As some of you may know, I moonlight as a full-time Global Studies student at SJSU. I'm taking a class this semester called “Global Citizenship,” in which we frequently welcome guest speakers. Last night's guest speaker was Dr. David Steele, Dean of the College of Business at SJSU and former President for Chevron Latin America. Being the environmentally and socially conscious young firebrand that I am, I was fully prepared to use the Q&A portion of the evening to thrust at the good doctor with my rapier wit. I would bring him to his knees with my accusations of neocolonialism, exploitation of people and resources, and general sullying of otherwise pristine ecological reserves.
But I didn't. I didn't ask about any of these things. You see – how do I put this? Dude was smart.
Dr. Steele swept the leg of my resolve when he began his talk by sharing a few points with the class: The United States is far too reliant upon oil, especially imported oil; we consume twice the amount of oil per household as Europeans, primarily because we insist on huge wasteful cars and cavernous homes; the fuel shortages in the 1970s were nothing compared to the damage a similar embargo would wreak on today's society; the best way to reduce American's reliance upon gasoline would be to tax it increasingly over time, at a rate of an additional $.25 per gallon per year.
Well, how was I going to argue with that?
Dr. Steele also made great points about the importance of corporations reinvesting in the communities in which they work (even though that is nowhere in any for-profit corporate charter) and shared his optimism for technologies like fuel cells.
By the end of the evening, I no longer harbored any desire to one-up the Dean. He was far more thoughtful, multi-dimensional, and ethical than most of us would imagine an oil executive to be. The meeting reminded me that “the other side” is seldom as wicked or thick-headed as we often like to believe, and that by projecting that image on those who disagree with us, we do a great disservice to the cause we're fighting for.
Now, I'm not about to go out and sing the praises of Chevron or any other oil company, but my experience with Dr. Steele just may trim some snark from future discourses on the role of the oil industry. Maybe. A little bit.
Besides – the 23 runs on gasoline, even the new hybrid beauties, and that's my ride!