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We must get off the oil treadmill

The oil spill that is sweeping through the Gulf of Mexico provides another reminder – as if another is needed – about how important it is that our nation find something other than oil to satisfy its energy needs, and do so sooner rather than later.

When an offshore drilling rig exploded in the Gulf on April 22, it began spilling oil. It took a week before it became clear that “spill” may be too mild a term for what was – and still is, as of this writing – going on at the drill site. About 200,000 gallons a day of oil began pouring into the Gulf immediately after the explosion, creating an immense oil slick that could cause major damage to birds and sea creatures.

While some have seen the incident as evidence that more offshore drilling precautions are needed, that response is similar to putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. Spills are, history has shown, an inevitable result of oil drilling and transportation. The only realistic way to prevent such ecological disasters is to stop the drilling. But to do that, our nation needs a better plan.

Oil spills are only one side-effect of oil dependence. Greenhouse gases are another. And security is a third; as long as our nation is dependent on oil, it is going to be dependent on other nations’ behavior and political fortunes.

It is in recognizing the national security implications of oil dependence that our leaders have come up short. While they pump billions upon billions of dollars into so-far-fruitless military efforts in the Middle East, research on energy alternatives has crept forward. Fighting in Afghanistan – no matter how bravely our troops perform – does not bring our nation any true increase in security. Getting off the oil treadmill would.

It’s time for our president and other elected officials to recognize that the right place to spend security dollars is on finding a way to replace the United States’ oil needs.

Making that change is going to be a long process, if it is to be accomplished without massive economic upheaval. So the sooner we get started the better. And as the Gulf oil spill demonstrates, security is only one of the benefits we would achieve.