Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Weekly Word/Phrase: "Dependence on Foreign Oil"

We've been hearing about our "dependence on foreign oil" since gas prices began rising, but I think the phrase is misleading. It combines two crucial problems of the American economy and treats them as one:
  1. America's heavy dependence on oil and gasoline for our outmoded, single-passenger based transportation system.
  2. The loss of jobs and production from the United States.
First thing first. Since the auto industry destroyed rail lines in the 1940s and 50s, most Americans travel by car. Many see the "freedom" of car ownership as a signal American value. Once you've got a car, you're an adult; you own your destiny.

In fact, owning a car means constantly giving to a larger system run by automakers, oil producers and refiners, the insurance industry, and the government. It's a heavy financial burden that, in turn, takes an enormous toll on the environment as well as communities.

And since the middle part of the twentieth century, American oil finds have decreased and forced us to import the vast majority of our oil supplies. Not only that, but as labor unions have declined, especially since the 1980s, jobs and production have moved overseas. Oil is simply one of many products we import. Communities built around production have largely disappeared in the U.S.; travel grows, imports grow, localities fade.

So our so-called dependence on foreign oil is two dependencies, misunderstood to be one.

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