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 “What is energy?"

Draft Speech Script for President Elect Barack Obama.


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November 2008

Dear Barack

This is the speech you must deliver using your extraordinary talents to uplift and inspire. Failure to deliver it will almost certainly mean your presidency will be characterised by failure as the USA implodes amidst violence and misery. 

You inherit a bankrupt America – a nation teetering on the brink of financial insolvency, a leadership bankrupt of ideas and dominated by traders lacking morality. You know this. The people of America know this. Billions of people in the world know this. 

America is not alone. Many of us live in nations that are now similarly insolvent, bankrupt and lacking moral integrity. We all face imminent and catastrophic collapse of our systems. Our current ideas and denials are proving lethal. The framework of this draft speech is a unique repository of wisdom that has sustained humanity for millennia. May we all be sustained by it. 

Yours humbly 

Dave McArthur

  "What is the Nature of Energy?"
Speech notes for Barack Obama

Is there anyone out there who really knows what energy is?  We all are very intimate with energy, we all experience energy in every moment of our lives and yet it remains the great enduring mystery at the centre of our existence.  

Every individual has their own vision of what energy is. Every society, every nation has its own vision of what energy is.  

Each and every vision is different. Each and every vision offers different perspectives of the nature of energy. Each and every vision generates different lifestyles, different economies, different demands on the resources of our planet.  

Some visions promote lifestyles, economies and demands that are in harmony with the flows and balances of energy forms in the universe(s) that sustain us. Other visions work to destroy those precious sustaining flows and balances.  

It is beholden on each of us to act to ensure our vision of energy works to sustain our generation and the generations to come. Make no mistake about it. If we cling to flawed visions of the nature of energy then we will endure great misery. We will experience war, disease, famine and, perhaps worst of all, we will die knowing we have bequeathed on our children a world without hope. 

So this day I invite you, every American of every race, age, gender and religion to join me in asking this great question, “What is the nature of energy”. I extend this invitation to all the peoples of the world, for this issue affects each and every human being on this planet. It affects how we build our homes, grow and cook our food, how we communicate, keep warm, keep cool, make war, enjoy peace… there is no action in our lives that this issue does not affect. 

The question is timely because it is probable that never before has this planet been inhabited by 6.7 billion human beings. Our current impact on the flows and balances of Earth’s minerals and life forms is now so vast that those who study the great ages, the epic periods and moments in the history of Earth now suggest we are now in the Anthrocene Age. They suggest observers of this planet millions of years in the future will find evidence of our impact. They will note a brief period of immense soil loss, soaring carbon concentrations in the atmosphere and oceans and the sudden disappearance of all manner of species –perhaps even the disappearance of humans. 

I do not seek to alarm you and fill you with dread when I mention this possibility. I am simply reminding you that societies and species tend to die out when they fail to adapt, when their activities cannot be sustained, when they experience major disharmony with the flows and balances of energy. 

I remind you that we are fortunate beings. Although each man, woman and child has their own unique vision of the nature of energy, we are privileged as a species to have access to great wisdom - ancient wisdom that has sustained us through all manner of climate change, tectonic change, solar change over millions of years. We all share that wisdom to greater or lesser extent. The wisdom is summed up, is symbolised in the great guiding principle we know as The Conservation Principle of Energy.

The Conservation Principle of Energy.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, although it can be changed from one form to another.



I ask you to think about, to reflect on what this wonderful principle teaches us. You may recall glimmerings of its messages from your childhood school days. The Conservation Principle suggests two great truths that we may live by.  

It suggests that energy is as bounteous as the potential of the universe(s). Energy is all that was, all that is and all that could be. It is so bounteous it can be considered a constant. It is conserved. It is sustained. It can be neither created nor destroyed.  

The Conservation Principle also suggests that while energy can be neither created nor destroyed it is constantly transformed. The potential of the universe(s) is manifest as continually changing forms. All forms arise. All forms pass. Each form is transformed from others and into others. 

And how do we know this is true? 
And if it is true, how come so many of us have forgotten its wisdom? 
How come so few of us remain mindful of this great principle?

We can have faith in the Conservation Principle of Energy as our great guide because no other principle has ever been subject to such intense scrutiny to find a flaw in it. No other principle has ever been explored, interrogated with such ferocity, has been experimented with such ingenuity as human beings down the ages have strived to disprove this principle, to find some way around it. No other principle has been proven so true. 

