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Blame for the gulf oil spill is all around us



Amid all the political dart-throwing and pundit mouth-breathing about the ongoing environmental disaster that is the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, one culprit has oddly escaped some blame. Specifically, us.

Not that BP hasn't screwed up. But the reason the company and others like it are drilling miles from the coast and deep under the sea for a nonrenewable resource is because we need what they're pushing. We want a lot of it at low cost. And if anything stands in the way of us getting it, we pitch a fit. Our daily commutes, the places we live, the food we eat, our very lifestyles — they all revolve around an addiction to oil.

Put aside for a moment our oil-hungry habits of buying food shipped from overseas and pumping A/C around the clock into energy-inefficient homes. Focus instead on the fact that metro Atlantans' transportation habits have made our city a symbol for America's unhealthy petroleum dependence.

According to the Clean Air Campaign, the average metro Atlantan spends more than $450 a month driving nearly 40 miles to work every day. Nearly 60 hours of his or her life is wasted sitting in gridlock each year. What's more, statistics from 2007 show that 84 percent of metro Atlanta commutes were made while driving alone. Perhaps even more astounding is that we, as taxpayers, voters and the commuters in question, have allowed this situation to continue.

And while energy companies and the federal government can institute their own initiatives — investing in clean energy research, tightening emission standards, passing meaningful climate change legislation, etc. — metro Atlantans have their own to-do list. And it doesn't include feel-good boycotts of BP stations, nearly all of which are independently owned and operated.

Metro Atlanta must face its oil addiction and break its culture of complacency. We have to start driving less — a challenge in a city laid out like a road-builder's wet dream — by using transit, driving more fuel-efficient cars, riding bicycles, joining carpools and telecommuting. We need to start buying more local food from local farmers. And when the housing market recovers, the more NIMBY-minded residents must understand that for Atlanta to become a walkable place, it needs to embrace mixed-use, mixed-income development that can accommodate both new and existing residents.

We should also stop electing politicians who keep pouring more asphalt as an all-purpose fix for our transportation woes. As voters, we've rewarded inaction, short-sightedness and political cowardice. In turn, our elected leaders have left metro Atlanta pitifully unprepared for the inevitable return of $4-a-gallon gas.

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