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David Sirota
David Sirota
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Putting the "I" in the Environment


For those who are not (yet) heartless cynics or emotionless Ayn Rand acolytes, the now-famous photographs of sludge-soaked pelicans on the Gulf Coast are painful to behold. It's those hollow pupils peeking out of the brown death, screaming in silence. They are an avian version of the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg that F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote about — and they implicate us all.

As President Obama correctly stated: "Easily accessible oil has already been sucked up out of the ground" — and drilling companies must now use ever-riskier techniques to find the oil we demand. While British Petroleum and federal regulators are certainly at fault for their reckless behavior, every American who uses oil — which is to say, every American — is incriminated in this ecological holocaust.

If we accept that culpability — a big "if" in this accountability-shirking society — we can start considering how to reduce our oil addiction so as to prevent such holocausts in the future. And when pondering that challenge, we must avoid focusing exclusively on legislation. As Colin Beavan argues in his tome "No Impact Man," green statutes are important, but not enough. Those oil-poisoned birds, choking to death on our energy gluttony, implore us to also take individual action.

This does not necessarily mean radical lifestyle changes — good news for those who remain locked into various forms of oil use. Millions, for instance, must drive or fly to workplaces where no alternative transportation exists. And most of us don't have the cash to trade in our cars for Priuses, and don't have the option of telecommuting.

However, almost everyone regardless of income or employment can take steps that are so absurdly simple and cost-effective that there's simply no excuse not to.

Here are two: We can stop using disposable plastic bags and stop buying plastic-bottled water. Though no big sacrifice, doing this is a huge way to reduce oil use.

The Sierra Club estimates that Americans "use 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year, which are made from an estimated 12 million barrels of oil." Likewise, the Pacific Institute reports that the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic water bottles — incredibly wasteful considering that clean tap water is ubiquitously available in America.

Here's another: In a country that puts one-fifth of its fossil fuel use into agriculture, we can make a difference by slightly reducing our consumption of animal flesh, the culinary gas-guzzler.

Today, the average American eats 200 pounds of meat annually, "an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago," according to The New York Times. Setting aside morality questions about executing 10 billion living beings a year simply to satiate an epicurean fancy, the sheer energy costs of this dietary choice are monstrous.

Quoting Cornell University researchers, Time magazine reports that producing animal protein requires eight times as much fossil fuel as producing a comparable amount of plant protein. Carbon-emissions-wise (which roughly reflects energy use), geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin find that cutting meat consumption by just 20 percent — say, going meatless two days a week — is equal to switching from a standard sedan to a hybrid.

Using knapsacks at supermarkets, drinking free tap water and replacing meat with comparatively inexpensive vegetable protein — these are easy steps. Sure, they will not singularly end our oil dependence, but they will decrease it. As importantly, they will begin building a national culture that takes personal responsibility for combating the ecological crisis we've all created.

Are we willing to make minimal behavioral reforms? Are we willing to assume such responsibility? Those, of course, are the crucial questions — the ones nobody wants to ask, but the ones those crude-drenched birds beg us to answer.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.



6 Comments | Post Comment
You write, "...the now-famous photographs of sludge-soaked pelicans on the Gulf Coast are painful to behold. It's those hollow pupils peeking out of the brown death, screaming in silence."
If swift action had been taken, little if any oil would be at the coast and there would be no heartbreaking pictures.
-Natural oil eating bacteria was successfully used to clean up the ocean and shores after the Exxon Valdez accident. To date, the company which produces up to 200,000 gallons a day of the oil eating bacteria has not had their phone calls returned by Obama's White House or BP.
-Kevin Costner has a small fleet of oil cleaning centrifuges at the ready. This device actually recovers lost oil. Again, Obama's White House is dithering and BP will not return Costner's appeals. Costner testified in front of Congress that he was ready to help on day one of the spill over 50 days ago.
-The Dutch government offered to help with the spill on day one. Obama and BP told them "no thanks" over 50 days ago. The Dutch have fleets of oil recovery barges and sand berm protection floats at the ready. Over 50 days of dithering.
-Governor Jindal has been begging Obama for supplies to shield his state's beaches. Over 50 days after the request Obama is still dithering.
BP had an accident (unless it was sabotage) but the aftermath and those pitiful looking pelicans are a testament and are solely attributable to the inexperienced, arrogant, narcissistic, golf-playing pretender of the united States.
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Henricks
Fri Jun 11, 2010 1:36 AM
I've been doing the things you recommend here since (roughly) 1964. How come it's news? Why are people still amazed that I bring my own bags to the [supermarket, clothing store, pharmacy}?
Comment: #2
Posted by: A. Lamb
Fri Jun 11, 2010 5:41 AM
Thank you David Sirota! You are a rare bright spot in the media during this dark age of gluttony, ignorance and cruelty.