The reason for this intense focus is simple. We human beings are transitory forms, as are all other forms. And, whether we like it or not, we are stewards of all other forms. Throughout the ages of humanity we homo sapiens have attempted to create perpetual motion machines, elixors of eternal youth and all manner of belief systems that enable us to use the limited resources of our planet as though they are as bounteous as energy itself. 

Our attempts to deny our mortality, our attempts to deny our roles as stewards of this unique planet’s resources are always met with failure. And each and every time our vast and ingenious capacity for denial generates only one ultimate experience – the state of misery. 

And every society that confused energy with one of the myriad forms it can take has inevitably collapsed, imploded, lost its vigour and integrity. It has failed.  I challenge you to show me an example of where this has not happened. I challenge you to show me proof that the Conservation Principle of Energy does not hold. I am sure I will sit here, become an old man and die, before you do. 

And now my fellow Americans, and many other peoples of the world, it is my duty to confront you with the fact that we have been living a monstrous lie. Our societies are based on a delusion of the most dangerous kind. We need confront the truth that we are a nation among many similar nations that is near collapse because we have denied on scale the Conservation Principle of Energy.  

Look around us. Look at our own lives. Almost everywhere is the proof of what I say. Our institutions, public and private alike, our schools, our media, our legislation are all now founded in a flawed vision, a delusion that is symbolised in this equation: 

 “Energy = a select few tradable commodities”.

And what are these select few forms of energy?  Energy is now commonly defined as fossil fuels and Bulk-generated electricity. Check out the business columns of your local media and confirm this as a fact. 

We have built vast systems of food production, of dwellings, of transportation based on this profoundly flawed belief, this denial of change and stewardship. It is my duty to inform you that this is unsustainable. Either we act together in concerted acceptance of the Conservation Principle and we each become true conservatives or we face imminent collapse as a society, as a civilisation. 

There will be many among you who are asking. “How can this be?” I will provide you with a single, most familiar example.  

Mineral oil is a resource of astonishing power. Every day we hear how the price of mineral oil is so many dollars a barrel. Few of us ever stop to ask, “ How large is this mythical barrel?”, “How much energy is there in a barrel?”. We see the price of mineral oil double one month and halve the next and we rarely ask, “What is the real value of a barrel of mineral oil?” 

Well, there are forty-two gallons in a barrel of mineral oil and we Americans destroy about 68 barrels a days per 1000 people. Most nations use less than 5 barrels a day per 1000 people. Each barrel contains the energy equivalent of 25,000 man-hours of labour.  

These are very approximate figures. They are simply to put you in the ballpark of what we are talking about.  

Imagine. Imagine each barrels as about 25000 people working non-stop for an hour lifting, pushing, pulling and performing all the actions necessary for our current social structures to work. When you and I burn and destroy a barrel of mineral oil, for whatever reason, it is as though we have 25000 irreplaceable servants working for us for one hour. After that they are gone. 

How has this capacity to burn mineral oil on scale affected us? How has our capacity to have this great army of servants working for us impacted on our vision of the nature of energy?  

The truth is we have become blinded to reality. We have come to believe that mineral oil is energy. We have come to believe that this finite fossil resource is ours of right, to destroy as we please.

We have come to believe that this amazing resource is so bounteous that we need not value it, there are few or no limits to how we can use it. We now call mineral oil by the name “energy.” 

In 1999 we were retailing mineral oil for 10 dollars a barrel. In other words this psycho-social construct we call The Market placed a value of about 0.04 cents an hour on the labour of those servants. At the same time we burned coal and mineral gas to make Bulk-generated electricity and The Market put a value of perhaps a cent on every man-hour of labour in the resource. You and I would not work day in day out for a cent an hour and yet this is the value we have put on these astonishing and very finite resources. 

It is hard to imagine what a million is, let alone a trillion, let alone a quadrillion. The latter is a 1 with 15 zeros.  However I am not here today to overwhelm you with numbers. Rather I am inviting you to address our current crisis situation with me. I am here to suggest ways we can respond in spirit of hope, of science, of love. 

I will simply say that each day now humans are destroying about 85 million barrels of mineral oil and this represents about 2 trillion man-hours of labour. Our nation consumes about 100 quadrillion  British Thermal Units of energy in these few forms per year now. 

To put this into the context of our recent history: whereas a century ago almost all the calories required to put a calorie of food on the plate of the average human being came more or less directly from solar sources now five out of every six calories required comes from fossil fuel, especially mineral oil. 

