Editor's note: Joan King's regular Tuesday column will appear this week on Sunday's Viewpoint page, in print and online.
The political fight around climate change and carbon emissions is intense. Yet our economy is tied to oil. Though our economy slows when the price of oil goes up, our very economic stability relies on the world's dependence on oil.
All crude oil is sold in U.S. dollars, so when the Chinese buy oil from Saudi Arabia, they need to buy U.S. dollars first to do so. This artificially holds up the value of the dollar. In a way, instead of being backed by gold, the U.S. dollar is backed by oil. If the world didn't need oil, the U.S. couldn't print so many dollars.
Our immediate economic interest is simple. We need oil, we need it cheap and we need the world to keep buying it with U.S. dollars.
To be free of oil, we need to stop overprinting money, produce more goods the rest of the world wants, develop ways to reduce gasoline consumption, find a way to keep our manufacturing from falling behind that of nations not reducing emissions, and convince the stockholders of the oil giants that it's in their best interest to phase out oil. That's a pretty tall order.
Climatologists predict that continuing our present emission levels will lead to climate change. Thinning Arctic ice has allowed Canada and Russia to drill for more oil. Good for them.
Those of us further south are predicted to experience erratic weather patterns which are not so profitable. Machines run by fossil fuels made feeding a world population of 7 billion possible. However, climate change caused by these machines' emissions may make continuing to feed that population impossible.
Addiction causes people to focus on the immediate rewards of use and ignore the long-term negative consequences, which, in the addict's mind, won't happen or won't be a big deal anyway. Our oil addiction operates the same way. We're so caught up in our need for cheaper oil, it's very difficult for us to see that our oil addiction was the problem in the first place, and admit that it might be our undoing.
Just like addicts see conspiracies concerning their favorite drug, many believe any rumor that climate change is a hoax. In 2009, the emails of the English Climate Research Unit were hacked. Conspiracies spread that these emails proved climate change was a hoax. The emails demonstrated no such thing.
History hints at our fate. Due to the Roman Empire's addiction to slave labor, Emperor Vespasian is said to have bought and destroyed the first steam engine. He said he wouldn't know what to do with all the slaves whom a steam engine would make obsolete.
The pre-Classic Mayan civilization is believed to have collapsed due to environmental damage. Mayan pyramids were covered with plaster. Making even a small amount of plaster required the burning of tons of trees. The resulting deforestation led to droughts. The Maya were destroyed by their own arrogance and extravagance.
I wonder if wealthy Mayan plaster merchants, carried in plaster-covered litters, convinced people that angry gods, and not deforestation, were to blame for the droughts.
Reducing oil consumption isn't just an environmental issue. There are national security reasons to invest in hybrid, electric as well as natural gas and biodiesel technology. The less oil an army needs, the more mobile and less vulnerable it is.
Also, every oil-rich nation that is corrupt yet powerful, is kept afloat by its ability to drill for money. Without oil, they would have to be cooperative internationally and responsible to their own people or go broke.
The less our economy depends on crude oil, even our own, the less our economic stability is tied to crude oil prices. The way oil props up the value of the dollar gives our politicians the ability to print money irresponsibly and sets us up for an even harder fall when oil is eventually sold in another currency.
To reduce our reliance on crude oil, as individuals we can eat locally grown food and make fuel consumption a priority when buying a car.
And as voters we can support candidates who will balance the budget, pass trade rules which protect our manufacturers from polluting competitors and who understand that it is in our long-term interest to reduce our dependence on crude oil.
Brandon Givens is a Hall County resident and frequent columnist.