Addiction to Oil– and the Path to Recovery

May 1, 2010 at 9:05 am

The phrase addiction to oil has been bandied about for a few years but is underscored at this moment as we face the disaster of the BP oil spill.

Tom Friedman, author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America, has referred to us as addicted to oil. President Bush, who has slowly come to acknowledge the reality of global warming, has referred to “our addiction to oil.”

But this notion of addiction to fossil fuels hasn’t been fully developed as a concept.

As a psychologist with a subspecialization in addictions, I’d like to offer my reflections on the matter of our addiction to oil– and the possibility of recovery.

So the rhetoric of addiction to oil is part of the discourse. And as an addictions expert, I can attest that the mechanisms of addiction — denial and rationalization,– come into play in our use of fossil fuels.

It’s as if we’ve been on a collective binge since about 1960-only instead of drinking, we’ve been directly and indirectly consuming lots of fossil fuels. And instead of getting DUIs and lab results telling us that our liver is shot, we’re getting global warming and a host of related complications that take the problem to a crisis level. Our actions have caught up with us. 

And just as alcoholics can go into recovery, we as a society can recover from our addiction to oil. 

We don’t just ask alcoholics to change their behavior– we regulate alcohol. We treat the problem of excessive use of alcohol not just as a matter of personal responsiblity but as a policy issue.

We also hold liquor companies responsible for the ways that market their products.

To go into recovery, we need to get out of denial, shift to a state of awareness, and move from awareness into concerted action. As a society we are moving into a state of awareness of the consequences of our dependence on oil. From there we need to move into collective action– now.  We need to start to reduce our dependence on oil– and when we “relapse” we need to get back on track. We need to confront our resistances to change, individually and collectively. And we need to create the policy conditions that support us in shifting away from oil and coal.   And we need to hold the purveyors accountable.

As a society, we can go into recovery.  We can change our lifestyles, our business practices and our policies. We can share with recovering alcoholics and addicts the rewards of a new way of life–including the knowlege that we’re doing right by our children.

Recovery: Hope and Rewards

The good news is that as an addiction specialist, Dr. Sarah Warren can say that there is hope. Recovery is possible. She has helped many drug addicts and alcoholics change their habits. And they have to go through physical withdrawal, which thankfully we don’t when we walk the kids to school instead of driving– or when we overhaul our policies to incentivize renewable energy.

Change is hard-and necessary, and possible. And the rewards are immeasurable.

Won’t you join us in confronting our addiction?

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