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February 6, 2006

Just days ago President Bush stated that we have an addiction to oil. For an oil man that’s a big change! But it wasn’t the first time an American president addressed this issue. Richard Nixon warned about the need for “energy independence” as early as 1973, while Jimmy Carter’s administration reiterated that need in the late 1970’s.

However, just because a few leaders identify a problem, doesn’t mean we are ready to solve it. Change doesn’t come easily for any of us - as the stuttering title suggests - and until we are willing to look at what some of those obstacles to change may be, we are at risk for sabotaging the country’s best scientific and political efforts toward making that change happen.

For one thing, change is difficult. As any recovering addict can tell you, change hurts, even if it is worth the pain in the long run. Any recovery requires a long hard look at why one is an addict in the first place. A second obstacle to this country’s recovery is the lack of political will to set meaningful national goals and agendas that extend beyond individual administrations. Politicians do not want to alienate their voters by asking for lifestyle changes that may cause even the smallest “deprivation” or “sacrifice,” because they fear that such discomfort may lead to a vote for the other side.

In another month this website will be featuring the results from a UC Berkeley study commissioned by Americans for Energy Independence. The study will discuss research-validated, concrete steps for how this nation can gain a significant measure of independence from foreign oil by the year 2025.

In preparation for the release of the UC Berkeley study, not to mention the upcoming oil crisis, I’d like to discuss a more deep-seated dependency in the American people that, if not recognized, may sabotage our national efforts to effect real change.

The United States, still a relatively young nation, has never broken its dependency on and need for “certainty.” Even in this 21st century we seem to prefer viewing our obstacles as conflicts and reducing the issues into “us” against “them” scenarios. How often do we hear about “good” going against “evil,” “good guys” fighting “bad guys,” and “heroes” overcoming “villains?” It is embedded in our national identity, probably since our cowboy days. But, despite our best intentions to do some good in the world, we Americans, by virtue of our need to see ourselves as “good guys” and those opposing us as “bad guys,” end up settling for superficial explanations for all the obstacles on the path to that good. This seems to be true whether we are focusing on other countries or other political parties. Unfortunately, though this penchant for absolutist “good vs. evil” thinking still props up our movie industry, it undermines our standing as a world leader by manipulating our citizenry into accepting half-truths about who our nation is, what we actually do in the world, and how we can make things better.

The attraction to this position is understandable. It’s comforting, even empowering, to feel one is absolutely right. After all, having to weigh the relative merits of actions and arguments from all sides, is effortful and anxiety-provoking. How can one decide anything without absolute certainty? Unfortunately, it amounts to hiding our heads in the sand and failing to demand a full accounting of the actions and intentions of our leaders – and ourselves - at all times. By hiding, we collude with the corrupted elements in government and society to preserve their power by keeping us in the dark.

The need for certainty is at the heart of any dependency, probably because it is rooted in our earliest development. Psychology tells us that as infants we form notions of “good” and “bad” based on the experiences of getting our basic needs met (“good”) or not met (“bad”). The infant brain cannot yet integrate the good with the bad so it keeps these experiences separate form each other. When we feel bad, we forget we once felt good. And when we feel good, we forget feeling bad. It is an “all or nothing” response of the nervous system. Eventually, our feelings about ourselves come to reflect our feelings about the world based on how it has treated us early on. Untamed by memory, these good/bad feelings flip-flop within us depending upon what we’re experiencing in the moment.

By three years of age and the development of the cortical centers of the brain the clarity and certainty of “all-good” vs. “all-bad” are no longer exclusive certainties. They get muddled together by the realization that the world can be both good and bad, both gratifying and frustrating, both comforting and challenging. And with that realization and our ongoing ventures into that murky world, comes a great deal of anxiety and ambivalence not only about the world, but about ourselves as well. How can we ever be sure of anything again once we’ve lost that clarity, that certainty of “black or white?”

But nature comes through. When parents give even a measure of comfort to the anxious toddler and even minimally model the skills necessary for solving problems, the toddler will learn to wait (tolerate frustration), watch (identify problems), weigh different alternatives and their possible consequences, and continue evaluating the outcomes of his actions until his initial intentions are met. In short, he will learn to act in spite of a lack of perfect certainty.

