Oil Independence Day

It's almost the Fourth of July: Independence Day. But more than 230 years after Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, signifying our freedom from Great Britain, we are again in chains.

We're chained to oil. We're chained to fossil fuels.

The very things that spurred the industrial revolution, which started a few years after the Declaration was signed, seem to be crippling us now.

Instead of eating food grown locally, we dine on veggies from factory farms, shipped across the country to our big-box supermarkets. Instead of wearing shoes made by skilled craftspeople in town, we wear sneakers made overseas, by children, in some cases.

In 2010, the remnants of the industrial revolution look like environmental devolution.

That's not to say I'm not thankful for many of the developments of the last 200 years. I like having a laptop and a refrigerator. I like being able to do research for my columns on the Internet.

But maybe, industry has rolled too fast and too foolishly downhill toward wealth. A rolling stone gathers no moss, but it crushes a lot of other plants on its way. And, as Sisyphus found, pushing a stone back uphill is no easy task.

I don't doubt there are a lot of valuable inventions we've come up with in the last two centuries. But I also think there might be smarter ways to implement some of these new techniques. I think it's important to think not just about the bottom line, but also about the horizon line.

I'd like to see Congress and President Obama sign a new Declaration of Independence — against oil.

We don't have to become oil-free in the time it takes for a John Hancock to dry, but we should at least have a plan, with tough, realistic steps. The stone will be hard to push back uphill, but we'll be able to do it, if we don't mind sweating and working together for a few years.

The Gulf oil spill doesn't have to foretell our fate. But if we don't act, it probably will.

One of my Ashland friends, who is working on his PhD in psychology, is always quoting Carl Jung when we talk about destiny.

"When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate," Jung said.

If we don't realize how badly we're hooked on oil, how can we detox? When we think we're manipulating fossil fuels, instead of seeing how they're manipulating us, disasters like the BP spill are bound to happen.

If we keep demanding oil, companies will keep drilling for it.

The Sightline Institute, a Seattle nonprofit that researches sustainability in the Northwest, released a disheartening study Wednesday. Total gasoline consumption in the Northwest increased by 2 percent, or 100 million gallons, in 2009 — reversing a decade-long trend of decline, according to the study.

Gas consumption in Oregon rose by 1.6 percent, the study says. Per capita gas usage increased, too, if only by about .3 percent, or a gallon a person.

The reason? Sightline thinks it's because of lower prices at the pump.

"Low prices at the pump were apparently enough to get people back in their cars and driving again," said Eric Hess, Sightline's communications associate.

And although the Gulf is far from the Northwest, we play a role in the oil drilling operations there. In 2009, we used 387 gallons of gas per person per year in Oregon.

"In the Northwest, we produce very little petroleum," Hess said. "Our role in the oil spill is that we consume oil and we don't produce anything here, and the Gulf is probably one source where we get some of our oil."

As much as we like to vilify BP executives, and as much as they deserve the demon-treatment, all of us who rely on oil are also to blame for the spill and the continued drilling.

And if Congress isn't moving on this, who says we can't? Maybe we can't call the shots in the Gulf, but we can call them at the gas pump. Maybe we can't decide where drilling starts, but we can decide we don't need as much oil.

Why shouldn't Ashland lead the Northwest in reducing its gas consumption?

Why not make this Fourth of July your Independence Day from oil? That's what I plan to do.

So, in advance: Happy Oil Independence Day. Hopefully next year, we'll have moved the stone off a few more plants.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com. For past columns see dailytidings.com/ecologic.

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