A Chance to Change the World: Richard Heinberg’s Advice to College Grads Entering the Peak Oil World
For advice about life after graduation, students at Worcester Polytechnic wanted to hear from peak oil scholar Richard Heinberg instead of Exxon’s CEO. Here’s what he told them.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA invited Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, to give the commencement speech at its 2011 graduation ceremonies on May 14. When students heard this, many were surprised and upset. As Linnea Palmer Paton of Students for a Just and Stable Future put it in a letter to the college president, “[W]e, as conscientious members of the WPI community and proud members of the Class of 2011, will not give [the Exxon CEO] the honor of imparting … his well-wishes … for our futures … when he is largely responsible for undermining them.”
The students then invited Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow of Post Carbon Institute, to give an alternative commencement speech. After a few days of negotiations, the college administration agreed to give Heinberg the podium immediately after the main ceremony. Many students chose to walk out during Tillerson’s address. This is what Richard Heinberg had to say.
ExxonMobil is inviting you to take your place in a fossil-fueled twenty-first century. But I would argue that Exxon’s vision of the future is actually just a forward projection from our collective rear-view mirror. Despite its high-tech gadgetry, the oil industry is a relic of the days of the Beverly Hillbillies. The fossil-fueled sitcom of a world that we all find ourselves still trapped within may, on the surface, appear to be characterized by smiley-faced happy motoring, but at its core it is monstrous and grotesque. It is a zombie energy economy.
Of course, we all use petroleum and natural gas in countless ways and on a daily basis. These are amazing substances—they are energy-dense and chemically useful, and they yield enormous economic benefit. America started out with vast reserves of oil and gas, and these fuels helped make our nation the richest and most powerful in the world.
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