On a national scale what keeps us from moving beyond this need for certainty is the continued fostering of an emotionally dependent citizenry who think and behave in rigid, impulsive and often extremely harsh, docile or naïve ways, and who are ill-equipped to solve the nation’s problems. In the end the actions of these dependent individuals will be primarily self-serving, as they will be motivated by the need to defend a fragile ego, ceaselessly looking for a certainty that doesn’t exist.

While it’s true that none of us has had a perfect childhood, before we can move on as a nation to resolve our dependencies upon foreign oil, we must first commit to that next level of human accomplishment - emotional independence. Without it we may not ever feel safe enough to take responsibility for making serious changes, and we will either dodge the issues about the coming crisis or look for somebody to blame for them.

How do we make this next leap toward independence? Most of us already have – in our personal lives which are filled with nuance and complexity. All we need do more is broaden those skills we’ve honed over years of dealing with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers into the national arena.

We might first admit to ourselves that there is value in feeling the tension that uncertainty brings. With it we learn patience, empathy, and tolerance and can better weigh alternatives and consequences so that our decisions are the best possible, given the limitations of this crisis.

We might leave some room for doubt, recognizing that our current solution may not be the best solution if circumstances change or new information becomes available. In a mature world, there is room for doubt without fear of paralysis.

We might consider longer-term consequences of our decisions and actions in terms measured in generations not just quarters.

By letting go of our need to have problems described in “black and white” certainties, we might be able to release our leaders from having to tell us only what they think we want to hear, and encourage them to take bold and far-reaching steps on our behalf.

We might then come to terms with the fact that there are no “all good” and “all bad” guys. It’s just us, sometimes good and sometimes ineffective, struggling to make something good happen.

It is only by taking full responsibility for our own individual actions and commitment to change that we can embrace mutual responsibility and accountability for our futures and the futures of our children’s children.

Lorraine Camenzuli, Ph.D.
Psychologist and
Board Member
Americans for Energy Independence

With these thoughts in mind, Americans for Energy Independence asks for your continued support in our ongoing efforts to effect change on a national level.

Read/Post Comments (14)

Comments (14)

Brian from OH
2/7/2006 11:21:26 AM

From what I've seen, "Changing" people's buying behavior and attitudes will be the toughest issue. Too many commercials are out there touting performance, size and "professional grade" - all of which aren't needed for daily commuter traveling. I think we need something like the last oil embargo to wake people up.

ChrisH from MA
2/7/2006 12:01:07 PM

First, I would say that we don't need to kick the oil habit; we need to replace it.

We can safely become equally addicted to ethanol or biodiesel without posing as serious threats to our national security if at all. Once we reduce our dependence on foreign oil and attach ourselves to a renewable, domestic resource, we can then go further and regard sources beyond internal combustion et al. I think these sources of fuel are the answer because they do not sacrifice the performance, the size, and the "professional grade" attributes that America likes.

Further, we don’t need to radically change our psychology, or address emotional independence. President Bush used the word “addicted,” but that does not suggest we should enroll ourselves in a step-by-step program. We don’t need to be timid, weak ch-ch-ch-chaners, that is why it will take years to be energy independent. We need to CHANGE. Now. And we can, too. The technologies, the fuels, the sources of energy exist, and many of them exist domestically. Buying these technologies will even bolster our own economy.

Enough with the inward reflection, we need to take outward action.

Lorraine Camenzuli from CA
2/7/2006 12:14:18 PM

The first step in change is awareness. I agree that nothing will stir awareness more than having to pay more at the pump or, worse yet, getting less at the pump because of an embargo. I hope it won't take that. At AEI we're hoping that with our "counter-advertising," Americans will at least "wait" and "weigh" the consequences of their next car/SUV purchase before they get fooled by slick advertising meant to make them feel like he-men and heroes.

Lorraine Camenzuli from CA
2/7/2006 12:21:59 PM

To Chris from MA
I agree that taking action is precisely what's called for but to those of us who have dealt with "addiction" professionally or personally we know that it is a state of mind that does not permit any thought whatsoever. It is an automatic response to cravings, rather than a choice. President Bush knows only too well how destructive that state of mind can be. Thinking before one acts is not paralysis, it is the precurser to making the best decisions possible. And three cheers for bio-fuels! The technology is here, and the supplies are growing. Let's mobilize the political will and the techonology to make that a reality!

