Strange Bedfellows

When you ride ALONE you ride with bin Laden
What the Government SHOULD Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism
by Bill Maher

(First published in The Massachusetts Sierran, Sprimg 2003, Volume 9, Number 1)

“When George Bush says, ‘Global warming—we need more studying,’ that’s a lie bought by an oil company.…”

You probably don’t need Politically Incorrect comedian Bill Maher to tell you this. After all, you’re one of those tree-hugging Sierra Club members. You not only understand that global warming is a real threat, you’re probably the kind of radical activist who wants to implement actual policies to do something about it.

Not everyone agrees. Americans, in Maher’s inimitable phrasing, are “hopelessly, romantically in love with… individual high-performance, low-gasmileage vehicles, exercising our Godgiven right to drive wherever we want, whenever we want at 0% financing and practically no fuel cost.”

Tell an American that we ought to raise gas prices in order to stop global warming and he’ll tell you where to get off. So in this book Maher takes a fresh tack, arguing for reduced consumption not because it will be good for the planet, but because it will help stop Islamist terrorism. In an edgy, funny text, complemented by the kind of wartime posters that used to admonish Americans that “Food is a weapon —don’t waste it,” Maher makes a case for reducing oil consumption that will appeal to guys who drive pick-ups with “National Rifle Association” and “Thank you, Florida” stickers on the bumpers.

When you ride ALONE you ride with bin Laden takes its title from a WWII poster that showed a gent driving a snazzy convertible with Adolf Hitler in the passenger seat. The point is that anyone wasting gas was helping Hitler win the war. Maher’s point is that things are not so different today.

“The countries that have the money to offer large cash awards to the families of suicide bombers, or to send little boys to madrasses, the prep schools of hate, are getting that money from people using lots of oil…. If President Bush came out today for exploring alternatives to fossil fuels and for cut-backs in our oil consumption, we Americans might finally grasp the gravity of the situation. There’s still time, but not much.”

One on-the-money poster shows a Presidential speech proclaiming that “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of being completely independent of foreign oil.” But the podium is empty. No president has made that speech.

The unity that America experienced in the wake of 9/11 quickly fractured along the usual fault lines: the right wing is worried about defense while the left continues to worry about the planet. Maher may have found a way to make the two ends meet.

If global warming is the threat, reduced energy use and the rapid development of renewable energy sources are the solution.

If the threat is a militant Islam “that informs the impoverished and the frustrated and the humiliated of their righteous duty to strike out, to kill, to wage jihad in the name of their God,” reduced energy use and the rapid development of renewable energy sources are also the solution.

“Question: Where do terrorists get the money to live in their fancy caves? That’s right, from rich, oil-producing countries. And where do the oil-producing countries get the money? From us buying oil.”

Maher has a point. If we met our energy needs with windmills, hydrogen fuel cells, and neighborhoods designed for walking, the average Saudi might or might not hate America, but Al Qaeda would no longer have the money to run terrorist-training camps and send young men to schools where they study how to steer an airplane, but not how to land one.

Politics do indeed make strange bedfellows. But Maher’s idea that people who want to stop Islamist terrorism and people who want to stop global warming could usefully get together on a serious push to switch America from fossil fuel to renewable energy is certainly worth considering.

Diana Muir, a regular contributor to the Sierran, is the author most recently of Bullough’s Pond.