The Common Good

We Must Ask Moral Questions About Our Oil Addiction (Part I)

At the same time oil is spewing from the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico, some politicians are already calling for more drilling, accompanied by talk of "better regulations." This sounds so familiar.

The recent crisis in the real estate market, blamed on predatory lending practices, could have been prevented, they said, with "better regulations." The Wall Street crisis, blamed on derivatives and credit default swaps, just needed, they said, "better regulations." This new catch-phrase, "better regulations," is being used to cover a multitude of sins. What are these sins? Our failures are many and varied but perhaps they can be summed up in one concern -- namely, a fundamental failure of the West to recognize that our belief in "human progress" is morally spinning out of control.

Westerners, particularly Americans, believe that every problem is solvable. Optimism can be a great asset, but it can also create a sense of false invincibility. As Americans, our "sense of invincibility" allows us to easily bypass serious concerns. For example, in the past few years we may think we have learned to live with the current economic crisis; nine years in Afghanistan; global climate change; and now with oil streaming out of the ocean floor into the scenic Gulf of Mexico. Such conditions should give us pause to discover a good dose of humility. But instead of driving us to deeper moral questions, we tend to ignore or rationalize the heinous nature of our situations and -- for example, as with the current crisis -- continue to "drill" without real solutions that would alleviate the possibility of more "spills." Will we ever learn?

Is it possible that no great answers to our problems exist because we are simply entertaining bad questions? For example, in keeping the conversation with the current crisis, perhaps the deeper issue is not better regulations accompanying drilling, but whether or not we should continue drilling for any oil at all! Yes, I said it

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