Monday, September 06, 2004

Working on Kicking Another Filthy Addiction

  • Image courtesy of This is a graphic image of s street addict shooting up.

  • Another street addict shoots up.

  • This is one of those deals where it would be impossible to do what I am going to say, but I still think it needs to be done. The United States of America needs a 12 step program. No, I am not being a smartass. I mean it. All 250-275 million of us need help with our addiction. Our sponsors can be the very, very few who have managed to kick the habit on their own. Since I came up with the idea, I’ll go first and tell my story.

    Hi, my name is Andy and I am a oil addict. I have been since as early as I can remember. Both of my parents were oil addicts, and so were both sets of their parents. Even as a kid I loved the magic of hitting a switch and seeing the light come on instantly—no matches, no nothing. It was great and I was hooked immediately and never thought of the consequences. I loved having refrigeration that could keep food safe for weeks, air conditioning in August and heating in February. And driving—Oh my God, how cool is that! Get in the car and go somewhere whenever you want, wherever you wanted to go—that was freedom!

    Gradually I became aware that oil was no longer doing just good things for me. I started to have to take over the responsibility of paying for gas and oil. It is a constant drain on your finances, but it is a have to. You don’t have a choice really. And if you don’t pay, they cut you off—no electricity at all! These people are pushers—at first they’re all nice and your friend when you sign up, but once you’re signed up, then forget it. They know they’ve got you.

    I started to have problems with allergies, red eyes, coughing (okay, in fairness to the oil pushers, I was smoking back then too), lots of mucus in my throat, headaches whenever I was in the car for a long time. Turns out some of that is caused by emissions from mine and other cars around me. It gets worse on hot days. Sometimes the air is so bad, they tell kids, older folks and pregnant women to stay indoors! Even after two years without a cigarette, I have days with an itchy throat all day.

    I’d go on vacations to Rocky Mountain National Park where you can be at the top of Trail Ridge Road and look out and see Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Kansas. Or you used to be able to, now you see this yellow haze in the distance—that’s pollution from our cars.

    But that didn’t stop me, I’d keep on using oil like there was no tomorrow. I never paid attention to my mileage and drove like a lunatic. The way I measured whether or not my driving was “successful” was by how quickly I got from one place to another.

    Gradually I became aware that there were some real problems with the way I lived. I could not control my energy costs—I was at the mercy of my pusher, whether that pusher was Exxon-Mobil or TXU Energy. They could charge what they like and I would pay. I had to so I could get to work. So I could go out and have fun. So that I could live, really.

    I learned that there was a better way. Some people were going off grid, which meant that they used something called alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal and more) to power their houses. Amazingly some of them were completely self-sufficient! They could do all the things that I could do—cool their house, heat their house, refrigerate food, listen to music at an outrageous volume and enjoy it. All without using a single drop of oil. There was a catch to it though: it cost more. A lot more.

    I felt discouraged, I knew I could not afford it. So I slipped back into my old ways.

    Not that long ago something new happened. Some folks from way over there, where the oil comes from, hijacked four planes and killed thousands of people all at once. It turns out they want to destroy us, the United States of America. Why on earth would anyone want to do that? These guys were crazy, but among the things they were angry about is they felt like we were interfering with how they want to run their countries, that we support tyrants who treat them like slaves so that they can make oil for their biggest customer: us.

    The more I researched the situation, the crazier it seemed. We keep spending money on oil and most of it goes to our neighborhood pushers, the big oil companies. The oil companies then pay the thugs who rule the countries where the oil actually is.

    Even crazier, some of the money that I spend to fill the gas tank of my Saturn station wagon goes via indirect, convoluted routes, to terrorists determined to destroy my country. While I am figuring this our, we, the United States of America, invade one of these countries.

    Our reason for invading Iraq is to prevent lunatics who would harm the United States from getting weapons of mass destruction. But even as we are in this country and not finding one single weapon of mass destruction, Iran and North Korea both either have developed or are developing nuclear weapons. We do nothing (other than strongly worded protests) to stop them. These are both nations that have declared they are our enemy. These are both nations we have labeled as part of the “axis of evil.” But we let them build nuclear weapons anyway.

