I never expected to find valuable information on the BTW page of the Wisconsin State Journal. Not only is this pop culture section often irrelevant and distracting, it is sometimes downright inappropriate. For example, it is hard to stomach the latest updates on Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' love affair when their "story" is juxtaposed with the horrors of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath relayed just across the fold of the paper. That is why I was shocked and humbled after reading a short article about actor Orlando Bloom and his actions before MTV's Video Music Awards.
In that small piece, a reporter explained Bloom's disbelief and disgust when a gas-guzzling Hummer arrived to pick him up from Miami International Airport. The British star informed the driver that he would have preferred a hybrid compact, the Toyota Prius, and presumably arranged for alternative transportation.
Although this statement of environmental ethics appears rare and insignificant, it deserves recognition and consideration in the context of today's energy crisis.
The toll of Hurricane Katrina on America's oil supply has not gone unnoticed. Millions were shocked to see gas prices skyrocket as one-third of our domestic energy supply became inaccessible after the storms and flooding. As is typical following a national disaster, we turned to the government for relief and support. Unfortunately, in keeping with the developing legacy of Hurricane Katrina, the government disappointed its citizens and does not appear to be on the path to recovery.
We can see evidence of this here in Wisconsin. Short-term solutions are flooding the Legislature, the governor's office and the office of the attorney general. Proposals have basically boiled down to two solutions — both of which are unoriginal and most likely will be unsuccessful.
The first is a temporary tax cut of 15 cents per gallon. Unfortunately, as the Wisconsin State Journal has reported, this will result in a $180 million shortfall. That loss will be compensated by moving funding from the state transportation budget into the General Fund. This is incredibly shortsighted and ill-advised, as that funding would better serve the state in its original designation. Road construction and maintenance, improving and creating public transportation schemes and funding for research into fuel alternatives are desperately needed if Wisconsin is going to weather what appears to be a permanent hike in gas prices. Although all Wisconsin drivers would welcome some fast financial relief, the expiration of this temporary cut would soon leave the state exactly where it started, if not further behind.
The government's second method is to launch an investigation into the possibility of local price gouging. There is no doubt that reform and greater oversight are necessary, but Katrina's chaotic aftermath has made it difficult to assess whether or not price gouging is really cheating consumers. More importantly, the oil industry is booming and has proven time and time again that their lobby is one of the most well-organized, well-populated and well-received in Washington and state capitals alike. So while Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and her peers from Indiana and Illinois have good intentions, it is unlikely Wisconsinites will be able to site an FTC investigation as the solution to all their gas price problems.
The possible futility of this situation brings me back to Orlando Bloom and the simple, yet genius solution with which he chose to address our energy crisis. Bloom understood what so few of us remember these days: solutions to nationwide problems can occur on an individual level. It is easy to criticize the government for its lack of creativity, but maybe it is time for us to take a hard look at our own lack of originality and responsibility.
During World War II, millions of Americans voluntarily limited their travel to specific days of the week, and made sure that they were only traveling for essential purposes. I am not suggesting that our driving habits need to change this dramatically, but it would be economically and physically healthy to re-evaluate the possibility of walking and biking. If that seems like too much to ask, consumers should at least consider the possibility of compact hybrids, and take their names off the waiting list for oxymoronic vehicles like Chevrolet's "environmentally friendly" Tahoe Hybrid due to arrive in 2007.
It is important for Wisconsinites and all Americans to remember that gas prices were escalating long before Hurricane Katrina ever appeared on the radar screen. We have all been a part of this consumption problem. Fortunately, as Bloom has demonstrated, now we can all be a part of the solution.
Sarah Howard ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism and political science.