As I indicated in my previous post, we’ve reached the end of economic growth. I pointed to the Financial Times article that leaked the results of the International Energy Agency’s long-awaited study of the depletion rates of the world’s 400 largest oil fields. The bottom line: “Without extra investment to raise production, the natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent.”
Energy experts generally agree that a 2 per cent annual decline in extraction of crude oil translate to reasonably painful adaptation and the cessation of economic growth, a five per cent declines spell very painful adjustments and an economic depression of unprecedented magnitude, and a ten per cent decline means societal breakdown at a monumental scale.
President-elect Obama surely knows the dire straits we’re in, yet he has assumed the job of head cheerleader for the U.S. economy. As such, he is following the lead of his political hero and the first president to implement neoconservatism, Ronald Reagan. And, as nearly as I can tell from the shiny eyes and hopeful bounce in the steps of my “progressive” friends, Obama has a lot of believers.
Shortly after the election, Obama appointed Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. Emanuel’s accomplishments include architect of NAFTA and Clinton’s draconian crime bill, and he’s pro-war, pro-business, and anti-labor. All signs indicate Obama will continue to push the neoconservative agenda: Go to war to get oil, the lifeblood of civilization.
Despite Obama’s likely attempts to maintain the status quo, it is becoming increasingly obvious 2009 will be the point at which declining world oil supplies will overwhelm the neoconservative agenda, thus forcing a radical change in agenda. How might this happen? How might we power down with grace and dignity?
We can start with the cheerleader-in-chief: Obama must overcome his adherence to neoconservative principles. He must dismiss the astrologers he calls economic advisors in exchange for advice rooted in reality. He must, if we are to hold together as a nation for another decade, inspire us to greatness in the form of the large quantities of courage, compassion, and creativity we will need to get through the dark days ahead. He certainly has the knowledge and the charisma to accomplish all this, and more, and he has our attention.
Declining availability of crude oil represents the greatest challenge our species has ever faced. Can we rise to meet this challenge, with or without government leadership? Can we lead, hoping our leaders will follow?
On the campaign trail, Senator Obama would have responded with, “Yes we can.”
Once he’s in office, how will President Obama lead? Will Obama tell us the truth about the dark days ahead? Will he tell us we’ve passed the world oil peak? That the days of economic growth are behind us? That unemployment will rise? That wages will decline? That suburbia is dead? Will he convince us to get back to work, or will he keep pushing the something-for-nothing fantasy of empire? Will he ditch the financial sector of our service economy in exchange for an economic system based on manufactured goods? Will he initiate public-works projects, such as railroads and sailing ports, so that we will be capable of transporting manufactured goods across the country?
Or can we expect more of the same?
If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the latter. If that’s the case, I guarantee we’ll not have anything resembling a united set of states by the end of Obama’s first term.