How to Stop an Oil Spill: Consume Less

05/12/2010 3:00 AM |

For a couple of days, I just tried to ignore the Gulf oil spill, hoping that it would miraculously sort itself out, before it got “too” bad. People were on top of things, right? Someone had invented an oil-metabolizing bacteria, and that would put things right… Right?

Of course, I was living in a fantasy, the same fantasy we all live in, every day, as we take our plane trips, drive our cars, eat our burgers and schlep our cheap consumer goods home after a day’s shopping. Our benevolent capitalist overlords are not, it turns out, paying attention to the needs of ordinary people, or the planet. They are, in this case, asleep at the switch—or, rather, asleep at the switch that would have been there, had they not fought against having it, a $500,000 remote-controlled automatic shutoff mechanism, installed. Half a mil. For a company (BP) that made $5.65 billion in profit in the first quarter of this year, that’s hard 
to take.

So what’s a thinking person to do? The only good thing to have come from this mess is the reexamination of Obama’s offshore drilling policy. But the idiots and greed monkeys are still, amazingly, chanting “Drill baby, drill.” There are millions, I guess, who really think cheap gas to get to the mall is more important than life on Earth.

And even some of the green-minded among us are shaking their heads in resignation, saying that it would be better to drill here, in the U.S., where we have a modicum of regulation and oversight, than to shift production to countries that let bad things happen (ummmm?).

The only way out that I can see is lessening our consumption. There are alternatives. MANY alternatives. And there are things we can do, everyday, to lessen our dependence on the goo.

If you have money, you can take the big steps—hybrid cars, bio-mass-fueled heating systems, solar panels, and energy-efficient appliances. But the biggest and best thing you can do will actually SAVE you money: Consume less.

It’s really easy. Start with the things that are made of oil: plastics. Stop taking plastic bags, for anything. Carry a reusable bag. Use those paper sacks from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods for your trash. Use a “green” laundry detergent, made from plant oils, instead of Tide, which is made from petroleum. Ditto shampoo, conditioner, lotion, dish soap, and more. Seek out products NOT packaged in plastic: bar soap, powdered laundry detergent (it works fine, really) and bar shampoo. Use tin foil instead of plastic wrap.

Buy used stuff, when you need stuff: it’s already in the area, lessening transport costs, and it’s already made, lessening production costs. Whether it’s clothes or appliances, making stuff and then moving it takes oil, lots of it.

Travel less: instead of two or three short trips, take one long trip. Take the train, which is fantastically efficient, or a bus, instead of flying or driving. Walk or bike as much as you can. When you must use a car, be deliberate and plan your trips. Share your ride, over long distances or short. Take a vacation at home, or close to.

But above all, consume less. As my friend Reverend Billy wrote recently, “We must cut our consumption in half, and learn to live that way, and then halve it again.” We cannot live much longer in a world where, as happened to me this week, we find garbage bags (two!) filled with perfectly good clothes—which took barrels of oil, and as a result, countless lives, to produce—in the trash; where half our food is wasted, and as a result half the oil used to produce it.

The only way out of this mess is to sidestep the BPs and Exxons. Put the billions they’ve been “earning” to better use. Get our own houses in order, and let “them” know what we want. A clean-energy, oil- and coal-free future, for which we’re willing to change.

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