President-elect Obama has a lot on his plate at the moment, and much of it is probably quite unpalatable. The last thing he needs then, is a goblet of seeming hemlock to wash it all down. But sometimes some bitter medicine is necessary to alert the system to a serious new threat.
If his team does not get a hefty dose of energy reality, they are likely to make very poor strategic decisions. For instance, in the light of peak oil, is bailing out the dinosaur US auto makers the right thing to do?
Members of Obama’s team have heard about peak oil and there is even a picture of Obama with Heinberg’s Party’s Over in his hand. The donor of the book asked him to read it after he was elected. Well, obviously he won’t have time. Or will he? What if something prompts him to think about oil going into decline?
Could it be the ripping new IEA report “World Energy Outlook 2008”? Given the minuscule media coverage of this long awaited report, one might doubt it. Also, the report does not clearly say we are in the oil peak-plateau zone, rather that oil depletion is still an investment problem.
Nor is the staggering fall in the price of petroleum likely to prompt him to think about peak oil. But there is one thing that might: within minutes of receiving the call from McCain conceding defeat, Obama was thrust into a security briefing. And he will go on getting these briefings till he leaves office.
Why might this illuminate US energy policy? There are at least two groups of people who have known and worried about peak oil for a long time – the CIA and the US military. So, perhaps Obama will start getting frequent prods to delve into the complex supply-side of energy, not just the sink-side of carbon emissions.
The resulting knowledge won’t taste like champagne – the age of exuberance is after all over, Greenspan now admits – but without the elixir of peak, how is Obama going to make sense of a military policy which has become the de facto energy policy, and how will he make good decisions about climate change, if he believes that oil output will simply respond to high prices as conventional economics will have us believe?
If Obama grasps the reality of peak oil, it may lead him to a plan of Rooseveltian scale to rebuild the economy of America around renewable energy generation, electric transport, and cities which will still work at the end of this century, when fossil fuels will be providing us with about as much energy as renewables do now.