Chris from CA
2/7/2006 12:49:39 PM

To Chris from MA - The DOE and the DOA both concluded that only 30% of our gasoline supply could be eliminated with biofuels and that is only if we pursued a massive program. I'm definitely for it, but if anyone thinks that we can get to energy independence witout conservation or efficiency gains, they are in denial or misinformed.

Derek W. from CA
2/8/2006 6:57:56 PM

Lorraine, very insightful article. I could learn a bit of patience from you in dealing with people who responed with "less talk, more action". There's an old Zen proverb that says "Don't just do something, stand there". ;)

I think it's more important than ever before that we as a country, as a species, take a step back for some reflection. We've been driving at night without headlights for our entire evolution, so is it any wonder we're feeling lost right now?

In the past few months I've become more and more aware of our level of addiction to petroleum, but it frustrates me that more people don't realize that our cars are NOT the main source of our oil worries. The very food we eat is grown, harvested, transported, stored and prepared using petroleum products. So even if we started communal gardens, we'd still have to contend with the daunting problem that every bit of plastic in the world comes from petroleum: computers, building supplies, medical supplies, scientific instruments, vehicles, the list goes on and on.

I could talk about this until I'm blue in the face, but maybe it would be best if people just visit and start some research for themselves.

If someone were to put a gun to my head and tell me what is the one site out there that people need to visit to "wake up", that would be the one.

Thanks for being a candle in the dark, Lorraine.

Chris from MA
2/14/2006 12:06:31 PM

To respond, my argument is not that weaning ourselves from oil will be easy or quick, but we are not ADDICTED to it. At all!

An addiction is a debilitating disease. People can be addicted to nicotine, alcohol, and any number of drugs. People can also be addicted to any number of things through more emotional or mental processes rather than physical. But let’s not kid ourselves; we’re not addicted to oil.

When was the last time you heard someone say “I NEED some OIL! Gasoline, PLEASE! I need to turn my car on NOW!” Perhaps you’ve heard “I need oil for heat this winter,” or “I need my car to get to work” or other such things. But are these people crying out for oil? NO! These people want heat, transportation, light, etc. These can come from many sources: electricity, ethanol, biodiesel, TCP, etc. Most people worry about the temperature of their houses and the cost of their heating/cooling bill, not whether the heater is gas fired or electric.

This is why we are NOT addicted to oil. We do not care if oil is replaced; in fact, we wish it were. We are addicted to energy and using it, which is fine, in some respects. What we need to do is replace oil.

(Please note: I am not saying that it would not be a good idea for the US to be less wasteful or employ more efficient technologies; this would be FANTASTIC. However, the only possible permanent solution to free us of oil is to replace it, not just use less of it. Using less will only slow down and impending reality: that the world’s oil supplies will run out.)

Carl Johnson from FL
2/16/2006 12:39:20 AM

For the U.S. the biggest force opposing the change will be money. Those who make lots off of the current status quo (good) will be very reluctant to risk loosing it (bad) by replacing oil with something else. The Oil Lobby is also just about most effective one in Washington, and if they don't want legislation to pass, it will be just about impossible to change that. With billions at their command, they will broadcast continually soothing messages that there’s lots of oil out there, and just ignore the hysterical fools. Those who use “Fee Markets” to solve all problems will then step forward and proclaim that government just needs to gets out of the way of the private sector, and everything will be fine. The result will be the lobbies that are dependent on Oil will out shout the small advocacy groups by a thousand decibels, and public support for energy independence will only crystallize when oil prices are unaffordable, but by then it will be too late.

There is an alternate scenario to my gloomy prediction. If a single event like 9/11 jolts the public consciousness, or a presidential candidate takes up the cause, then it’s possible that the public will demand energy independence before it is too late. Other than that, I see us pushing our cars in another 20 years. We and our institutions are just too dam short sighted, and we like it like that.

Judy Bishop from CA
2/17/2006 6:37:42 PM

All excellent ideas, and yes I too believe we, the United States of America, can become energy independent.

Kids are our future and we need to educate and motivate them to make changes. They are the next voters, policy makers, and consumers.

We have a program in San Diego to do just this. We want to take it across California and eventually across the country.

