Oil and Terror

In this article, Fareed Zakaria takes a look at how Americans are indirectly funding terrorism through our dependence on oil. Though it is no big shocker, the article is worth reading.

In earlier posts, I wrote about the lack of post-9/11 sacrifice among Americans who are not in the military. Oil is the most glaring example of an area where shared sacrifice on the home front would help our war effort. What better way to send a message to the Saudis and Iranians to get serious on terrorism then to drastically reduce our usage of their oil?

Zakaria points out that gas-guzzling SUVs accounted for 5 percent of American automobiles in 1990, but 54 percent today. This has prompted Andrew Sullivan to mount an anti-SUV offensive, which I think he has gotten a little carried away with, posting reader suggestions for bumper stickers such as “U.S. troops died for your SUV — Drive it proudly” and “”How many soldiers-per-gallon does your SUV get?” He suggests that families should get smaller cars and pile kids in the back like they did in the old days.

A self-described soccer mom took issue with him:

Yes, my mother didn’t have an SUV when she was taking care of us in the 1970s. She used to pack four or five of us kids in the back of her Ford Maverick. You know what? The car seat laws are much stricter now. And the car seats are much bigger. And the kids are required by law to sit in them until they are much older. There is no way you could fit even one of today’s car seats in my mother’s old Ford Maverick. I wouldn’t want to try. Kids are much safer in today’s cars, with today’s car seats, than they were when I was a kid. You say yesterday’s kids thrived? I’ll let you check on the car accident statistics, the survival rates, etc., and then you can get back to me on that. In the meantime, I will continue to schlep my kids and my kids’ friends around in my Honda Oddysey minivan, with the three huge car seats inside.

The woman has a fair point. And I did look up the accident data. This table put out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows fatality rates for children under 5 and 5-9 have gone down considerably, whether you chart it from 1975 or from 1990 (when the big increase in SUV usage started, according to Zakaria). I’d have to do further research to see how prominent a role larger car seats and SUV usage played relative to other factors such as stricter drunk driving laws.

My main beef with Sullivan is that he draws no distinction between people with big families who may have a ligitimate need for an SUV and the type of people who drive Hummers around the Hamptons becuase they think it makes them look cool.

I think in the intermediate term, the boom in hybrid cars and the introduction of hybrid SUVs is a positive start. But longterm, we are going to have to develop an alternative energy source, perhaps fuel cells?