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Schwarzenegger Adviser Outlines U.S. Oil Addiction

In the fourth installment of the NewsHour's Costly Crude series, environmentalist and adviser to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Terry Tamminen discusses the shrinking oil supply with Ray Suarez.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And speaking of fuel prices, we go next to our series on the high cost of oil. So far, we've talked to two writers who have reported and commented on the subject and to an executive of a major oil company.

    Ray Suarez now has the fourth conversation.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Tonight's conversation is with an environmental activist and author who's also dealt with the realities of government policy.

    Terry Tamminen is author of "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction." He was the founder of the Santa Monica Baykeeper, a not-for-profit group protecting the bay. He's also a former secretary of California's Environmental Protection Agency and currently serves as special advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on energy and environmental policy. He joins us from Sacramento.

    Terry Tamminen, what's the impact of $100-plus-per-barrel oil been on the United States?

    TERRY TAMMINEN, environmental advisor: Well, it's very significant. I think that the price of oil is one of the main drivers of what I call the Easter Island effect, which is named after that place in civilization which used up all of its resources without any thought for the future and ended up as warring tribes living in caves and resorting to cannibalism.

    And we've cannibalized so much of our economy to serve our oil addiction it's been masked by the fact that we had free money almost in our home mortgages, in our credit cards, and in our savings.

    And now that all of that is changing — and, certainly, it's not just the price of oil, it's that consumer need to have the latest cell phone or other patterns, but oil is very high on that list.

    Now that we no longer have a way to pay for these things without really feeling the pain, we're seeing people changing their lifestyles, less health care, poorer food choices, less clothing for kids, I mean, all the way down the line.

    And we're also seeing businesses having to cannibalize different parts of their businesses. In California, we've had farmers who couldn't get produce to the markets because contracts that they had with truckers.

    The truckers couldn't afford to bring the produce because of the high price of diesel. And so it rotted in the fields, which then just exacerbated the problem even further, making scarce produce even more expensive.

    And everything we touch has a component of this, plastics and food and anything else that relies on transportation.