the process of change begins. Thinking about what little actions we can all do to minimize our impact on the demand cycle.

  6. Yes, I agree, we are all to blame for this. We’re stuck on oil like it’s crack. I’d love to ride my bike to work (I used to when I could) but now work is 30 miles away and I’d be on the street for all of it.

    More “work from home” would be a nice way to cut down on the petroleum use, but I don’t see that happening until we have a major plague and everyone’s told to work from home to avoid spreading/getting it.

    The best I can do is ensure my next car is a hybrid, and hope mass transit add my workplace to their routes.

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