When I first read this Badger Herald piece detailing a lecture by a visiting member of the Ayn Rand Center, I had to chuckle. "Oh boy," I wondered dismissively, "What are those silly Randians up to now?"
Alex Epstein, said lecturer, wanted students to know that oil has gotten a bad rap in recent years, that crude is really our friend, and that so-called "green dogma" has infiltrated our schools such that children are now raised to be environmentalists who actually give a crap about caribou herds in Alaska. The horror!
Granted, the Ayn Rand Center isn't exactly the most influential institution in the country, but many of the uber-libertarian ideals espoused by folks like Epstein do permeate our politics to a disturbing degree.
What folks like Epstein seem to be championing is the sort of responsibility-free liberty that allows human beings to do pretty much whatever they want, regardless of consequence. The important thing, as far as I can tell, is that no one is telling them what to do.
The problem, of course, is immense: This petulant refusal to think long-term, examine the hard facts of a situation, or take into account the needs of others, can only lead to ruin. We're already reaping some of the rotten fruits of that sort of thinking now, in our rapidly shrinking glaciers and ice sheets, massive plastic debris fields in the middle of the ocean, groundwater and soil poisoning, more extreme weather patterns, and even the oppression of entire peoples as the result of selfish policies.
Epstein is right enough when he points out that oil (petroleum) has helped shape the modern age, and that it's present in many of the products we rely on today. What he entirely fails to grasp is that our over-dependence on oil has led us down a very dangerous path, one that has resulted in destruction of ecosystems, bloody human conflict, and health hazards. We're long overdue to do what Epstein and is ilk so often laud in regards to the wrong thing: innovate.
There are viable and safer alternatives to using petroleum in our goods and gas tanks. If even half of the money and time dedicated to the oil industry were put into researching and developing alternate sources of fuel, I have no doubt we'd already be well on our way to a much more balanced world.
That will only happen when more people are willing to take a long, hard, critical look at the current situation and then be willing to dedicate real elbow grease and heart to making the necessary changes. That also means striving for a real balance between individual liberty and community responsibility. Let Ayn Rand spin in her grave. We could tap it as a source of clean energy.
EDIT TO ADD: Hahaha, well at least the oil industry used to be honest about what they did.