Opinion

Obama's bigger problem with the Gulf oil spill: you

The Gulf oil spill reminds us that Americans are the most voracious consumers on earth. Until we break the bonds of slavery to personal comfort, no president can make us energy independent.

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American citizens don't agree on much, but on this point we are united: liberty.

As with other broad ideological concepts, many Americans struggle to articulate a precise definition of liberty. Yet this doesn't prevent us from holding firm to the belief that liberty is a fundamental right, and that if required, we would die for it.

For our forefathers, liberty was a more tangible, more urgent imperative.

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Although many patriots called for liberty before 1776, the national will for genuine revolution only came once it became self-evident that reason and prudence could no longer tolerate the status quo – regardless of the risks.

It took years of death and deprivation before British tyranny was dealt the mortal blow at Yorktown, Va. Yet we choose to date our independence from the day citizens summoned national will and proclaimed resolve to the world in our Declaration of Independence.

Today, "We the People" face another kind of tyranny – dependence on foreign oil. President Nixon warned the United States about it more than 40 years ago. But President George W. Bush said it best when he stated bluntly, "America is addicted to oil."

What was once a cause for concern is now a dire emergency. Back then, in 1970, we imported 24 percent of the oil we use; today, we import more than 70 percent, much of it from countries the US labels "dangerous and unstable."

The present oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico underscores the reality that energy independence is not easily won via domestic drilling, and certainly cannot be guaranteed by our federal government.

Washington cannot eradicate the problem because we are the problem.

Americans are the most voracious consumers on earth, conditioned by 50 years of mass marketing that idealizes consumption. We whine for a leader to do what no single president can do – make us truly energy independent.

The insidious, yet unacknowledged, problem is lack of leadership within each of us.

When exactly did We the People become so weak? Our enslavement to personal comfort did not happen overnight.

Nearly two centuries ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote "Democracy in America" in 1835, and a second volume in 1840, said this about the mollifying effects of materialism:

"Consider any individual at any period of his life, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort."

De Tocqueville also observed how a lack of awareness perpetuates the problem:

"In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own."

Today, propaganda and partisan politics still cloud the debate. As long as sustainability is perceived as a liberal issue we will remain in gridlock.

We don't need a Democratic voice nor a Republican one; we need an American voice.

As the stalemate over energy policy continues, other countries are gaining a foothold in clean technology manufacturing. In allowing this to happen, We the People are the authors of our own demise.

The solution is another revolution – one that addresses the urgent imperative of energy independence. For freedom's sake, we must again summon a national resolve. With an army of 300 million, we can win this war by making creative choices and changes in our daily lives.

Reason and prudence offer us no other recourse.

To heed the call to energy independence, we can begin by seeing ourselves no longer as consumers, but as sustainers.

That change of self-perception will fuel better choices in how we eat, learn, work, travel, and build. It will shape everything our lives touch.

This isn't about giving up the good, but having the wisdom to choose the best.

Anna M. Clark is the author of "Green, American Style." She blogs on Ecoleadership for Greenbiz.com.

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