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US oil habits are irresponsible

In light of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent Clean Power Plan hearings across the country, support is growing and tension is rising as people urge lawmakers to begin using cleaner resources to reduce our carbon footprint. Though many people are focusing on environmental efforts, this is just the tip of the melting iceberg. 

The unhealthy obsession with oil is not only leading us toward an uninhabitable planet, but also unaligned with our basic foundation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The U.S. spends roughly $1 billion a day on oil that exacerbates pollution and comes from a number of unstable countries. 

According to Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist and three time Pulitzer Prize winner, our addiction to oil not only intensifies the effects of global warming but also makes “clean air dirtier, poor people poorer, democratic countries weaker, and radical terrorists richer.” 

The current net imports account for 40 percent of U.S. annual oil consumption, 13 percent of which comes from Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. At an estimated $101 per barrel, that is over $48 billion spent solely in Saudi Arabia. 

While it is worth noting the government has made many recent changes to keep money from getting into the wrong hands, the U.S. is still funneling money by way of oil importation into Middle Eastern countries that have a history of supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, which sites such as Wikileaks have brought to light. 

As oil accounts for 55 percent of their total GDP and 90 percent of export earning, it is a high-risk purchase the U.S. is willing to make despite having to simultaneously spend billions of dollars and gamble thousands of lives to combat these same groups. 

The problem is not solely with the conflicting spending habits of this country; it is also with the current state of most oil producing countries. According to the 2014 Maplecroft Human Rights Risk Index, every member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has either a high or extreme risk of human rights violations. The “resource curse” strikes again as these countries, rich in resources, become poorer and stripped of human rights. 

The only way for the U.S. to stop promoting unstable countries’ dependence on oil is by limiting its own. When countries can no longer rely on exportation of their natural resources to get by, history suggests they will invest in their people and promote education and innovation. Regardless of the specific region of the world, the fight for resources and the destabilization, which that fight brings, has brought disastrous consequences throughout history. 

Add it to the list of reasons to advocate for alternative energy, right up there with global warming. This is as much a human rights and geopolitical issue as an environmental one. If powerful countries like the U.S. can break away from oil dependence, future generations will be grateful for having a breathable and peaceful world climate. 

Shelby Cohen is a graduate student in the Patel College of Global Sustainability.