Our president almost came clean in his State of the Union speech last week when he finally admitted that "America is addicted to oil." That addiction threatens our national security, our environmental health and our way of life.
It is true that our leaders are exhibiting the classic signs of an addiction denial, aggression, avoidance, blaming others and as a country we are falling far short of reaching our full potential.
America's stubborn dependence on oil erodes our bedrock values. For it, we will go to war, support unstable and undemocratic regimes, destabilize our climate, decimate our forests and parks, threaten the health of our children, and weaken our economy.
The president admitted to a national problem, but stopped well short of committing our country to a full recovery program. We already have the technology. What we desperately need is the courage to act now. It is time for nothing short of a national intervention, and a 12-step program to break America's oil addiction. Here's how:
Step 1: Let's admit that we have a problem, and commit deeply and truthfully to a national recovery program to break our oil addiction. Transitioning to a clean energy economy will create millions of jobs, clean our air, protect our water supplies, our forests and our climate, and will help to build a safer and more secure world for us all. But breaking our addiction requires humility and an unwavering commitment to change at every level of society. No one gets a free ride anymore.
Step 2: Separate oil and state. Every year, oil companies "invest" millions of dollars in political candidates. In turn, elected officials dole out more than $20 billion a year to prop up fossil fuel projects internationally. We must reduce the oil industry's influence over public governance and eliminate government handouts for dirty oil.
Steps 3-6: Jump-start Detroit and redesign American mobility. The transportation sector accounts for more than two-thirds of all oil consumption in the U.S. Our passenger train system scrounges for funding in Washington while one out of every seven barrels of oil in the world is consumed on America's highways alone. Led by Ford Motor Co., the American automobile industry is driving in reverse. The average Ford vehicle gets worse gas mileage than the Model T did almost 100 years ago. Thomas Friedman is right the stability and very existence of the American automotive industry depends upon American automakers building affordable, fuel-efficient cars that all patriotic Americans can support. Pioneering engineers have already built plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and new companies are inventing super-efficient biofuels made from agricultural waste with no help from Detroit or Washington.
Steps 7-8: Start a rooftop revolution and green the grid. California is enacting regulations to build one million homes with rooftop solar power, generating 3,000 megawatts of power. Studies show that solar energy supports up to 10 times more jobs than dirty fossil fuel energy. A green grid powered by the wind and the sun can recharge car batteries and help us kick our transportation oil habit.
Steps 9-10: Wean to green and fund the future. Capital investment from the world's largest banks is the fuel in the engine, so to speak, of the oil-based economy. Through their investment decisions, large banks can either help to keep us hooked on oil, or rapidly steer us toward a clean energy future. Some banks, including Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, are leading the way, proving that it is indeed possible to do well by doing good.
Step 11: Adopt a "low-carb" energy diet. Any comprehensive strategy to break our oil addiction must include aggressive measures to reduce energy consumption. A low-carbon energy diet will reduce energy costs and increase competitiveness for American businesses, lower emissions, and produce clean jobs for workers. Efficiency improvements in the last 30 years have doubled the amount of work we get from each barrel of oil. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, current proven technologies can double oil efficiency again, for less money than would be required to buy the oil we save.
Step 12: Vote. Could it be any clearer that we need responsible and visionary leaders at all levels of government?
Like a smoker who says he's going to quit someday even as he lights up another cigarette, the president offered little hope that he would actually break our country's oil addiction. It will take a lot more than a speech and a few research dollars to set us free from oil. Let's get to work.
Michael Brune is the executive director of Rainforest Action Network and serves as a founding board member of Oil Change International.
© 2006 The Capital Times