President Obama held a news conference this morning to address the issue of rising oil prices. After expressing sympathy for working families hit hard at the pump, Obama then dispensed an unusually strong dose of clear-eyed realism.

Obama seems to have taken his cue from Jon Stewart, who parodied the fact that every President since Nixon has promised to wean us off foreign oil. Yet, here we are, in 2011, acting all shocked that oil prices are topping $100/barrel (again). Obama said:

We’ve been having this conversation for nearly four decades now. Every few years, gas prices go up; politicians pull out the same old political playbook, and then nothing changes. And when prices go back down, we slip back into a trance. And then when prices go up, suddenly we’re shocked. I think the American people are tired of that. I think they’re tired of talk. We’ve got to work together -– Democrats, Republicans, and everybody in between –- to finally secure America’s energy future. I don’t want to leave this for the next President, and none of us should want to leave it for our kids.

It’s about time the President leveled with the American public: Oil, as Obama reminded us this morning, is a finite resource:

We can’t place our long-term bets on a finite resource that we only control 2 percent of -– especially a resource that’s vulnerable to hurricanes, war, and political turmoil.

Amen to that. Now, the President should go one step further and help Americans understand that future oil shortages can cause problems far more worrisome than $4/gallon gas. We’re talking about a commodity that is the lifeblood of every industry you’d care to name, including shipping, communications, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and, last but surely not least, agriculture. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has exposed that Saudi “Days of Rage” Arabia’s oil reserves are about 40% smaller than what they’ve been telling us all these years. We can hardly count on the Saudis to fill up our SUVs much longer.

If the majority of Americans knew all this, renewable energy technologies would be sweeping the nation. Forget about iPads and smart phones–consumers would be lining up at 6 am at big box stores for solar panels and extension cords to charge up their electric vehicles.

President Obama is clearly committed to investing in clean energy. I hope he realizes that the way to generate widespread support for these investments is to keep on telling the truth–we can either make a rapid transition now or sit back and wait for the real oil crisis to unfold.

–Erica Etelson

Posted by Danny Kennedy

Danny Kennedy co-founded Sungevity and now serves as strategic advisor. He is an internationally recognized opinion leader on climate and energy issues. He is the author of Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy - and Planet - from Dirty Energy (2012), a book that has been described as the clean energy manifesto for the next greatest generation.