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16 Jun, 2010 00:29

Can America overcome its oil addiction?

The United States has been working to secure energy independence and break its addiction to oil since before the Carter administration in the 1970's.

A family, a house, a white picket fence…the sights you see looking back to the United States in the 1950s.

Like so many people these days, we live in the suburbs,” says a woman in 1950s ad for Ford Motor Vehicles.

It was a place where families discovered the freedom of two cars.

"It's a whole new way of life," says the woman in the ad.

Fast-forward 60 years, and "there’s no question we set up an infrastructure that’s very car driven based on what we thought was endless supplies of cheap oil," according to Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

But as these supplies see their limits, it's the demand for gas that has become endless.

"We have drilled out the easy to drill out places," said Romm. “And there’s no question. As even President Bush said, we’re addicted to oil.”

Nearly 60 days into the largest oil spill in US history, has the American dream as captured in the 1950s car ads fueled a national nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico?

Fundamentally, we’re not making any more oil in the world so you’ve got to drill in more and more extreme places if you want to satisfy that addiction," said Romm.

The numbers are startling: More than 377 million gallons of oil are pumped into the United States each day. The total amount spilled into the gulf is a mere fraction of this amount. Visit any US gas station, and you can see evidence of American’s addiction to oil.

Ya, I use a lot of gas," said 23-year-old James Fight, filling up his sport utility vehicle at an Arlington, Virginia gas station.

"We have an uncontrolled – here I am at a gas station – thirst for petroleum fuels," said another driver at the same station.

People get it, but are they ready to do anything about it?

"I think the American public understands that we need to get off the dirty unsafe fuels of the 19th century," said Romm.

But are drivers willing to get rid of their gas guzzlers?

"I don’t plan on getting rid of it," said Fight.

I probably wouldn’t just because I need it for work," said gym owner Curtis Blake, filling up his Chevy Tahoe SUV.

But most people don't really need a 5.3 liter, V-8 engine with an appetite for more fitting to a locomotive. So, are they willing to sacrifice their lifestyle, maybe take public transportation?

"I probably won’t," said Fight. "It’s unfortunate, but I don’t like the metro, it’s not reliable enough for me."

"Unfortunately, and this is my lazy approach to it sometimes, I have to do what works for me at the moment based on my schedule," said Blake.

One driver said he uses public transportation and typically fills up his gas tank once every six weeks. Is he confident others are following suit?

"No," he said. "It's part of an entitlement attitude."

As US President Obama addresses American dependence on oil in his first Oval Office speech, the issues seem unchanged from US President Jimmy Carter's 1979 "Crisis of Confidence" speech.

Why have we not been able to get together as a nation and solve our serious energy problem?" Carter asked the public, speaking from the Oval Office.

The strength we need will not come from the White House but from every house in America," said Carter in his speech.

If Obama's solutions are deja vu from decades ago, is America doomed to repeat the same failures?

Our society is very self serving – it’s what’s in it for me, not what’s in it for the better of the good," said a driver at an Arlington, Virginia gas station.

"It's unfortunate but it’s true," echoed another.