David Orr Speaks Out About Oil Consumption

Many Americans don’t see a connection between the war in Iraq and the price of gas at the pump, but a leading environmentalist says they should. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:


Many Americans don’t see a connection between the war in Iraq and the price of gas at the pump, but a leading environmentalist says they should. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:

Soon after George W. Bush took office, David Orr was asked to join a presidential committee aimed at improving environmental policies. They wanted the Oberlin environmental studies professor because he was considered a quote “sane environmentalist.” The group’s recommendations were supposed to be presented to Administration officials in September 2001, but after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, committee members felt their report was shelved.

“And the essential message of it was that this really is one world and what goes around comes around. And things are connected in pretty strange, ironic, and paradoxical ways and the long-term future isn’t that far off. So you really cannot make separations of things that you take to be climate, from economy, ecology, fairness, equity, justice, and ultimately security.”

But Orr says the Bush Administration and much of the nation weren’t ready for that message. People felt the need to retaliate against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Many political analysts also agreed with President Bush, that the United States had an important role to play in ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But Orr believes the U.S. invasion of Iraq was less about terrorism than it was about America’s need for Middle East oil.

“If you remove the fact that Iraq has 10-percent of the oil reserves in the world and Saudi Arabia has about 25-percent, that’s about a third of the recoverable oil resource on the planet, take the oil out, would we be there? And that’s a major issue. We’re there, in large part, because we have not pursued energy efficiency.”

Orr says reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil would make the nation more secure than spending billions of dollars in military costs to fight for those oil reserves.

Some lawmakers say reducing dependence on Middle East oil is one reason to drill for oil at home, in places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But Orr says political leaders and citizens should instead find ways to use less oil and reduce the need for it. He says the federal energy bill should force automakers to build cars that get better gas mileage.

“If we bumped our energy efficiency up from 22 miles per gallon to 35 or 40, which is easily achievable, that’s not difficult. The technology already exists to do that. We wouldn’t have to fight wars for oil, we wouldn’t be tied to the politics of an unstable region.”

“But the car makers aren’t being forced to…”

“No – the CAFEs? no. If we had a decent energy policy, it would be a strategy not of fighting oil wars, but using in America what is our long suit: our ability with technology to begin to move us toward fuel efficiency, and that process is actually well under way. It just doesn’t get the support of the federal government.”

Instead of trying to encourage fuel efficiency, Orr says Congress is thinking about short-term answers. With the price of gas at the pump more than two dollars a gallon, the Senate recently approved a tax break package to encourage further domestic oil and gas production.

Orr wants consumers to push for energy alternatives, rather than finding more places to drill, but Americans like their big SUVs, and Orr says few politicians would risk asking them to forgo the comfort, luxury, and perceived safety of big trucks as a way to preserve energy for future generations.

“Everybody knows gas prices have to go up, everybody knows that. The question is whether we have somebody who is say a combination of Ross Perot and Franklin Roosevelt who would sit down and level with the American public. We have got to pay more.”

Orr says even if you don’t mind paying the price at the gas station, there are higher costs we’re paying for oil consumption.

“You pay for energy whatever form you get it, but you pay for efficiency whether you get it or not. You pay by fighting oil wars. You pay with dirty air and you pay at the doctor’s office or the hospital or the morgue, but you’re gonna pay one way or the other, and the lie is that somehow you don’t have to pay. And sometimes you don’t have to if you’re willing to offload the costs on your grandchildren or on other people’s lives, but somebody is gonna pay.”

And Orr says that payment is going to be either in blood, money, or public health. He outlines his thoughts on the motivations for the war in Iraq in his new book “The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment in an Age of Terror.”

For the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.

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