From to , residents of Mill Valley and throughout Marin have long made it a priority to effect positive environmental change through day-to-day habits.
But according to author and award-winning journalist Lisa Margonelli, the only way we’ll make a sustained impact is by getting out of our cars and compelling our governments to help us do so.
Margonelli, the director of the New America Foundation’s Energy Policy Initiative and author of the 2007 tome Oil on the Brain: Petroleum's Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank, speaks at the on Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. as part of the library’s ongoing free First Friday series.
Margonelli’s message is clear: our dependence on oil not only has grave impacts on our environment, but also deals a deep, sustained blow to our economic recovery. Citing data from the Oil Price Information Service, Margonelli said Americans spent nearly $500 billion on gasoline in 2011, up nearly $100 billion from 2010.
“Our incredible gasoline dependence is a huge factor in this recession and our failure to get out of it,” she said. “Really thinking about how we can change that is a key in fixing this economy.”
Margonelli, whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Wired, has spent the past year interviewing dozens of middle class families to study the impact of gasoline expenses on the middle class. She’s met some who’ve said they are not spending money on the medicine they need because they need to pay for gas to get to work.
“That’s a frightening choice,” she said. “This is a slippery slope and we must really look at what we do with gas and understand its true cost.”
Margonelli, a native of Maine who moved to the Bay Area in 1988 and now lives in Berkeley, knows of what she speaks beyond consumer anecdotes. She’s spent years researching the oil-gas supply chain, including stints in oil-rich places like Venezuela and the Nigerian Delta.
Oil consumption is not just an economic issue, Margonelli said.
“People in the Bay Area like to feel like we’re influencing the world through what we buy – things like bamboo picnic implements and recycling,” she said. “But our dependence on oil and its ramifications on poverty and human rights and environmental damage throughout the world dwarfs all of our other efforts.”
Margonelli applauds efforts to bicycle and walk more, but said Marin serves as a great example of a flawed public transit system that requires new ideas from government leaders.
“But we also need to be the leaders ourselves in a lot of ways,” she said. “Occupy Wall Street and the campaigns against the Keystone pipeline have shown it’s possible.”
The 411: Lisa Margonelli speaks about the “True Cost of Oil” at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 6 at the Mill Valley Public Library. The event is free and open to anyone 15 years and up. Registration is recommended; call 389-4292 ext. 203 or sign up online at www.millvalleylibrary.org.