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Patriotism Isn't Measured in Flags Per Gallon

November 16, 2001|ARIANNA HUFFINGTON | Arianna Huffington is a syndicated columnist.

On the way to my daughter's school one morning, I encountered the usual L.A. rush-hour road rally of elephantine sports utility vehicles, many flying American flags. Taking the cake was a massive SUV proudly sporting half a dozen--one on each window and two on the bumper.

My first thought was, how patriotic!

My second was, how much more patriotic it would be to trade in the gas-guzzling leviathan for something that sips, rather than chugs, at the gas pump.

Which, thinking globally and acting locally, is precisely what I've decided to do with mine.

Though I don't consider myself an automotive fashionista, I must admit I followed the thundering herd of protective parents unable to resist the allure of what is basically a comfy Sherman tank. My Lincoln Navigator, I was told, was the safest way to transport my kids. As an added bonus, I could haul around a decent-sized Girl Scout troop.

But now we're at war, right? A New War. Everything has changed, hasn't it? Perhaps in rhetoric.

In practice, what are we being called to do for the war effort other than shop till we drop, eat out and visit Disneyland?

Given that our ability to play hardball with nations that harbor terrorists is going to be seriously compromised by our foreign oil habit, shouldn't we be doing everything we can to reduce that dependence--starting, say, yesterday?

On average, SUVs deliver six fewer miles per gallon than station wagons. No small difference when you consider that an improvement of just three mpg in autos nationwide would save 1 million barrels of oil per day.

During World War II, Americans answered their leaders' call for sacrifice in dozens of altruistic ways: They collected scrap metal to be fashioned into guns, planes and tanks; planted 20 million vegetable "victory" gardens; and made do with three gallons of gas a week. Just about what the average SUV devours on a few latte-hauling trips to Starbucks.

But when it comes to summoning the national resolve for shared sacrifice, President Bush has been no FDR. There have been too many pep rallies and too few fireside chats. On Tuesday, the president ordered the government to boost its emergency stockpile of oil to "strengthen the long-term security of the United States" but made no mention of the vital importance of conservation.

America can't go on consuming 25% of the world's oil while being only 5% of the global population--at least not if we want to get serious about putting the screws to any number of oil-rich and terrorist-friendly nations.

Of course, when it comes to acting on our patriotism, we don't have to wait for our leaders. If they won't lead, we can just step around them. And when it comes to the vital issue of energy policy, it appears that we'll have to.

As well as giving up our SUVs, we can all make simple adjustments to wean our country from the foreign oil teat. We can, for example, make sure our tires are fully inflated, reducing gas consumption by 2%, and we can slow down to 65 mph, reducing highway gas consumption by 15%. At home, we can help conserve fuel by turning thermostats down, weather-stripping doors and windows, buying energy-efficient lightbulbs and unplugging cell phone chargers and hair dryers.

First Lady Laura Bush gave voice to a widely held sentiment when she said that Sept. 11 has made us "more determined and prepared, wiser and in many ways better." Not because of the number of flags attached to car windows or news anchors' lapels, but because of the willingness the American people have shown to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to meet the challenge to our way of life.

Frankly, saying hasta la vista to my 13 mpg Navigator and hello to a 23 mpg Volvo station wagon is hardly a sacrifice. But it's a start. Maybe I'll plant a victory garden in the back seat.

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