Peak oil? Don't worry -- Obama's on the job

Energy efficiency gains could slake the world's oil thirst. Thanks, in no small part, to the current administration

Published November 4, 2009 5:21PM (EST)

What if, as a result of efforts to fight climate change and boost energy efficiency, global oil demand peaked in the foreseeable future? You could argue that such an achievement would be one of the most historic accomplishments of human civilization to date, proof, indeed, that we are civilized. It's a task that will require lots of hard work all over the globe, but based just on the actions taken by President Obama in his first year of office, in the United States, we have made real progress toward that goal.

The International Energy Agency, reports Spencer Swartz in the Wall Street Journal, is predicting that even if China and India continue to consume ever more oil, overall, the world's appetite for crude is slowing down.

The IEA, which advises rich nations, such as the U.S., on energy matters, is set to use its closely watched annual World Energy Outlook report to forecast that improved energy-efficiency measures in developed nations, as well as climate-change legislation, will help to slow the rate of global oil consumption.

Swartz reports that Deutsche Bank is bold enough to predict that "global demand will peak by 2016 ... due to efficiency gains and technology improvements in electric vehicles."

This kind of thing doesn't happen by accident. Yesterday Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced $38 million worth of grants to Alaska, Kansas, Utah and West Virginia to "support energy efficiency and conservation activities."

Hardly a week goes by when the DOE isn't making a similar announcement. On Sept. 14, Chu announced $354 million in grants to 22 other states. On Oct 1, $72 million. All the grants are part of the DOE's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program, created in 2007 under the auspices of the Energy Independence and Security Act, but funded for the first time, to the tune of $2.7 billion, by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka the stimulus bill). So far, $1.6 billion in grants have been disbursed.

So if you're feeling gloomy at the state of financial regulatory reform, or the compromises being made to get a healthcare bill passed, or the failure of same-sex marriage in Maine, consider this. Every single day, the Obama administration has been making steady progress in addressing two of the greatest challenges the human race faces -- human-caused climate change, and a fossil fuel-constrained future.

I'll let Joe Romm, the indefatigable climate change activist, have the last word. In a post published yesterday, "One year after his election, Obama on verge of audaciously fulfilling his promise as the green FDR," Romm writes:

Future historians will inevitably judge all 21st-century presidents on just two issues: global warming and the clean energy transition. If the world doesn't stop catastrophic climate change ... then all Presidents, indeed, all of us, will be seen as failures and rightfully so.

In that sense, what team Obama has accomplished in the year since he was elected is nothing less than an unprecedented reversal of decades of unsustainable national policy forced down the throat of the American public by conservatives.

Specifically, Romm cites the stimulus funding for "energy efficiency, renewables, transmission and smart grid, and mass transit and train travel," Obama's decision to raise fuel economy standards, Obama's EPA ruling that greenhouse gas emissions are a pollutant covered by the Clean Air Act, and the progress made so far toward a climate bill.

Not bad ... for a start.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Barack Obama Energy How The World Works Peak Oil