Intervention for Our National Addiction

In his State of the Union Address last Tuesday, President Bush rightly announced that “America is addicted to oil.” The United States is home to less than one percent of the world’s population, but manages to account for about a quarter of global petroleum consumption. We’re more than addicted; we’re junkies.

But the President offered few specifics regarding how to wean the American people from our nasty petroleum habit. The best brainchild he conceived was a six-year plan to make ethanol a competitive alternative for fueling our automobiles.

That’s a fine idea when it comes to securing our foreign policy and helping out the agricultural sector. If we turn to ethanol, a fuel made largely from corn, perhaps we won’t have to appease the terrorist-friendly Saudis just because they hold the world’s largest oil reserves. Yet the ethanol solution is hardly a solution at all in the face of an urgent issue that has been largely ignored by the Whitehouse: our brazen destruction of the environment.

Ethanol in cars gives off 32 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline, according to That’s a start, but it’s not going to reverse or even alter the course of the ongoing climate change brought about by two centuries of industrial emissions. We’re addicted here. We need an intervention, not a Nicorette patch. If the President truly believes that our oil addiction is a menace to American society, we should have emulated the Opium-happy Chinese of the nineteenth century and gone to war to prevent the importation of petroleum instead of invading a country to alleviate it.

According to my father, as well as writers of countless columns on The New York Times Op-Ed page (equally credible sources of information in my mind), the most vital issues in the not-so-distant future of our global society will be environmental ones. At the forefront of these issues is global warming, which, if left unchecked, has the potential to wreak more havoc over the next century than King Kong in a roomful of blondes. A serious spike in worldwide temperature could flood lowlands with rising seas, spreading nasty diseases like malaria by creating better breeding conditions for mosquitoes and other critters and funk with food and water supplies all over the planet.

I applaud the motivated members of the Colgate community who will gather today in the Commons for our University’s fourth Green Summit, a meeting of the more ecologically minded among us that pushes environmentally friendly initiatives into University policy. In recent years, the Summit has brought free trade coffee to our dining halls and the Eneergy Olympics to Broad Street.

Assistant Professor of Geography Peter Klepeis will be there. Klepeis says that even as our government shows unapologetic indifference to anything green, there is plenty that we as students can do for the natural world, from walking and biking more and driving less to buying more organic foods, which require far fewer synthetic chemicals to produce than dinner table standards.

Klepeis, who built a house that runs on passive solar energy and cooks his meals on an eco-friendly pellet stove, does not expect everyone to embark on a personal tree-hugging crusade, but he does preach awareness.

“I would be happy if environmental concerns were part of everyday decision making,” he said. “At a liberal arts college like Colgate, we learn how to think, and an understanding of environmental ethics on some level should certainly be a part of that.”

In the midst of the insanity of college life, it’s easy to forget about the environment. I do it all the time. But would it really be that hard to separate our recyclables and put them in the designated boxes in each living space? (Turns out we can recycle just about everything in Madison County, including every type of can, bottle and paper product you can think of). Would it really be that difficult to turn down our thermostats a few degrees and put on a sweater or shut off our computers at night?

We need to keep the health of the environment in the back (or even the front) of our minds as we go through our day-to-day doings. And when November comes around, we should make the environment a priority in Washington by considering candidates who are ready to intervene in our addiction, not just acknowledge it.

According to Leslie Safer, president of Students for Environmental Action, “An environmental council has been created to advise Colgate’s administration on such matters. We are moving in the right direction, but still have room for improvement.”

Well, at least we’re moving in the right direction. President Bush should take a cue from President Chopp and make the health of the planet a priority when creating energy policy.