Why is America trying to treat its oil dependence problem like it is trying to solve its weight problem?
Americans are getting fat. This is not breaking news. I myself could spare to shed a few pounds. As I began the endeavor to lose weight and get in better physical shape, I began to see the corollaries between how the American public attempts to shed pounds and the way that we are trying to solve our dependency on oil.
First off, lets look our “oil addiction”. We are addicted to oil and its derivatives: gasoline, diesel, kerosene, etc., as much as we are addicted to corn and all its derivatives: corn chips, cereals, and the vast amounts of high fructose corn syrup hidden in our foods. Both are very abundant in the US. Gasoline may be expensive, but it is highly available. We have built our society around the excess availability of both food and oil products. Many areas, we know, cannot be accessed without a vehicle now, and one can find very few towns who have not been afflicted by the homogenizing effect of fast food restaurants and national food brands.
Many great minds have written recently on the energy crisis and the obesity epidemic that faces our nation, lets just stipulate that.
Now, lets look at how industry and society has tried to help Americans lose weight. As far as I can tell the number one way that we try to lose weight is by eating and drinking “diet foods”. We are substituting sugar and fats with Nutrasweet and Olestra, to try and cut calories while continuing to consume large amounts of food. Advertise campaigns abound, telling us how we can continue to eat well and lose weight, as long as we eat these “diet” foods. Whole aisles and even stores are dedicated to these “food substitutes”. Guilt from eating a Big Mac is assuaged by ordering a diet coke with it.
Lets consider ethanol and to a lesser extent, biodiesel. The “Nutrasweet” and “Olestra” of energy consumption. Ethanol is being pitched as the #1 solution to America’s oil dependence. Advertising abounds. GM has built an entire campaign around “going yellow” – a virtual answer to our prayers. A way to continue our lifestyle of excessive energy use while “reducing” our dependence on foreign oil. No need to get rid of your SUV’s, no need to feel guilty, we have your solution in ethanol. Well just replace our calories (gasoline) with sugar-substitute (ethanol), and life can go on.
Biodiesel is not being trumpeted on commercial airwaves like ethanol is. However, it shares some of the same intrinsic faults as ethanol, as far as trying to use it to solve the nations energy crisis. Small scale biodiesel production works. There are enough remaining fast food joints and diners to power many more cars on the less polluting, cheaper fuel. However, once your neighborhood hits the saturation point, and there are more 100B drivers than there are grease traps, where do you go from there? Plus there is that “Olestra’s oily discharge” type of side effect in biodiesel which is the procuring and handling of very toxic chemicals.
Call me cynical, but I don’t think that replacing oil with ethanol will be any more effective in solving the nations energy addiction, as nutrasweet was in curing the nation’s obesity epidemic.
What other options do Americans use to try to lose weight? Lets go to the videotape… or in this case the infomercial. Ab-lounges, 6-second abs, Bun and Thigh Roller, the “Gazelle”, Bow Flex… the list goes on and on. Millions have been spent in search of the quick easy fix to the problem.
This I relate to the millions that are beginning to pour into start up companies to find a technological solution to the problem. Not the millions pouring into long term, viable solutions, but the money being spent on super oil lubricants, carburetors, and fuel additives – all taking some poor sap’s money, and getting little benefit in return. The Honda Accord Hybrid gets the award – spending a lot of money on a technological fix for the problem, and getting little in return. It might as well be on an infomercial itself, “NEW! Now with Hybrid power!” Compare mileage here, with the regular (non-hybrid) Accord.
The last comparison that I’ll make is between “fad” diets, and the “fad” of hydrogen-based transportation and energy production. Yes, low-carb diets work. In fact I can personally attest to that. And while I cannot personally attest to seeing a hydrogen car in action, it can propel a car to its destination. Theoretically, hydrogen could replace gasoline use in personal transportation, just as theroretically one could permanently go on a carb-free diet. However in the long run, are we still harming the environment with the energy production needed in forming quantities of hydrogen, in the same way that a lifetime of bacon and cheese would harm the human body?
So we’ve covered the negative comparisons on why we are treating our oil addiction like we are confronting our obesity epidemic, lets look at some positive similarities in real solutions.
What is the best way to lose weight and keep it off? Moderation in eating and increased physical activity. What is the best way of reducing our nations dependency on oil? Moderation in driving and increased physical activity.
Just as every donut we do not eat, is 1/2 hour of aerobic exercise that we don’t have to perform; Every 24 miles we bike or walk, is one less gallon of gas we need to import. Moderation and conservation of oil use provides with direct results in reducing our nation’s oil dependency.
Just as 24 hour diets do not lead to long term health, the short-term avoidance of driving is not a long term solution the problem. It will take a lot of effort, and require long term planning and action. It’s not that we need to drive to the grocery store less; we need to move closer to the store (or the store closer to us). We need to have better vision in communities, and city/county planning to dissuade automobile dependence, and increase walkability.
Dieting alone makes weight loss very difficult, it is the physical activity that makes the difference. This is also true in attempting to solve our energy dependence. We must increase our personal activity and effort, in order for a viable long term solution to the problem. We need to ask ourselves, is this car ride necessary? Could I walk or bike there?
And, we need to get off our big asses and take the (literal) first steps in solving the problem.