    The next thing we say about the invasion is that we are there for humanitarian reasons. The former ruler was a brutal tyrant who killed his own people without mercy. But right next door is a country, Saudi Arabia, that treats women like slaves, beheads criminals, and persecutes religious minorities! And we do nothing, nothing about that. Meanwhile, in Sudan, genocide is taking place—the government is allowing and encouraging militias to slaughter an unarmed, helpless populace who are religious minorities. The United States does nothing to stop this. Nothing.

    So what does the nation we invade have? Oil. Lots of oil. What does Saudi Arabia have? Oil, lots of oil. Does Sudan have oil? No. Does North Korea have oil? No. Does Iran have oil? Yes, and we are making agressive moves towards them.

    Addicts don’t like to face the facts of their addiction. They will go to ridiculous lengths to deny it. At the peak of my alcoholism you could find empty and half empty liquor bottles hidden under aquariums, in desk drawers, under cabinets, behind potted plants. Ask me about it and I’d tell you with a straight face that I wasn’t hiding them. I was just putting them where I could conveniently access them. Like on top of a bookcase where I had to get a stepstool to reach the bottle. These stories of weapons of mass destruction and wanting to be humanitarian, these sound like denial to me.

    Worse, now our soldiers are dying over there. It started to get where I get gas and wonder how many gallons equaled the life of one US soldier. I wanted to quit, but I could not see how.

    With due respect to my fellow alcoholics, quitting drinking is easy. Just don’t drink. There is a lot more to it than that, but what it boils down to is if you don’t take a drink of alcohol, you won’t get drunk. If you need more help, contact me via email at the address under my profile and I will gladly assist. But the bottom line is: just don’t drink.

    Oil won’t work that way. You can’t be a member of modern society in the United States without using oil, not realistically. So I had to find a different way to handle this addiction. Maybe I could learn something from people with weight problems. After all, you can’t stop eating completely either. Maybe I could learn to taper off and use wisely.

    I have learned that there is a solution. It is not an abrupt, dramatic sudden upheaval, complete change of life solution. It is a gradual, change one thing at a time solution. Change from incandescent lamps to compact florescent. Turn the air up when we are out of the house. Change how we use energy.

    For example, in the car, I drive for mileage. I no longer measure my progress by speed, but by mpg. Honestly, I did not know it was possible to get 32mpg out of a Saturn station wagon in the city! It turns out that driving this way is much more relaxing and for me at least, adds virtually no time to my commute. Everything I know about driving for mileage comes from my professors at

    The next step my wife and I have taken is to order a Toyota Prius. This hybrid gas/electric car not only offers incredible fuel efficiency (nine of the 2004 Prius listed on the GreenHybrid database beat the EPA estimate of 55mpg) but also super clean emissions. Want to talk about energy efficiency? Step on the brake of the Prius and watch it recharge the battery by capturing the kinetic energy from the braking that would otherwise be lost. We have waited five months thus far for our Prius, we expect to wait three more. As inconvenient as the wait is, it is wonderful to know that so many others are of like mind.

    I have also purchased our first solar panel. It is a 55 watt Evergreen solar panel. I am trying to run our small garden pond off of it. This is a learning experiment. I figure that if I can learn how to use solar on the pond, I can then start to apply it to my house. There is a ways to go though. I don’t even have the battery yet! But the goal is to be totally off grid by 2014.

    So how to kick the oil habit? One day at a time. I use the Serenity Prayer as my guide:

    Goddess, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
  • I accept that this process will take time and money. Some people will think I am strange or stupid for going out of my way to do this.

  • the courage to change the things I can,
  • I will alter the way I drive. I will spend more for more efficient appliances, cars and homes.

  • and the wisdom to know the difference.

    With the help of a Higher Power (you might choose to think of the Higher Power as science, giving us cleaner technology. I believe it is the Goddess, giving us the brains to look for that technology), I believe we can beat this terrible addiction together.

    Again, my name is Andy and I am an oil addict and an American Patriot. I don’t want our soldiers to die so that I can have a more convenient lifestyle. I don’t want our nation beholden to hostile forces. And one day at a time, one tank of gas at a time, one light bulb at a time, one solar panel at a time, I can and will do better.