Current Events

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January 22nd, 2009

President Obama

President Obama's inaugural address contained several lines relevant to the peak-oil problem. Here are some comments:

"Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end . . . "

The most common question that I get in my e-mail traffic is, "What about my grandchildren?" My generation grew up with the premise that we would enjoy a standard of living higher than our parents. That's probably no longer true, or at least severely in doubt. Predicting a progressively lower standard of living is not a way to get elected President.

" . . . the ways we use energy . . . "

It's still out there; world oil production has ceased growing. The Obama administration might be able to fix the banking and financial situation, but the financial freezeup is a symptom and not the disease. Oil production ceased to grow in 2005, as I predicted. I expected a gradual rise in the price of oil; the abrupt jump from 2004 to mid-2008 came as a surprise. Oil prices had already doubled before the first mortgage funds got into trouble. A gradual price rise would have caused a few homeowners at a time to become unable to meet their mortgage payments. The sudden energy price increase caused lots of delinquent payments, all at once. Even if the Obama administration puts in 90 percent of their attention and 200 percent of the available money to fix the financial structure, the world oil situation could turn around and trash the financial system all over again.

" . . . nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect."

"Effect" has a double meaning here. We mine lead, release it into the environment, and we have a pollution problem. We mine lead, so there are fewer high-grade lead deposits left in the ground. In the case of oil, both are true. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere; eventually the underground oil reservoirs become depleted. It isn't easy to deal with both problems at once.

" . . .roll back the specter of a warming planet."

Roll back to the years just before the Industrial Revolution? That's the equivalent of rolling us back into the Little Ice Age. I claim that the geological record is a supermarket stocked with different climates. Let's shop for one rather than plunging back to the cold of 1750.

" . . . in this winter of our hardship . . . "

President Obama really feels it. He is staring down into the pit of the Second Great Depression. The question is now whether our new President is Herbert Hoover or Franklin Roosevelt. If the answer is "Roosevelt" then Barack Obama's profile winds up on the 25-cent coin. Keep-a you finger cross.

" . . . Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn."

Great speechwriting. That's "synecdoche," pronounced almost like "Schenectady." It's letting specifics stand in for the whole. I recognized "Khe Sahn" as a reference to the Vietnam War, but I had to look up the specific battle. We haven't learned the lesson. "And the Khe Sahns go rolling along."

It was a superb speech. My only criticism was that it was a bit too Ivy League. You had to pay attention. Possibly on purpose, the speech had no memorable short quotes.

"Come on Laura, we're going home."

When the helicopter took Dubya off to the airport, people waved goodbye. Had I been there, I would have waved goodbye as well, but for an additional reason. We have had 20 straight years with Yalies in the White House. Now it's Columbia – Harvard – and Stevenson Hall. When Michelle Robinson Obama '85 was an undergraduate at Princeton, she occasionally stopped by Stevenson Hall to have dinner with her brother Craig Robinson '83. At the time, Stevenson Hall was a dining and social unit for Princeton students, consisting of both a kosher and a regular dining hall. Stevenson kept its nonkosher kitchen open late to feed the basketball team; Crain Robinson was a basketball superstar. It was after my term as Master of Stevenson Hall that Michelle became a Stevenson member.

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