Environment

Overcoming American Gluttony

Americans make the biggest environmental footprint on the planet but we have hundreds of excuses for never changing our behavior. Number one is that we are Americans.
An economic expert recently claimed that if every American driver pledged to save one gallon of gas per week, the prices at the pump would plunge. Tom Kloza, analyst for the New Jersey-based Oil Price Information Service, said that a 1-percent dip in demand could shave as much as 50 cents a gallon off the price of gas. As the narrator in Bang the Drum Slowly would say, this hands me a laugh.

What country does this expert live in? More to the point, what planet is he from? Kloza ... that sounds vaguely foreign, maybe al-Qaeda, to me. Surely this guy's a terrorist to suggest Americans sacrifice one gallon per week! Either that or he's an extraterrestrial.

Though I agree with Mr. Kloza that this would be a good idea, I'd go much further: Americans should be required to drive vehicles that get no less than 30 miles per gallon and tax breaks should be given, on an upwardly prorated scale to all drivers who get at least 40 miles per gallon. Those who get more than 50 mpg should be exempt from sales tax on gas. Americans should not be allowed to pump more than 10 gallons into their tanks per trip to the station. Americans should this, Americans should that.

But Mr. Kloza ... can I call you Tom? ... Tom, you've been reading too many Brokaw books, listening to too many Hallmark homilies from Monsignor Tim Russert. This is not the America of the Greatest Generation. This is not even the America of the Second Greatest Generation. We're in with the Also-Ran Generation or, at best, the Honorable Mention Generation. Americans feel entitled -- yes, there's that word we love to toss derisively at Welfare moms -- to be gluttons.

We feel we're entitled to expand any where or any way we can. We just passed 300 million in population and are cruising in on an average weight of 300 pounds. We have 300 nuclear warheads aimed at 300 different places around the globe and we have a Global Warming Denier in control ready to stir up another hornet's nest in Iran. We have 300 excuses never to change our behavior. Number one is that we are Americans.

America had a rare opportunity on Sept. 12, 2001, a chance to show the world that we could lead, could move the planet away from terrorism and fundamentalist hate mongering.

Had there been a leader in the White House instead of a misleader, we could have turned one of the most tragic moments in our nation's history into a powerful ally for world change. But America never changed after 9/11. America is still the same glutton it always was, only more obnoxiously so now, given what we know about global warming and finite supplies of fossil fuels.

So, thanks for handing us a laugh, Mr. Kloza. God knows we could use one.

According to figures from our Department of Energy, each person in the U.S. consumes as much energy as 2.1 Germans, 12.1 Columbians, 28.9 citizens of India, 127 Haitians and 395 Ethiopians. As a nation, we lead the world in carbon dioxide emissions, nearly twice the amount of second-place China (which has one billion people). We lead the world, by far, in water and oil consumption. We have the largest houses in the world. Each year, the average American generates 189 pounds of food waste, 183 pounds of plastic trash, 570 pounds of paper trash, 86 pounds of glass trash, and so on.

In short, Americans make the biggest environmental footprint on the planet. If one views the earth's resources as one common stash, we're the guys hogging all the supplies.

If the kneejerk "Me First" crowd interpret the above statistics as blatant America-bashing -- rather than as grounds to change behavior -- then they've proven my point. Once again.
For more information, go to populationeducation.org. Alan Bisbort is a columnist for the Hartford Advocate. His more recent book is "Famous Last Words" (Pomegranate).
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