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  Weekly Feature (July 6, 2008)


Addicted to Oil?
Brad's Weekly Feature


This summer I look out the window at my wife and I’s two cars and wonder: how did I become addicted to oil? The first step towards conquering any addiction is by “admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion.”

But, I hardly think of myself as out of control. Do you? Perfectly normal, I live in a house, own a car (as does my wife), heat my place with natural gas, buy strawberries in a plastic box shipped all the way from Mexico, have a multitude of “things” surrounding me. All of them, in some way, are connected to oil and to using up the Earth’s precious, and vanishing, resources.

Sure, I try my best. I’m lucky to live in a “walkable” neighbourhood. Recently, I began doing mainstream grocery shopping only once a month and making more and more purchases at grocery and vegetable markets on nearby Main Street.

Is that enough? It was only a year ago I was suggesting that I needed to buy a new car to replace my 1999 model. Was there anything wrong with my existing car? No, it has been reliable and economical. The Ford Report on the Business Impact of Climate Change puts it into perspective saying that “10 percent of the lifetime GHG [green house gas] emissions from a vehicle occur during its production.”

My wife put it to me in a way that is easier to understand. “Why?” she asked me. “Is there something wrong with your present car?” I had to answer, “No.” That was a year or so ago and now I am very happy her good sense stopped me from making an environmentally damaging decision.

Lately, however, I have begun to realize that my decision to stick with my existing car, while a good one, is not nearly enough. My children are leading the way. Both have bicycles they use to get to work, something I did myself many years ago. Both use transit, often.

And my son, newly aware of the environmental costs of eating meat, has made a decision to become vegetarian. Beef, in particular, has a huge environmental cost: “According to the British group Vegfam, a 10-acre farm can support 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, 10 people growing corn and only two producing cattle.” My decision to have a hamburger for dinner has a huge, and mostly hidden, cost to the environment.

As the 12-step program for recovering from addiction puts it, I need to “make amends for these errors” and learn “to live a new life.” This year I planted a garden again, prompted by my son’s efforts to grow food on his apartment's fire escape. I used to have a garden every year but it became too much trouble. Produce is cheap, especially in summer when a home garden produces most. But where is most of my produce coming from? California, Florida, Mexico and even further afield than that.

I realize that the world has little time. This year, scientists predict that the North Pole has a 50-50 chance of being ice free this summer. My lifestyle and my car and my addiction to oil is undoubtedly contributing to this scary development. Last summer, Vancouver had a few days exceeding 38 degrees Celsius. Pretty hot, but not as hot as it got in Eastern Europe last year where temperatures exceeded 45 degrees for weeks on end.

So, I must admit my addiction to oil and begin to take the steps to control it. Fortunately, my wife now works near the PALC, making carpooling together practical. I may have to get up a bit earlier but we can reduce our “footprint” by over 30 kilometres of driving for each day that we share our commute.

And my son may need to move back home while he finishes his final year of university. His new diet has already resulted in more vegetarian eating at our house; if he lives with us again, we can do it even more.

Now that I’ve taken the first step towards recognizing my own “addiction or compulsion,” one clearly harmful to the planet, I encourage all of you who read the Weekly Feature to do the same. The stakes are incredibly high and we have little time. Our future and that of our children is in peril. Remember that North Americans, with only 4% of the world’s population, burn 25% of the world’s oil!



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