300 years ago, the foundation of the US economy was slavery. Labor costs were low because everyone used free slave labor. The leaders of our country knew that slavery was wrong, but it took over 50 years of infighting and a bitter civil war that devastated a generation of men to rid our country of that disease.
As I look at the front page of the NY Times today and see a blown out building framed on both sides by articles about bombings in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, I can’t help but think that oil is our new slavery.
We know that our addiction to oil is bad. It’s a non-renewable source of energy that is slowly eating away at the atmosphere and leading to global warming. And the countries that control the world’s supply of oil are run by a collection of the worst dictators around. We know all too well about Iraq and our problems there. But what about Venezuala, Iran, and the worst of all, Saudi Arabia? These countries are all bad news. But we fill their pocketbooks every day at the gas pump.
What if we had renewable sources of energy that were clean, affordable, and under our control? That would be nirvana.
I am by no means an expert in this area, but I believe that had our government made renewable energy a priority 25 years ago (as opposed to the investment in space exploration, for example) we would now have a viable renewable energy industry that would be well on its way to achieving my nirvana.
Why don’t we do that? Well, it’s not in the interests of the automobile industry, the oil and gas industry, the labor movement, and a host of other entrenched political interests. It’s certainly not in the interest of our current president who calls the Saudis to discuss his war plans before he talks to his own Secretary of State. After all, he needs these Saudi thugs to lower the price of oil at the gas pump the month before the election to insure he gets another four years.
I think that we are in for some rough times. Ridding our country of its addiction to oil is going to be as long and costly a battle as ridding our country of its addiction to slavery.
Update – I wrote this post this morning right after I looked at the front page of the New York Times. Later this morning, I read the op-ed section. While Friedman doesn’t make the slavery analogy, he sure does feel the same way I do about the lack of investment in renewable energy.