In My Opinion

Gasoline is a Drug
by John E. Miller

I am convinced that gasoline is a mind-altering, addictive, and life-threatening drug.

Mind-altering, because it gives users the delusion of power, many times to the point of violence. It brings out the worst behavior in people: getting angry in city and highway traffic, jet-skiing around a surfacing whale, running down a fox with a snowmobile, clear-cutting a forest, doing things they would not do without the drug.

Addictive, because users go into withdrawal if their drug is withheld from them. Seeing lines for gasoline in the 1970's was a constant reminder of our addiction. Our dependence on imported crude oil is threatening our national security and our economy. We are even sending our own blood to protect the source -- because we are addicted not only as individuals, but as a nation. We cannot get enough domestically to support our habit. And sadly, Congress can't seem to put a cap on our indulgence. Will we cash in the Arctic wilderness for a few more trips?

Life-threatening, because it maims and kills not only its users, but innocent non-users as well. The extraction and refinement of crude oil has despoiled our environment. The consumption of this legal drug produces secondary ill-health effects as others are involuntarily immersed in our exhaust.

The drug works by creating an illusion of freedom from societal obligations, but at the expense of being a slave to the vehicle of delight. This go-anywhere, do-anything-anytime syndrome is this drug culture's escape from reality.

The feeling of power delivered by this drug has contributed to the isolation of the individual and family from the community and the environment. Only the corner gasoline dealer is needed for us to tank up.

Car commuters are people who use the drug before and after work. They have two rush hours each working day. While Portland drivers spend an average of seventeen minutes each rush, drivers in Los Angeles are spaced out for three-quarters of an hour each rush. Most commuters are solitary in their habit, sometimes combining gasoline with caffeine or nicotine to pass the time.

Of course, we do not consume gasoline directly, we use paraphernalia. Casual users are satisfied with carburetors, while the addicts must have their fuel injected. TV commercials show cars skidding around corners and speeding past farm houses. "For those who want more out of life than just a little peace and quiet" a Ford Mustang ad says. Do not try this in your car! flashes across the bottom of the screen of other abusive scenes. Such advertising seduces present and future drivers, showing them how to attain the high (as if they didn't know!). Grand Prix style video games provide some of the thrills of racing by substituting electricity for gasoline.

What about users of recreational vehicles such as land cruisers, dirt bikes, ATV's, snowmobiles, speedboats, jet-skis, and 4WD's? Zero tolerance for RV users too.

How can we tell use from abuse? Peeling out, dragging the strip, excessive lane-changing are all symptoms of gasoline abuse. Addicts cannot follow behind anyone, regardless of the flow of traffic. For the abuser, the world below 35 mph does not exist! An abuser's worst fear is to be trapped for a whole minute behind someone going 25 mph (the speed limit) through a neighborhood road.

What can be done? We must drive without ego, as if our communal tank is near empty. We must better integrate all levels of transportation from walking to flying. (We can barely imagine a transportation system better than the automobile because we're too high on gas!) We must beg other nations to shake off their addictions as well.

We must develop an ethic of for the socially responsible use of gasoline. We must make the zero-to-sixty mentality unacceptable.

Further, any car that violates mileage standards should be taxed by the state proportionately and annually for their excess. Manufacturers should not be encouraged to continue producing ridiculous levels of horsepower per passenger. (For myself, I plan to maintain my current fleet. I have vowed not to invest in current technology, but will wait for the first of the new generation of Eco-cars, such as the developmental VOLVO LCP2000.)

And for you speedsters reading this -- New surveillance technology should be used to nab every one of you. Heavy fines should be levied against you to pay for 100% enforcement of the speed limits.

Let's admit that speeding is a crime against the neighborhood and community. If we're serious, let's declare war on gasoline abuse!

John Miller is a community activist and volunteer living in Southwest Portland.

Update, May 8, 1996: This was written as an opinion piece and was published by the Oregonian on September 18, 1990, under their title Americans Hooked on Petroleum Distillate. Both my wife and a grammar checker tell me that it needs heavy editing, but you'll get the idea for now. I would like to update it. It was written about the time of Desert Storm.

We bought a Ford Escort Wagon shortly after this was published!:^)

Update, Sept 16, 2021: I just noticed that the the following cartoon was placed just under my OpEd!

Political Cartoon by BENNET, showing black ink spilled on a map being drawn of off-shore oil wells sites..
Political Cartoon by BENNET

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