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Uncommitted For President


Super Tuesday was truly exciting! As a registered Democrat in Colorado, I headed to my precinct caucus early on Tuesday, February 5. It was a madhouse at Slavens Elementary School, where it seems we must have gotten almost 100% turnout in precinct 331. I stood in line for 30 minutes before realizing that the only reason for standing in line was to find out my precinct number (which I already knew).

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are fine people and undoubtedly a distinct improvement on the Current Occupant.  So when I finally got to my precinct caucus, I proudly spoke out and cast my vote for President for -- uncommitted. Here’s my argument for sending "uncommitted" delegates to the convention, what I tried to communicate (in somewhat fewer words, roughly the following three paragraphs) to the caucus on Tuesday night.

The biggest political issue the next President will face is oil depletion. Oil depletion and the impending peak of oil production is a bigger issue than anything else the candidates have discussed -- bigger issue than Iraq, health-care costs, and September 11 combined. The consequences of being unprepared for peak oil are massive unemployment, soaring food and energy prices, and an ongoing and deep recession -- or depression. It’s basically going to be "the 1970's on steroids," as Roger Bezdek says.

We may not have reached the peak yet, but the supply of oil cannot keep up with demand for oil now. That’s why anyone is even thinking about the Canadian tar sands, an extremely expensive and environmentally destructive source of oil; if they’re producing oil from the Canadian tar sands, we know they’ve run through all the easy oil. That’s also why President Bush recently went to Saudi Arabia and begged the Saudis to increase their oil supply to lower oil prices. (He was turned down.) That’s also why oil recently hit $100 a barrel, in spite of the fact that there are no hurricanes in the Gulf, no urgent Middle East crisis, and no summer driving season.

Does either Obama or Clinton have a plan to deal with peak oil? No. We therefore have no way of telling which candidate is relatively better on this issue, the most important one facing the country. With the increasing demand from places like China, it is clear that faltering supply cannot keep up with surging demand. If we are lucky, hey, we may not hit peak oil for another 5 years or so. But if so, we must absolutely not squander those 5 years: we must be preparing as rapidly as possible.  As the Hirsch Report makes clear, we will need 20 years to prepare for peak oil. 

Let's be clear, America is a consumerist society that has never consciously faced the implications of its consumption on the planet.  Our huge military budget, our involvement in Iraq, our failure to address economic inequality, all of them spring from our disproportionate use (and squandering) of resources.  Yes, I know, Bush has undertaken an aggressive war of choice in Iraq, but the underlying condition of this war is our consumerism which neither party has yet had the courage to address.  Peak oil is a "teachable moment" for the public both on the political aspects of resource depletion and the spiritual aspects of consumerism.

Oil depletion, of course, may never become an issue in the campaign for the nomination. The recession may send oil demand into the toilet, "saving" us (and the candidates) from confronting this problem. But it could become an issue. Oil supplies might actually tighten further, OPEC might actually cut production, Bush might even attack Iran, and we’d face sharply escalating prices and a major campaign issue. Then we’ll be able to tell if either of them has a clue, and that’s when we could commit to a candidate. This issue is important enough, and the other differences between the candidates are minimal enough, that it is worth taking this chance.

For renewable energy, both candidates seem to be firmly committed to the lunacy of corn ethanol. They both pledge to increase production of biofuels to 60 billion gallons (I presume annually) by 2030. Corn ethanol actually increases greenhouse gas emissions because of all the fossil fuel that corn production requires. In fact, because of all the fossil fuels in agriculture, corn ethanol may not even increase the total fuel supply. David Pimentel estimates that it actually takes more fossil fuels to create ethanol than the corn ethanol replaces. Even the optimists estimate the ratio of fuel output to fossil fuel input at about 1.25. I’m sorry, but the Obama / Clinton position is totally out of contact with reality. One 15-gallon tank of gas takes an amount of corn with calories sufficient to feed a person for seven months, and all this to do something which doesn’t help our supply problem and makes global warming worse.

Well, I was outvoted at the caucus. My neighbors did listen politely to what I had to say and I even got some scattered applause, but they went for Obama 31, Clinton 21, and uncommitted 1 (me). Colorado went overwhelmingly for Obama, but Clinton had some victories elsewhere, and the overall outcome on Super Tuesday was pretty much a draw.

You could, in fact, say that the results of Super Tuesday were so evenly split between Clinton and Obama that the Democratic Party is, well, "uncommitted" on its choice for President.

Therefore, I claim victory in the Super Tuesday contest.

On to the convention!

Keith Akers
February 8, 2008