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Guest column | Susan M. Coffey

Greed teaches a lesson in conservation

I was reading an online article the other day written by David Knowles titled "Jimmy Carter Was Right." Of course he was right. Even back in the day as a rebellious teenager, I knew how to conserve. Growing up in the North, winters were cold and if it wasn't Jimmy Carter telling me to keep the heat at my house at 68 degrees, it was my father, who was a kid during the Great Depression.

Once I got my driver's license, "Drive at 55" became my mantra to help conserve fuel. Living in an upper-middle-class suburb of Boston, we had the money, but there was a moral obligation here. Don't be greedy and don't just think of ourselves.

And then along came the '80s and Ronald Reagan, and, boy, did things change. Not for the better, either. I watched and took it all in, still desperately clinging to my '70s eco-friendly morals. It certainly wasn't easy.

Who can forget the line from the 1987 film Wall Street when Michael Douglas, who played heartless stockbroker Gordon Gekko, stated: "Greed … is good. Greed is right, greed works." And people listened, becoming greedier and greedier, SUVs and trucks getting bigger and bigger. Who cares if we were becoming more and more dependent on foreign oil? Like toddlers, we wanted our monster trucks, and we wanted them at any cost. The Yukon, the Navigator, the F150 and the almighty Hummer. Doesn't matter if they're the size of a school bus, we just had to have them — or so we thought.

We have Joe Businessman driving down the expressway to work alone, no plumber tools, no lumber sticking out the back, just Joe — and no carpooling. Or it was the stay-at-home mother, 5 feet 2, 100 pounds, who needed a stepladder to get out of her vehicle, and with only one child to boot. Some even called these gas-guzzlers prestigious — a truck. C'mon, give me a Lexus, Mercedes or a Jag. That's prestigious.

So I watched and complained to anyone who would listen about what we were doing to ourselves as a selfish, self-centered nation. No one really cared, until now.

Now we are paying nearly $4 a gallon for gas. But there is an upside to all of this, and some things do come back in style, like conservation. Finally, not since before Reagan was in office, have we taken a look at our greedy selves. The big SUVs are disappearing (I can actually see in front of me while driving), being replaced with Smart Cars and Mini Coopers. Dealers who sell scooters and Vespas can't keep up with the demand, and people are actually paying attention to who is profiting from these exorbitant gas prices.

We are now dependent on oil from other countries, and we don't like some of them, and some don't like us. As Americans we only have ourselves to blame for being selfish and greedy. Offshore drilling here is not the answer either. Conservation and alternative energy are.

And to Gordon Gekko: Greed is not good. Greed is wrong, and greed never works.

Susan M. Coffey lives in St. Petersburg.

Greed teaches a lesson in conservation 08/23/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 12:06pm]

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