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It’s time to bring an end to the opulance

I am about to suggest something no one wants to hear: We may already have enough cars on the road. I know – it doesn’t get any more un-American than this, but there it is. We may actually have enough.

I mention this not as a cyclist whose life regularly flashes before his eyes (the montage is getting boring, thank you), but as a citizen of a country that has leveraged itself into a vulnerable predicament, wherein our luminous economy is perched upon a few tenuous stilts – third-world labor, military spending and, of course, the voluminous consumption of oil.

Now is the time to disentangle ourselves in an intelligent fashion, rather than wait for the frenetic panic to ensue once the lights go out.According to the CIA World Factbook, while the United States produces only 7.8 million barrels per day (bpd), it consumes 19.65 million bpd, most of which is used for transportation. Of course, petroleum is a component of many other products, from plastic to asphalt, but the bulk of our usage comes from the proliferation of automobiles and the dependent industries that hinge upon it.

It is impossible to picture the U.S. economy as it functions today without vast amounts of imported crude. Is it an exaggeration to say that the United States is addicted to oil? I don’t know; is it an exaggeration to say that Marlon Brando was addicted to bread?

Imagining the best of a worst-case scenario, in which all oil imports ceased but domestic production continued unabated, it would take just over five years to burn through our strategic oil reserve of 22 billion barrels at our rate of consumption. If, however, we reduced our consumption by half, that same reserve would last more than three decades. And wouldn’t those be some fun times? Sure, because nothing spells “fun” like rationing, panic and an imploding business sector.

Would we go to war for it? I imagine so – in fact, this scenario basically presupposes either hostile action on someone’s part or a worldwide oil shortage, either of which would likely yield the same result. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a less efficient method of problem-solving. But this is essentially where we’re headed, so allow me to present a proactive solution in just four dramatically oversimplified steps.

First, the automobiles: enough already. With over 217 million Americans of “driving age” (16 to 74), it’s a sure sign of our opulence that approximately 217 million privately owned vehicles now crowd the roads, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s estimate of 1.12 cars per licensed driver. Meanwhile, U.S. automakers recently boasted that domestic production for 2005 neared 17 million units. Well, good for them. Are we there yet? Do we have as many cars as we can possibly use? Yes, I “get” that a certain number of vehicles are also retired from the roads each year, and while I’m all for economic growth, we have to face the fact that more cars on the road is only backing us further into the corner.

Additionally, the cars themselves have to change. It’s not only a matter of more cars on the road, but more “car,” period. Just this week, Ford unveiled its new F-250 Super Chief, which is bigger than GM’s Hummer. Although hybrid production has increased, I find the claims that it would be “too expensive” to induce higher fuel efficiency standards in other models dubious at best. This smacks of conflict of interest, and everybody knows it – does Texaco just outright own Ford yet? No? What about now?

Next, consumer behavior: They wouldn’t be makin’ ’em if we weren’t buyin’. Seriously, did the Roman Catholic Church proscribe carpooling while I wasn’t looking? Is the busing system so defunct that most of us would sooner die than use it? I understand that the public transportation system in Tampa is considered somewhat less than convenient, but it’s not as though this topic dominates the Tampa City Council agenda night after night. Maybe it should.

And finally: The fuel itself. I can’t imagine what the White House has to pay its speech writing staff, let alone the Disney “Imagineers” it hires to do its policy writing, to find ways to talk about “alternative energies” and never once mention hemp. Of course, hemp production is illegal in the United States because it comes from the same seed source as the dastardly marijuana.

However, hemp is such a multifaceted crop that, were we to quit freaking out about pot as though it were the next natural evolution of the bird flu, we could reverse our woes on virtually every level of society. A rapidly renewable resource, hemp oil provides fuel for biodiesel engines. Hemp seed provides nutrients for food, pulp for paper, fiber for clothes and more. Good luck finding another resource that can reduce fuel shortages, pollution, hunger and deforestation simultaneously.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. We may simply continue to sail on, unhindered by bothersome upheavals – but I doubt it. Either way, the clock’s ticking. See you in the bunker.

Ryan McGeeney is a senior majoring in political science.