Barack is in, air travel is out
Today marked the beginning of one era and the ending of another.
Today is the first day in U.S. history that an African-American will carry the banner for president from one of our major political parties. It wasn't long ago that African Americans in many parts of the U.S. couldn't even register to vote without risking their lives. And even today, the suppression of voting in communities of color continues. This moment does not mean we have vanquished the mean spirit of racism and all the selfish opportunism that goes with it. In fact, we could see much more in the general election.
Yet it is a moment when people of all the colors chose a nominee based on the content of his character, his intelligence, his nuanced understanding of policy and politics, and perhaps most important, his evident passion that we as a nation reach for the best of who we are. His unwillingness to pander or to fling mud has already raised the bar of this campaign season--already made it easier to get into the political fray without feeling the need to shower immediately after.
Barack Obama represents many things to many people, but perhaps most importantly, he represents a tipping point--a moment when we realize how much stronger our nation can be when we can draw for leadership on all the communities that make up the United States, not just on those who have led in the past.
And we're going to need that strength, creativity, and unity of purpose as we confront the crises caused by eight years of the Bush administration and also caused by our collective denial of the world we have all helped to create.
Which brings me to what may be another tipping point reached today. United Airlines joined American and Continental Airlines in announcing major cutbacks in staff, routes, or the number of planes they'll be flying. USA Today has a good summary of who is affected as the high price of fuel hits an already unstable airline industry. The lower supply of airplane seats will likely lead to higher prices and shortages of seats for those outside business class.
We may look back at the summer of 2008 as the time when cheap travel ended in the United States.
Many, including YES!, have been predicting the end of cheap oil for some time. In the Fall of 2004, we published an issue entitled: Can We Live Without Oil? As I read about the airlines, I reread my opening editorial, written when oil was still about $25 a barrel (it had nearly doubled that by the time we went to press):
Can we live without oil? Can I?What will it mean to live in a 21st century that is phasing out dependence on fossil fuels? No one knows the answer to that, but as we enter this new world, we do know one thing. We'll need to work together if we are to have a chance. Barack Obama's nomination is an important sign that we might in fact be able to do that.
Like it or not, I'm realizing that before long, we're going to have to learn how to live with a lot less. This is true for several reasons, any one of which would be motivation enough, but together, the picture is stark:
- Scientists, normally wary of emotional appeals, are issuing alarming warnings about the dangers of climate change. [See the Spring 2008 issue of YES!]
- The war in Iraq is not going well, and the continued use of military force to guarantee access to oil supplies is deeply problematic.
- Exploration and exploitation of oil supplies continues to degrade what remains of pristine habitats and the lands of indigenous peoples.
- Production of oil is at or near its peak, and even the most optimistic estimates say production will begin an inexorable decline within a generation. Meanwhile, consumption continues to rise, notably in the U.S. and China. It is difficult to imagine that oil will remain cheap and available as this gap between supply and demand widens. [Italics added]