These numbers are of giddying proportions and I am not asking you to imagine them. I am simply inviting you to acknowledge the principles of physics: we can no longer sustain systems based on the belief that energy is mineral oil, or that it is fossil fuels or Bulk-generated electricity for that matter. 

I am inviting you to embrace the Conservation Principle of Energy, to become aware of the hope inherent in it and to become vigilant to the dangers of denying its messages, messages the remind us that each us needs acts as stewards within this planetary flux of  change. 

We as a nation have tended to forget this great guiding principle. We became especially forgetful in the late 1990s when this entity, this psycho-social construct we call The Market, dictated that mineral oil was worth a fraction of cent per man-hour of labour equivalent. It is no mistake that we felt the old rules no longer mattered, It is no mistake that we felt we no longer needed to be stewards of our resources. It is no mistake we expanded our credit systems by trillions of dollars, leveraging off these mineral oil prices.  

In doing so we made the error that all societies do when they forget the principles of physics. We created an economy based on a delusion and now it is collapsing, just as other similar economies inevitably did. 

And now we find ourselves as a nation bankrupt and our savings have evaporated. Where has our wealth gone? Our perceived wealth is now combusted to become little more than pollution in the air that we breathe. 

The message of the Conservation Principle is hard and unyielding and yet those that accept its truths are blessed beyond all. When we accept its messages we come to know more fully the immense range of options inherent in the potential of the universe(s). In that awareness we are filled with hope and awe at the nature of energy.  

We enjoy a sense of possibilities, even as we are mindful that all forms are limited and transitory. We experience a sense of harmony with all even as we are aware that we are stewards of this planet’s resources. We become aware of the balances and potentials of the thermal flows, the water flows, the electrical flows, the carbon flows of our planet.  We become opened to sustainable uses of myriad forms previously unimaginable. 

So much is possible. We have so many options. I am not saying our journey in search of the nature of energy is easy. I am saying our current confusion, ignorance and denial of the nature of energy has brought us to a very difficult place, a place of so-called “energy wars” and “energy crises” and “energy failures” and general misery. I am saying that if we share our insights and journey together in this search we can move beyond this state of bankruptcy of knowledge, this economy of mounting debt, this place bereft of science, this nation of increasing misery. 

And here again we must face perhaps unpalatable truths about our nation, and those nations made in our likeness.  

The delusion about the nature of energy is born of an even greater delusion. It is the delusion that science is simply a way of thinking, the domain of an elite of people we call “scientists”. 

The reality is this. We are all born scientists with the capacities to experiment, to share, to reflect, to explore, to be honest, to be inclusive to enjoy compassion with all. Science is a state of being that enables language, the arts, civics and all that we call civilisation to flourish. If any of these capacities are lacking then science is diminished.  

I imagine many of you understand this in your hearts and are wondering what does this mean in our daily lives. 

It means we are all scientists to some degree and those that set themselves apart and call themselves “scientists” are in denial of this fact. They are being exclusive, are manifesting a lack of science. 

It means we, one and all, have valuable insights to offer and we should value each other accordingly. 

It means we each are stewards of our actions and need continually review the impacts of our lives on the flows and balances of the Earth that sustains us. 

It means our education curricula need be reframed so they reflect the truer nature of science, which is that it is an essential state of being, not just an arbitrary way of thinking known only to an elite few. 

It means we need identify all that obstructs the free flow of information, for in the free flow is the immense possibilities that are inherent in the Conservation Principle of Energy.  

This is not an easy matter for our nation is built on principles divorced from science and we have built the delusion of great wealth not only on the flawed equation of energy with minerals and certain electrical products but also on vast restrictive systems of copyright laws.  

For a century these systems have delivered us seeming power and wealth but now we find our nation is bankrupt on many levels. It is possible that soon we will be unable to even buy in the knowledge of people from other lands as has been our custom this last century.  

So we need rebuild this nation so every person in this nation and every person in all other nations retains the right to share ideas, dreams and inventions without being exploited by other greed-driven individuals. For in our individual freedom to share our visions without penalty there is hope. We can thus avail ourselves of the greater potential of energy. 

Let us treasure the Conservation Principle of Energy. It is as near as we have to a natural law.  Let us accept its truths and live in awareness that we are each stewards of the myriad forms it can take, we cannot offset our responsibilities, we can never be neutral in our actions, we cannot let some entity called The Market be our wisdom.  

