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'Oil' author will speak tonight

The 100-year reign of the world's oil-based economy is nearing its zenith, according to an author who will speak at CU-Boulder tonight.

Paul Roberts, author of "The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World," will lecture tonight from 5:30 - 7:00 at Old Main Chapel in a free public lecture.

"We won't run out of oil tomorrow, or next week, but it will happen soon," Roberts said from Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Roberts said worldwide supplies of the world's easily extractable oil could peak and then decline within the next 10 years, but that timeline isn't set in stone.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that oil supplies will peak in 2035.

"Pessimists, by contrast, a group whose members include geologists, industry analysts and a surprising number of oil industry and government officials, believe that a peak may come much sooner - perhaps as soon as 2005," Roberts writes in the book.

Tonight's lecture is sponsored by CU-Boulder's Center of the American West.

Roberts, a full-time journalist and regular contributor to Harper's magazine, said he wasn't an oil expert before he wrote his book.

"I began this as an outsider, and then I spent a lot of time with energy experts just to get the basics," he said.

Roberts isn't optimistic about the United States' current oil-based economy.

"Sometimes people take me to task for having such a bleak outlook," he said.

Roberts offered at least two outcomes as oil becomes scarcer. The first alternative, he said, is that worldwide oil production would fall gradually as supplies dwindled.

That gentle downturn would allow the United States a bit of leeway time to invest more seriously in cleaner, alternative energy sources it thus far has short-changed - wind, solar and hydrogen fuel cells.

The second alternative is scarier.

"It could be difficult to not see countries coming to war over oil," Roberts said, adding that if production drops sharply, the world could plunge into a catastrophic depression.

The oil supply could drop significantly if the world loses a producer like Venezuela or even Saudi Arabia because of a disaster or civil war, he said.

If oil becomes too pricey, the United States could switch over to existing carbon-based fuels like coal that discharge carbon dioxide into the air, which is believed to lead to a warming climate.

"The market doesn't care if the climate is changing," Roberts said.

Roberts's book has received recent acclaim.

"'The End of Oil' is a stunning piece of work - perhaps the best single book ever produced about our energy economy and its environmental implications," Bill McKibben wrote in the New York Review of Books.

At tonight's discussion, Roberts said he would outline the vulnerabilities of America's current oil-dependent economy as well as discuss signs of that economy's downfall. He will field questions from the audience after his lecture.

Roberts said he expected to hear tonight from people with a wide range of opinions about the oil supply issue, Boulder's liberal reputation notwithstanding.

"It will make for lively debate," he said.

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