I keep meaning to say something insightful about the Peter Maass essay "The Price of Oil" that ran in the NYT last weekend. But it looks like I’m never going to have time, so instead I’ll just say: go read it.

His basic thesis is this:

[E]very barrel of oil that is not extracted from America must be drilled from someone else’s backyard, often with little regard for the consequences. Because our appetite for energy has grown over the decades, new drilling, along with the damage it tends to create, has not been halted; it has been outsourced.

The same could be said of wretched working conditions, oppression of women, manufacturing pollution, and on and on. We have, to a large (though not total) extent, banished these ills from North America. But our consumption habits rely on their existence in other countries.

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This is a knotty moral situation, and it’s not clear what the answer is. As far as I can tell, the American people are totally unequipped and temperamentally disinclined even to wrestle with it. But there it is.

His secondary thesis is that North American environmentalism is thus a form of hypocrisy, and maybe we should build more oil wells off Florida and in the Arctic Refuge, so people know what the true cost of oil is. I find that rather silly — some environmental protection is better than none — but I suspect it was just a rhetorical flourish on Maass’ part.

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