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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of Dec 31, 2002 - Jan 7, 2003

Opinion Columns

See the USA in you…?

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

This New Year I'm resolved to start my own version of WWII's Victory Garden. Instead of growing vegetables, I'll work on cutting down on my share of the growth of our country's dependence on oil.

There is a novel movement afoot to broadcast the non-news that we are wasting our resources. It asks us to consider this: "What kind of car would Jesus drive?' While I initially snickered at the image, I realized the campaign's proponents are dead serious, and that they do have a point. The thought of the robed and sandal-clad Jesus getting into one of our sleek new autos might be silly, but it does seem obvious that that He certainly wouldn't choose a gas guzzler, that He would find alternate means of transportation and would be considerate of the environment. I can't picture Buddha in a car either, but the point is apt. I imagine that Muhammed would also approve of some restraint in depleting the resources of the world.

We are certainly people on the go. Growing up in the Los Angeles area convinced me that a car was essential, and I shared my state's love of the open road. For a short time in the early 90s I was without a vehicle and felt trapped. Lately, however, I am convinced that we all owe our country and ourselves some weaning from the indulgent headiness of mobility we seem to have embraced. It is even more essential now to drive less and save more fuel.

I say this, understand, from the viewpoint of one who has just recently started to own less-fuel-efficient vehicles as my concern for safety on icy roads has escalated. I used to drive Toyotas or Volkswagens designed to make an owner smile at the pump. My last car, a small white one, was nearly overrun several times by large SUV drivers who didn't see me in the snow. So I admit to some satisfaction with my nice semi-new mid-sized SUV. Even in sunny California, driving a small car can be risky on freeways. There is a reason that people check out crash protection features in Consumer Reports before purchasing new cars and then spend a lot on Volvos or Mercedes SUVs.

I have recently come across several other items that nudged my conscience about saving petroleum.

Thomas Friedman, in "Longitudes and Attitudes," the remarkable collection of his New York Times columns, makes a strong argument for individual responsibility in the face of our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. In "Ask Not What" he extols the inherent goodness of Americans. In order to face the new challenges we face after September 11 (an event he refers to as the start of World War III), he foresees that a call for sacrifice on the part of American citizens would be eagerly met. Just as in WWII the home front sacrificed comforts for the larger cause, so will we if called upon. Perhaps we could begin steps so that "the Americans who are 5 percent of the world's population don't continue hogging 25 percent of the world's energy."

I had always considered environmental reasons for less dependence on oil, but here is a really immediate approach to the war on terrorism. The rationing and meatless Fridays of WWII could be revived in a different form such as cutting down fuel consumption by 10 percent. Perhaps if each of the millions of my fellow citizens would conserve fuel by even that small percentage, we might see some slight and positive change in the dynamics of world politics. At least, I thought, this is something I can do, concretely, in a world which seems to be more and more out of control--or at least out of my control.

We have other transportation options, of course: the KART and Peak buses and car-pooling are starts. But others beckon. I saw a television segment on the remarkable new machine called the Segue, a one-person mobile unit that could revolutionize the way we get around. It looked tempting: I wish they were available already. I'm also considering something like my daughter's new Vespa scooter, at least for non-icy times running errands around town.

California is embarking on a major pilot project with ethanol and electric-powered vehicles. I read of the benefits of the hybrid car in the December 4 issue of this paper and was encouraged to consider the feasibility of a vehicle like the combo electric-motor-and-gasoline-engine Toyota Prius.

I'm also enough of a realist to know that giving up a percentage of time spent in the private places we call cars isn't going to be easy. We don't even want to limit our use of a cell phone in the car, much less the use of the cars themselves. A recent study totaled the costs of accidents caused by inattentive driving while under the influences of cell phones. Respondents claimed that the costs were worth the risks. But the flaw of the survey was assigning value as dollars spent. What about the lives lost and the stunning toll on loved ones of those accidents?

We should seriously think about some of the things that happen because of our further insulation inside our motorized behemoths. I, for one, am re-evaluating my dependence on my SUV. This New Year I'm resolved to start my own version of WWII's Victory Garden. Instead of growing vegetables, I'll work on cutting down on my share of the growth of our country's dependence on oil.


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