America’s Independence Day is around the corner. It’s the most prominent day each year that we celebrate our freedom from the British Empire. There will be fireworks, parades, and endless flag waving. It’s all good, as long as there’s room for those who question a way of life dependent on oil, because dissention is the first heartbeat of true freedom.
We aren’t a perfect nation, and never have been. The preamble to our Constitution implies it’s a work in progress, not a fact ordained without the great pains of change. It took decades before we abolished slavery and ended warfare against Native Americans. And for our first 150 years women were relegated to second class citizenship. Those changes required a dedication to dissent.
Americans aren’t unique in resisting change. This observation is forever engraved in the country’s cherished Declaration of Independence — “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Indeed, clinging to any status quo leads to forms of dependency that stand in harsh opposition to everything the Fourth of July is about.
We can’t truly define independence without admitting where it doesn’t exist. So as we celebrate our freedom, let’s also open the book on our modern day dependency on oil. It’s the driver of the engines that take us to and from our jobs. It’s an essential ingredient in the asphalt roads we drive on and it runs the equipment used to build and maintain them. We not only need oil to get to the grocery store, others consume barrels more to ship our food from far away places.
Oil gets us to the harbors in summer and Eaglecrest in winter, where we’ll burn more to go out fishing or to get a lift to the top of the ski hill. We get anxious when the rising price of oil jacks up the cost of gasoline at the pump and inflates our home or business heating bills. Meanwhile, our state’s economy and sacred Permanent Fund thrive whenever the spot price of Alaska crude climbs higher.
Our demand for oil is forever increasing as our population grows. More than half of what we consume is imported. American presidents have been talking about reducing our dependence on foreign oil since the first energy crisis in 1973. But the amount of oil we import each year has jumped from 49 billion gallons in 1973 to 140 billion in 2010.
“We will not apologize for our way of life,” said President Barack Obama in his inaugural speech that echoed his predecessor’s militant defense of our freedom to consume oil at will. And it’s not all burned here at home. According to Sharon Burke, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Pentagon, our military consumes more than 7 million gallons of oil every day in Afghanistan and Iraq. That was before Obama began his warring foray into the skies over Libya, after which oil prices rose to a 30-month high.
President Obama hasn’t sought congressional approval to continue this latest military action because he says it’s not a war. As a result, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is warning Congress and us all that “the president is becoming an absolute monarch,” and “we must put a stop to that right now, if we don’t want to become an empire instead of a republic.”
Nadler needs a history lesson though. America has been building its overseas empire since the end of World War II. And since 1980 we’ve been prepared to use the military to protect access to Middle East oil. That’s when President Jimmy Carter told Americans an “attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault” on our vital interests and “will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
Before the American Revolution, the British Empire protected its economic interests by stationing troops in their North American colonies. Now we’re the empire with military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan protecting our way of life. And whether we admit or not, it’s sustained by an addiction to oil that’s at odds with the freedom we celebrate.
• Moniak is a Juneau resident.