Again this is not easy. I myself have promoted and endorsed the ethos of carbon trading. I have been sorely tried and tested as I have come to realise that the carbon trading ethos is fundamentally flawed. It is as flawed as the mortgage derivatives market that now delivers us such heartache and dislocation. It is as flawed as the commodity’s market where the price of a resource rises and falls in great disruptive waves that bears no relationship to the real value of the resource. 

I now understand more fully that we Carbon Beings. Carbon continually flows through us and we are part of a great carbon flux. It is a wondrous process. 

We can never be neutral within this great flow and each of us needs always to be mindful of our roles as stewards of the balances and flows of carbon that sustain us. Hence we must each put values on each carbon form such that our use of it ensures our children inherit those sustaining balances and flows.  

We must come together as stewards of our carbon resources and actively debate what those values are. Those values must be reflected in the activities of our daily lives and in our taxation systems. We cannot leave such decisions to some vague, global, psychopathic construct called “The Market”. It is only when our values are embedded in our civic structures, in our taxation systems, can our businesses know the certainty they require. It is only then that our children can enjoy hope based in compassion. 

In making the Conservation Principle central to our existence we will find that our perceptions are transformed of what a “conservative” is. The symbol will come to be associated with those among us who conserve our resources, whose actions work to retain the flows and balances of the energy flux that sustains us. No more will our society describe those who most destroy those flows and balances as “conservatives”. Hence forth these folk shall be known as “non-conservatives”, regardless of their race, political party, religion or national affiliation. Hence forth our children will honour those that accept their roles a stewards of change as the true conservatives and they will remember them with gratitude. 

Above all I am here to ask you to conserve the amazing potential of this most glorious of symbols – the energy symbol. You do not be have great academic qualifications to conserve it. All you need is care. All you need is love. The rules of care are simple. Here are a few of them:

v     Live in acceptance of the Principle of the Conservation of Energy, which advises us that energy can be considered so bouteous that it cannot be created or destroyed. Embrace that bounty.
(Refrain from speaking of and do not trust those who speak of “energy failures”,  “energy shortages”, “energy losses” and “energy collapses” etc)

v     Live in acceptance of the Principle of the Conservation of Energy, which advises us that energy can be considered so bouteous that it cannot be created or destroyed. Know that energy, by its very nature is conserved, is constant. Some resources are more renewable than others.
(Refrain from speaking of and do not trust those who speak of “renewable energy”, “sustainable energy”, "zero energy" and say humans can “conserve energy” for they deny the Conservation Principle)

v     Live in acceptance of the Principle of the Conservation of Energy, which advises us that energy is subject to constant transformation. Avoid confusing energy with any of the myriad forms it can take, for we are finite as they are finite. Give each form its own name.
(Refrain from speaking of and do not trust those who speak of resources such as fossil fuels and Bulk-generated electricity as energy.)

v     Live in acceptance of our roles as stewards amidst this continual change – know the critical issue is that it is not how much energy we use but rather whether our use of energy forms, our use of resources, conserves the balances and flows that sustain humanity.
(Refrain from speaking of and do not trust those who speak of energy efficiency as the practice of using less energy, who associate energy with deprivation.)

v     Live in acceptance of our roles as stewards amidst this continual change – let us accept personal responsibility with a spirit of compassion for our perceived misuses of the universal potential so we may continually learn and adapt our ways.
(Refrain from blaming energy for our woes and do not trust those who speak of “energy crises”, “energy problems” and “energy failures” as the cause of our problem.

 This is a speech I had to give.

Without this speech our nation could not progress.

Without it we would continue unchanged in our current ways – ways that in our heart of hearts we know cannot be sustained.

Without it we could not develop and enjoy our greater potential.

Many of us may find the messages in this speech difficult and obscure. I ask you to persist in understanding them, for they retain the wisdom that has sustained humanity for millenia. In reality the messages are very simple and can be understood by all people with open and generous hearts. And when we listen closely to the messages they will resonate in each of us to make us such a people. Nothing can defeat us when we are a nation of such co-joined hearts

Thank you and I look forward to you joining us as we all work to reshape our nation so that it is again a source of inspiration, of strength, of harmony, a beacon of science and harmony in the world. 

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Without symbols there is no civilisation.


Symbols enable us to communicate and reflect reality.


By maximising the potential of symbols we can enjoy the greatest harmony with all.


Failure to conserve symbols and  the flawed  uses of symbols destroys civilisations.


Symbol use born of compassion works to sustain humanity.