Image credit: Chuck Coker, used under Creative Commons license.
It's become common to talk about "kicking the oil habit". Even the oil-industry friendly George W. Bush accepted that America was addicted to oil. Given our deep dependence on fossil fuels for our economic well-being and way of life, not to mention the devastating environmental consequences of this habit, addiction is in many ways an apt analogy. But we may want to be cautious about focusing purely on the negatives. Because let's face it, the oil age also brought a lot of fun and excitement with it too. In fact, for better or worse it shaped who we are today. Maybe we're not addicts at all. We're just young lovers ready to move on. Oil Was an Early Love Affair
True, like the argument over soil versus dirt before it, the distinction between addiction and infatuation is largely about semantics. But the stories we tell ourselves matter. I would hate to downplay the horrendous negative consequences of our fossil fuel use—from climate change, to pollution and environmental injustice, to the fueling of unsustainable levels of economic growth, oil has left scars. But I also think we must acknowledge that oil has allowed many people—at least many rich folk—to travel, to understand the world, to build our knowledge, our expertise and even our understanding of what it means to be human.
The Positive Benefits of Oil
From rock n' roll music, to computers, to Fair Trade, to great (and mediocre) movies, oil has empowered not just commerce, but cultural expression and innovation too. As I noted in my piece on why humans need novelty as well as happiness, unless we understand the reasons why oil has become so embedded in the fabric of our lives, we risk failing to offer viable alternatives that stand a chance of actually getting adopted.
How We View Our Past Will Shape Our Future
So by all means, let's talk about the harm that oil is now doing to us. But it might be worth thinking about it not just as the dirty drug in a spike in our vein, but rather as that old troublesome but exciting boyfriend or girlfriend who helped us to discover who we are, but who has now become a burden and is holding us back. This doesn't just help us gain a more realistic view of our past, but it makes our future more exciting too.
Newly Single. Seeking New Adventures.
Whether we are rethinking our relationship to stuff, powering the world with renewables, or considering no growth economics, we do ourselves a disservice if we think of our future options as simply alternatives to our current addiction. Instead, let's embrace where we have been, and then look firmly to a new exciting future. Sure, getting sober might be a worthy and even empowering thing to do, but I for one would much rather fall in love all over again.
More on Fossil Fuels, Addiction and a Life Without Oil
Simpler Living May Make Us Happier, But Happiness is Not Enough
Training Communities to Kick the Oil Habit
George W. Bush: America's Addict-in-Chief