Over the past few years, I have made all these changes to my habits. Most importantly, I have gone from being a run-of-the-mill sick, careless omnivore to a Meatless Monday, then to a vegetarian, and finally now vegan! The movement is alive & growing. Is giving up meat a sacrifice? HELL NO, it's a blessing. I am healthier, more regular, and at the perfect body weight. I save money by boycotting fast food, garbage food, skipping $8/lb meats and avoiding the most-expensive restaurant menu items (ie steaks or lobsters). If people would drop to 100 lbs of meat per year (50% less), there would be no health care crisis in America.

AND I make a HUGE environmental impact as a vegan. Eating meat wastes so much OIL, WATER, and FEED that it would be like turning everything on (the shower, heater, and starting the car engine) and just leaving it ON ALL YEAR, and throwing away 100 times your body weight in grain every year.

PLUS I have saved countless animals from the cruel, industrial torture of factory farming.

I've switched to reusable canvas shopping bags. Keep em in the car. So easy-- not a sacrifice at all! Of course I'm not perfect, I still use a few plastic bags for the cat poop ;) Have you seen the new corn-based bags, though? BioBags they call 'em. And of course we carry reusable water bottles or reservoirs to drink from when hiking, camping, gardening, etc. Not only does this save oil from plastic bag manufacturing & shipping, it saves gas in the trash trucks, it also protects the land, oceans, and animals from dangerous plastic litter.

Steve J - Boulder
Comment: #3
Posted by: Steve J
Fri Jun 11, 2010 3:08 PM
I saw your opinion in The Denver Post today and was so thankful that you wrote it!!!!! I just cannot thank you enough!!! The huge amount of meat that people eat in this country, and now around the world, is not sustainable, in any way. The planet actually can produce enough food to feed ALL OF THE PEOPLE on it, but not when the richest nations eat so much meat. It makes so much more sense to eat the plants ourselves instead of feeding them to the animals who live lives of filth and horror. It' better for the planet and ALL OF THE PEOPLE who inhabit this beautiful gem!
Comment: #4
Posted by: Jane Jones
Sat Jun 12, 2010 11:36 PM
In his zeal to parrot his brain-dead right-wing talking points straight from Rush Limpballs, with the singular goal of putting all the blame on the President (isn't BP responsible even the slightest bit?), Mr. Henricks overlooks one teeny tiny point... THE OIL IS STILL GUSHING FROM THE UNDERSEA OIL VOLCANO! How can you clean up an overflowing bathtub when the water is still running? Just more right-wing stupidity at its finest. Oh, and how many games of golf did Bush play while he was supposedly in charge? How many vacation days did he take during his 8 years?
Comment: #5
Posted by: A Smith
Sun Jun 13, 2010 7:43 AM
Other than private jets the car is probably the biggest waster of energy and polluter around.
The auto is great for inter-city transportation at times but not for commuting, suburban sprawl and that trip to the convenience store and the shopping center.
On the average, traditional suburban households spend 24% of their income paying for and maintaining their cars; urban households in wakable neighborhoods spend only 12 % of their income on transportation. The difference amounts to half of what a typical household spends on health careónationally, $700 billion a year in total.
There is absolutely nothing that you can do in the long run except give up the car except for occasional inter-city transportation.
In another 25 years there will be 9 billion people in the world all wanting to drive cars. Whether it's global warming or lack of resources the car culture is dead in the long run.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Lee Zehrer
Mon Jun 14, 2010 8:43 AM
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