America's voracious oil consumption is criticized for many reasons in the media today, but three reasons seem to dominate the headlines. First, the Gulf oil disaster has galvanized public outrage at oil companies and led to questioning of our energy needs which push oil rigs out into treacherous deep waters. Second, climate change attracts significant attention, as academy award-winning films are made on the topic and the manufactured "Climategate"; scandal fills news articles with tales of espionage. Finally, as the Iraq War drags on and tensions with Iran remain high, every politician is giving lip service to the national security threat created by "our dependence on foreign oil." But what often gets ignored is perhaps the most obvious and persistent problem involved with oil use: air pollution.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that, "worst-case estimates place the total oil spilled in the gulf at about 126 million gallons over two months. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the country disgorges that much hydrocarbon pollution to the air in 10 days." The effects of air pollution are just as staggering. A study from Cal State Fullerton finds that at least 3,800 Californians die prematurely from smog every year, and babies in smoggy cities are three times more likely to develop heart defects. The World Health Organization states that 2.4 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution. A collective sense of outrage at this situation is sadly lacking. Images of millions slowly dying from heart and lung disease are not as compelling as oil-covered birds and burning oil fields. The Gulf Oil Spill must be stopped and cleaned up. But once it is, we need to realize that oil will kill millions of people a year, whether we get it from the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Mexico.