Opinion: At the altar of the hydrocarbon

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich is a sophomore news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Last week I drove from Kent back to Cincinnati, the glimmering metropolis of my birth. Interstate 71 is a straight shot through the heart of Ohio, and it’s a long ride rife with panoramas of industrialized farms and a flat, barren nothingness only briefly interrupted by the emergence of Columbus about two hours in. There’s a lot of time to sit and think.

As a decidedly nonreligious person, I’ve squandered most chances at spiritual transcendence, instead opting for a life of abject amorality and free time on Sundays. Thankfully, I live in a country where nirvana means a full tank of petrol and whose highways are dotted with monuments to our only true gods: gasoline, the father; fast food, the son; and soda fountain, the holy ghost.

Somewhere just north of nowhere, I stopped at such a place. In a land otherwise quiet, isolated and undeveloped, the electronic light of the gas station glowed for miles. There were rows and rows of pumps, a convenience store with an electronics department and a full-service Starbucks, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Popeye’s Chicken all housed comfortably under the same monolithic roof. It was as if all of 21st century Americana had been contained within a single point before it exploded onto this sleepy bit of rural exurb, and all conveniently located just seconds from the exit.

As Americans, we don’t think twice about these mega-stations as a negative consequence of consumerism. Besides, if we’re going to fill up, eat poorly and buy a 64-ounce cup of Pepsi, we might as well do it at the same place. It’s merely an added bonus that the chicken we eat there is the brand we’ve grown to love.

But I implore any politician or aspiring leftist with vague dreams of an America fueled by something other than crude oil and trans fats to visit that place and still believe that such a future is even possible. If anything, that Joel Osteen station off of 71 seems to be where we are headed, not what we are running from.

Life on the open highway is a distinctly American sentiment, so we have dismissed investment in widespread public transit as either too impractical or too European. No matter what our energy future ends up looking like, Americans will not stop being defined by their cars. And in a land where corporations are people too, we are a nation made up of corporatized identities running on brand-name ethos. The petroleum megaplex is just the logical bastard child of those two ethics: brand-name food and go-juice for the Escalade.

The problems that come from such ubiquitous dependence on gasoline are well-documented, at least in a political or ecological sense. But the bigger problem is one of logistics. If indeed we are able to harness the power of the sun or the wind or the battery, what happens to the gasoline infrastructure? And besides, if those pumps were spewing hydrogen, I don’t know if I’d feel any better about it.