Tuesday, June 28, 2005

meditations on a bumper sticker

At their worst, bumper stickers are inane, boring, or mere advertising. At their best, their few words open doors to layers of meaning, a sort of western haiku.

Case in point: the car in front of me this morning had a bumper sticker that read:
God, give me the serenity . . . to accept this damn traffic!
The sticker, as I said, was on a car. Traffic, or at least the kind of traffic this person was talking about, is made of cars. So the sticker was really a prayer for
God, give me serenety . . . to accept a problem of which I'm a part!
Certainly anyone would need serenity to accept a problem like that. But as I pondered the sticker further, I wondered what happened to the rest of the AA serenity prayer that it's playing on. Where's the courage to change the things you can, or the wisdom to know the difference? What this driver had accepted was that creating and living in traffic was the only option. Now, maybe for this person it really was, but maybe not.

Maybe you've seen the commercial on TV. There's a woman talking about how she wants to save the environment. But not at the expense of her car -- she loves her car. The commercial goes on to say that's why the car maker is making efficient cars. But the message here, like the one on the bumper-sticker, is clear: your car is such an integral part of your life that you can't give it up.

There's an interesting theory called "peak oil." It says that oil production will peak, and then decline, some time around 2007, give or take a few years. It's based mostly on oil reserves and how expensive it is to get oil out of the ground. The theory's somewhat controversial, and some sites like this one raise the degree of hype to pre-Y2K levels. On the other hand, demand continues to increase as China and India try to move their populations to first world living standards. Consider, for example, PetroChina's size and Chinese company CNOOC's attempt to buy Unocal. China's population is 1,306,313,812. India's is 1,080,264,388. The US? 295,734,134. It might be worth considering what will happen to oil prices when and if the 2.3 billion people in China and India become like the 0.3 billion in the United States and can't live without their cars, either.

Maybe, instead of just asking for the serenity to accept things as they are, we should all consider asking for the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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