It seems as if Barack Obama's reaction to the Gulf oil spill thus far has closely followed the famous Kübler-Ross model of grief management. Denial was when he waited far too long to take the reins from BP, thus allowing the company to flail about helplessly for days while little to no real action took place. Anger came a week ago, when the president used some uncharacteristically salty language to address accusations of dawdling: "I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar," he told ABC News. "We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answer so I know whose ass to kick."
Yesterday, Obama embarked on his fourth trip to the Gulf Coast region since the April 21 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. After touring Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, he'll return to Washington tonight to discuss the catastrophe in his first Oval Office speech. While most everyone is certain Obama will talk drilling safety improvements and the BP escrow account, if he's wise, he'll also take his first step in the bargaining stage and make a deal with American people: Stop using so much oil and things will get better.
As I've written before, Americans—and much of Western culture, but Americans especially—simply use too much fossil fuel. It's necessary for our cars, our agribusiness, our cosmetics, our air conditioning, our computers and practically everything in-between, and to say that we're too reliant on it has become such a constant refrain that it almost sounds like nagging. Nevertheless, sometimes clichés are repeated for a reason. In this case, it's because it's a simple fact: If everyone living in the United States made a concerted effort to cut their oil consumption, the world—not just the Gulf coast, the entire world—would improve drastically.
If the Obama administration would really like to change the course of America's future relationship with oil, not only does it need the complete financial cooperation of BP; it also needs to earnestly ask We The People to stop buying so damn much of the black stuff. Unlike President Bush, who in the wake of 9/11 asked citizens to go shopping, tonight, Obama needs to show true leadership and tell us that we've in fact done too much shopping. He needs to tell us that while our current crisis is due to the cascading failures of a British oil company, what led to it was decades of American addiction to finite fossil fuels obtained through hyper-fallible means. It's time modest oil consumption wasn't the punchline to an Al Gore joke, but instead a respected notion about how to be a good global citizen.
That transition could begin tonight, in the White House; Obama just needs to find the intestinal fortitude to make it happen. To be sure, it won't be easy for Americans to hear, but the truth often isn't. And maybe next time, we'll all be able to avoid the depression stage.
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.