Culture of consumption

By the

January 25, 2001

With each passing day, the energy crisis in California grows more acute. Prognosticators of doom may have well-founded claims in this case, as predictions for the long-range impact of this crisis are growing more and more ominous. Utilities are reaching the brink of collapse, and it now seems that drastic action must be taken to prevent all of California from going dark.

Many have offered varying explanations for this crisis, ranging from a faulty plan for deregulation to rising oil prices charged by the OPEC oil-producing nations. These factors, and others, may explain part of the reason why Californians have been plunged into a state of emergency recently, and recognizing the importance of these factors may offer some hints as to possible short-term relief. But the problem that underlies this crisis is far more involved than a short-term crunch on resources or bad public policy.

Instead, we as a nation must re-examine our culture of consumption. We have known for decades that oil is a non-renewable resource. Yet, we continue to ignore the ramifications of continuing to get our energy from fossil fuels. President Bush has suggested that a possible solution to our current crisis may be increased oil exploration. Such a policy is shortsighted and does not solve the larger problem. As a nation, we need to move towards renewable resources. The technology to do so has existed for years.

The federal government can do its part by insisting on purchasing only “hybrid” vehicles that run off of both renewable (sunlight, water) and non-renewable resources. But as long as the same people complaining about rolling blackouts in Northern California are driving to work in gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and consuming electricity as if were a constitutional right, this crisis will not be solved, only temporarily averted. The initial costs are substantial for us as a nation to switch to renewable resources and a culture of sensible consumption, but the day is rapidly approaching when we will have no choice but to do so. President Bush should recognize this fact and set his policies accordingly. But while the government can do its part to set the precedent, ultimately it is up to the citizenry to change fundamentally the way we think about energy consumption.

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