President Obama’s energy speech

Obama Bike

President Obama bikes with his daughters on vacation. But is he taking them for a ride on energy? Photo: Alex Brandon Associated Press.

President Obama delivered a speech on energy at Georgetown University this week, calling on young people to take an active role in the energy conversation.

On one hand, this is great. It’s important to increase awareness among young folks that energy requires more than flipping a switch. It’s not that they’re clueless. They understand that when an iPod or cellphone loses power it needs to be recharged. They get that this requires a power source—plugging in to a car or wall socket. But what’s behind the charging source is a little more vague.

A culture on autopilot

No one can be faulted in this regard. Most Americans are sheltered from the reality that filthy, dirty mercury spewing coal is the source behind the source for most US electricity.

I often wonder what’s the best way for people to come into more awareness about energy sources and energy use? In particular that oil, coal and even uranium are nonrenewable. As in once you’ve used it, its gone for good.

Feel yourself breathing

I first suggest that you think of energy being to the economy and our way of life what breathing is to the human body. Imagine being in a yoga class, where you’re asked to become aware of your breathing. It feels amazing. “Wow,” you think, “such a sublime experience of my own existence.” But when yoga is over you forget it. Few people are hyper-conscious of their breathing all the time.

Energy is much the same. It fuels everything we do in the modern world. And in petroleum, it also acts as a raw material in plastics, medical supplies and other products. It’s everywhere. Like breathing you become aware for a moment and then…back to snoozing on it.

Well you know what happens if all the air is gone. You suffocate and die.

Energy is similar. If the energy we now depend on for absolutely everything were gone, or even lessened, or if there were a break in the supply line, we would be talking about a very different reality. A very different lifestyle.

The president’s sin of omission

The thing is, and this is something that President Obama and every president before him has failed to acknowledge, is that we are at what is called the “peak” of fossil fuel production. Remember, its nonrenewable. Once it’s too difficult and costly to extract that’s it. And that, dear reader, is a very big deal to anyone who’ll be living in the future—namely all those wide-eyed co-eds at GTown and lovable little folks like your kids and mine.

So the question is, why is our president, and why has every president before him failed to level with the American people in much starker and more realistic terms about our energy situation? Our very lives depend on it, yet there’s no plan to address it. All this while Europe and even China race ahead of us on clean, renewable energy like wind and solar.

The unsurprising answer is that in our otherwise dear American democracy, money talks. The politics of energy and money in the energy industry behave as if only their personal profits matter. To heck with your kids and mine, these guys seem to be saying. “They can live in the stone age of the future for all we care.”

As usual that leaves it to us women and moms to look out for what our kids will face. Perhaps you’ll join me in signing a petition asking President Obama to come out and say the words “peak oil” on the anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill. That’s a start in the political realm. We need him to get much more serious about our children’s energy future becasue we want them to have a decent quality of life. Without a plan, they wont.

Teach your children well

In the personal realm, begin teaching your children about real energy sources. In other words, help them learn that just like milk doesn’t come from “plastic cartons at the grocery store” energy doesn’t come from “light switches and wall sockets.”

When kids learn about the impact things make, they are naturally motivated to take responsibility. We’ve seen this on recycling. But screaming at kids to “turn out the lights” or “close the front door, we’re not heating the whole world” works less effectively than showing them the belching filth of a coal plant, or learning about the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Of course kids have to be the right age for that, probably over 13 years.

Younger children respond more to learning about the wonders of energy through such activities as growing plants, which need “energy” in the form of sunshine and water. But these are perfect opportunities to connect the dots between how “energy” feeds things, like sunshine for plants, or food for people. Taking a less intellectual, more engaging approach makes the child excited about how the world works so “magically.”

Illusions of endless growth

But back to the college kids for a moment, and Obama’s speech.

Because Obama is not wholly leveling with these kids, they’re left seeing the future as something that will work just as it does now, with the ethos of endless growth the overriding paradigm of our culture and economy. But it wont be growth as we’ve experienced thus far. Just as this blog attempts to explain, it will necessarily involve conservation, using less, living more. Obama touched on that, but he still advanced the wholly false notion of so-called “clean coal,” still touted nuclear and is still proposing far more taxpayer money to the already wildly profiting oil industry while renewables get a few token bucks.

Shaking ourselves of the misconceptions about how much we can consume, and how unconsciously, is a huge task for any individual and any society. We deserve more from our leaders than the same old same old that president Obama delivered this week. He has two kids, he ought to show that his care for them runs more deeply than pretending that business as usual will work in an era when energy is declining, world population is growing and climate change is delivering a wallop to our way of life.

Perhaps if we women begin this conversation, taking our roles as energy stewards more seriously, just like with recycling, we’ll make gains with our kids on the energy conversation and energy action. And then we’ll expect leaders who can meet us where we are.

–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List

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About Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren has no intention of ending up the Scarlett O'Hara of the 21st century, dizzy and confused as neo-Rome burns. Instead, the Staunton, Virginia based writer, designer and high-heeled survivalist writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog and edits Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil and the coming life of sweaty labor and, hopefully, nicer manners.

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