If you are interested in helping please visit

Bill from IL
2/20/2006 5:03:50 PM

I'm sorry but I just don't get what editorial has to do with the matter at hand, the weaning of the US from the grip of imported oil. It seems to be saying lets not do anything now since we're not sure of te way to go.
I disagree completely with this. There are several simple things that can be done now without harming the future efforts. GM for instance is promoting flex fuel cars. Why not have all cars built with this and let people decide if they want to go "yellow" or stick with gasoline? Why not push the newer light bulbs which use much less power than the previous incandesents?
People do however need to change. Americans will need to understand that rather than trying to be the most powerful and richest country in the world, they will need to be the most efficent country in the world because that will ultimately be the determining factor in who will be the richest country in the world.
The problem is that the "change" needs to happen now, not when the resources get scarce and money is tight.

ChrisW from CA
2/20/2006 6:03:13 PM

Bill from IL, I don't think this article is saying don't do anything today. The majority of the feedback we get on the subject of energy independence indicates that most Americans do not understand the gravity of the situation or that they will need to change their behaviors in order for us to make progress toward ending our oil dependency. The number one item Americans can do today is buy more fuel efficient vehicles and yet we still are building and selling vehicles like HUMMERs and giving people tax incentives to buy them. You do seem to understand by your ending comments that Americans need to change and I agree whole-heartedly with the need to become experts at efficiency.

Ron From Idaho from
2/26/2006 8:20:24 PM

If fear of change is at the root of the problem, then, it appears that the fear is manifesting as apathy. Public apathy and lack of leadership at the national level are what needs to be changed.

Yes, I think addiction may be a confusing word, but it conveys the severity of the problem.

We need choices at the pump, other than fuels made from oil.

And yes, we can produce 100% of our transportation fuel from biomass, if we look beyond conventional farm products and see the potential of micro algae produced on dedicated energy farms in the southwestern deserts of the USA. See:

Biodiesel from Micro algae is but one of many ways we can give ourselves an alternative to imported oil.

Derek W. from CA
2/27/2006 3:41:13 PM

For a good many number of reasons, I would like to see us remove ourselves from oil dependency. But it doesn't take a degree in sociology or economics to know that when you take away a person's or a corporation's or a country's main source of income, problems arise and violence can escalate. While we are making moves to gain petroleum independency, we need to keep in mind that there are institutions out there who have vested interests in keeping the things the way they are and will do whatever it takes to maintain that status quo.

I personally would love to see green vehicles and communal gardens and less factories and an America, and a world, that is in equilibrium with nature.

But I can't help but wonder what substances we are going use to replace all of our plastics (which are built from petrochemicals). Sure, we can stop using tupperware and switch over to porceleins or give up our Ikea furniture for that made of wood.

But what about our electronics?

What about our refridgerators for our food? Our ovens and microwaves for cooking? Our medical supplies and equipment? Aviation technology?


Now, there are some people who will be glad to see those go. Technophobes and Luddites and health nuts, all with various reasons why we should be getting away from our computers anyway and why this is a great excuse to do just that.

But I'm worried about it meaning the disappearance of one of the greatest tools humanity has ever had: THE INTERNET.

An educated populace is harder to control than an ignorant one. It's the reason slavemasters wouldn't let their "property" learn how to read. Because if you don't even know which questions to ask, if you can't get opposing viewpoints or empirical data to back up a theory, you're trapped and you won't even know it.

We are all enslaved, to varying degrees, by organizations, corporations, churches and other special interest groups who are going to profit from a decrease in the standard of living and the standard of education.

The only real question is this: when will they push you far enough that you finally start fighting for your right to be informed, to be independent of the unecessary junk they want you to believe you can't live without?


Dave from TX
4/16/2006 12:41:49 PM

In response to all the peole complaining about the "performance" and "professional grade" advertising, while I agree that MANY people fall for that when they have no need for that kind of vehicle, but there are MANY people who NEED a heavy duty work truck, and MANY people who ENJOY a high performance car. There are alternatives out there, and they can easily be used if the manufacturers would gear up and make the cars work with it. For example, E85 is an excellent fuel, especially so for high performance vehicles. What you need to remember is that not everyone wants to drive around in a car that is positively uninspiring when you step on the gas. And thusfar, the hybrid vehicles are useless as work vehicles. We need to do things like push to have taxis converted to natural gas, we need to push for more deisel vehicles (yes I know that is still oil, but at least its more efficient) and more hybrids. Especially in the SUV market. Luckily there are more and more hybrids coming out, and some even in SUVs, but its not enough.

Simply saying that people dont need "performance" or "professional grade" vehicles is ignorant.

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