Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hyman Running Out of Gas

The Mark Hyman’s recent attack on Democratic politicians who favor policies that would lessen our dependency on foreign oil and reduce our consumption of fossil fuels is an exercise in playground childishness.

His argument seems to be that it’s hypocritical to favor such policies if you arrive at public events with a motorcade (a la Al Gore) or don’t drive the most fuel efficient car on the market (he chides Harold Ford for driving a Tahoe, although the Tennessee Congressman actually is using a bio-diesel truck on the campaign trail).

This is, of course, dopey. I suppose Al Gore could bike to each and every speaking engagement on his Schwinn, with his bevy of Secret Security agents peddling furiously behind him, but that’s a bit impractical.

What’s more interesting is simply the way Hyman frames the issue. For him, taking steps to conserve fuel is punishment. What’s immoral about Gore et. al from his point of view is that they are telling us to punish ourselves by not using so much fuel, while they continue to do so.

That argument is shaky, even if one grants the frame he’s using. (For example, would having an overweight doctor tell you that you should watch what you eat and exercise reduce the validity of that advice? I think not.)

But the whole point of the move to greener energy sources is that it doesn’t have to be “punishment” for our “excessive use” of gasoline. The push to have more alternate fuels available, to raise mileage rates on cars, to improve public transportation, etc. are all things that can be done without asking for dramatic sacrifices, and they will produce dramatic results.

That’s one of the lessons of Gore’s film, and Inconvenient Truth. One doesn’t need to go live in the woods and eat bark to do incredible things to help the environment. If we all just used energy saving light bulbs, did curbside recycling, turned off electronic equipment we weren’t using, we’d have a huge impact on our nation’s energy bottom line, without doing much of anything to disrupt our current lifestyles.

(As an aside, let’s acknowledge that Gore gave up untold millions in potential private sector money to devote himself to in-depth study and advocacy of environmental issues, so the man’s paid his dues. Hyman’s charge that Gore “has been on the environmental bandwagon to keep in the public eye” is one of the more laughable statements he’s made lately; heck, Gore damn near built the bandwagon!)

But right wingers like Hyman don’t see it that way. In calls for sensible moves to make us more energy independent, they see simply calls for self-flagellation—punishment for the sake of punishment.

And if one sees it that way, then perhaps one can understand why they might take exception to those advocating for such policies who aren’t already taking them to an extreme themselves, even to the point of being impractical.

But that’s not what’s going on in the move toward more sustainable energy sources. No one’s suggesting that truckers try to pull their loads with a Prius, or that people in Minnesota commute to work in January on Segway scooters. People can and should still live their lives. And for public figures with entourages, far flung speaking engagements, and security concerns, that means driving trucks, using airplanes, and having motorcades.

The point is to broaden the scope of what’s available so that we can live our lives in a way that’s more sustainable and affordable in the long run.

Given how little we’ve bothered as a country to explore the benefits of sustainable energy, it’s not surprising that we have few choices when it comes to living our lives *and* being energy efficient. But that’s exactly what folks like Al Gore are trying to change, and through such change, we can live our lives and be sure that our children and grandchildren will be able to live theirs as well.

But for those, like Hyman, who see any calls for environmental action as nothing more than snarky browbeating and guilt-tripping, they’ll have a hard time seeing the big picture because of the way they choose to frame the issue. They’ll never see the forest for the ever-shrinking number of trees.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.59


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