Much more than "The 500′
I appreciated the candid commentary “The 500,” by Dan Smith, in the Jan. 23 Vail Daily. Rather than attempting to rationalize the deaths of over 500 of our military men and women in Iraq via false, politically motivated claims, the column points out that “We sent them there to maintain our way of life. That is a way of life built on the availability of energy, primarily from oil and natural gas.”
Yes, like you and most others in this wonderful valley and country, I also “like my life the way it is.” However, what is the price we are willing to pay for “cheap” energy?
Most of us complain when we have to pay nearly $2 per gallon for gas, or our heating bills increase due to natural gas price hikes. However, the actual costs are far, far higher. For example, the 500 U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq. Additional “hidden” costs are paid politically, morally, economically and environmentally.
Why were the World Trade Center and over 3,000 lives destroyed? The primary reason given by Osama Bin Ladin was the presence of U.S. troops in the homeland of Islam, Saudi Arabia. Our troops are there not to support democracy or American ideals, but to support a corrupt monarchy guilty of human rights abuses, including supporting terrorism against the U.S. (19 of the 20 WTC hijackers were from Saudi Arabia). Our troops are there because it is a “stable” government willing to sell us the oil we crave.
From a purely pragmatic view, violence is generally less effective in achieving our goals than nonviolence. Mahatma Gandhi was able to free India not through violence, but through peace. By writing letters in prison, Nelson Mandela was able to end apartheid in South Africa when armed militias could not. Martin Luther King Jr. was far more effective in gaining civil rights than the Black Panthers.
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To date, it is estimated that our invasion of Iraq has resulted in 8,059 to 9,896 Iraqi civilian deaths, including many women and children (source: iraqbodycount.net).
Are you willing to die for oil? Would we have been willing to suffer the same number of U.S. civilian deaths for Iraq oil? If not, how can we possibly justify war just to maintain our “lifestyle”?
Our apparent willingness to go to war when it the easiest way to get what we want, coupled with our overpowering military strength has justifiably alienated people throughout the world. While war may be “simply the projection of state policy by nondiplomatic means,” so is “terrorism.” America spends more on its military ($399.1 billion budgeted for 2004, up from $288.8 billion in 2000). This is an average of over $1,367 per person in the U.S. Our military spending is as much the next 20 countries combined. This staggering expense is not needed to thwart invading armies. It is to protect the assets and interests of globalized corporations, many who pay no U.S. taxes.
The only effective method of challenging our overwhelming military power is through terrorism. If we engage in optional wars for material gain, in violation of international law, and promote this philosophy, we are on the same moral level of terrorists. Violence often breeds a cycle of violence as is seen in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While Israel has a far superior military, it is still subject to terrorism. Do we want a country where terrorism is commonplace? We have already paid a significant price through the erosion of our civil liberties. What is the cost of death and fear?
This is only a drop in the barrel of the costs of maintaining our global military presence to secure foreign oil. In a global “free market” economy, it makes sense to tax the oil based on country of origin at different rates to make our supply more cost effective. This would have several benefits: It would pass the cost to the oil consumer rather than to our children who will have to pay our rapidly growing federal deficit; it would encourage conservation of the resource; and it would encourage countries to cooperate without the threat or use of military force.
Environmental degradation is another cost of our using fossil fuels. The rapid depletion of nonrenewable energy resources is only one downside of our insatiable consumption. Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels contribute to poor air quality, deaths from air pollution, and global warming.
Today, the vast majority of scientists accept global warming due to the use of fossil fuels as fact, the only question being its extent and long-term effects. Yet, we continue the grand experiment on our only biosphere to maintain our “lifestyle” without regard to potential long-term consequences. Global warming will (probably) cause massive environmental damage, displace millions of people now living in coastal areas due to rising ocean levels (even destroying some vacation homes) and eventually may even negatively affect skiing, part of our precious “lifestyle” in Vail!
The article also reports the common misconception that “Reliance on renewable energy is simply not feasible in anything like the near future.” Yet, the price paid today by Holy Cross Energy for wind energy is only 9.5 cents per KWH versus 7 cents per KWH for traditional sources. How little are human life and our environment worth? Furthermore, the current cost of wind energy is only one-fifth that of the mid-1980s, and is predicted to drop 25-40 percent over the next five years. By being at the forefront of renewable energy research, the U.S. could be exporting this technology, creating U.S. jobs and strengthening the economy rather than importing fuel and increasing our trade deficit.
Conservation will not drastically alter our lifestyles. Since 1949, Americans have increased their annual use of household electricity 17 times. Simple ways to conserve that will not affect our lifestyles include: turn off lights and appliances you are not using; switch to energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (they use 75 percent less energy than standard bulbs); wash full loads of laundry and keep the water temperature low; clean the lint screen on your drier (clogged screens increase energy consumption 30 percent); close vents and doors of rooms you are not using, and seal windows and doors; lower your thermostat when not at home. Numerous other energy saving tips may be found at environmentcolorado.org.
I’m not suggesting anything so radical as riding a bike or the bus, but perhaps to trade in gas-guzzling SUVs for a vehicle that gets better gas mileage. Even going from 15 MPG to 16.5 MPG, a savings of 10 percent, would be enough for us not to need Iraqi oil.
The commentary referred to with great admiration to the 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae pass. Yet they are legendary not for dying, or for killing, but for their courage. When a scout reported that the enemy was so numerous (approximately 10,000) that when they fired their arrows the sky was darkened, King Leonidas replied, “Good, then we shall fight in the shade.”
Perhaps we should be so courageous as to consider paying a little more for renewable energy sources, or even being slightly Spartan and reducing our energy consumption. Please consider all the costs.
Todd Rymer is an instructor at Colorado Mountain College.