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Transcript: Fourth Peak Oil Presentation by US Congressman Bartlett, collegues.

The following is a partial transcript of Congressman Roscoe Bartlett's fourth Special Order speech to the US Congress regarding Peak Oil, introduced by Rep.Ehlers. See link for full text.

US House of Representatives - May 11, 2005

Mr. EHLERS: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise tonight with several of my colleagues to discuss an issue of great importance to our Nation, and I know that everyone that gets up here starts the same way, but this is a particularly important issue, one that the three of us wish to discuss as scientists, or those who have a great interest in science.

Tonight's topic is going to be energy. You have heard a lot about energy recently, worried about the gas prices, worried about the energy policy bill that we have worked on in the House and the Senate is now studying. Energy is extremely important, but what is most important to me when we are talking about energy or any other issue is to talk about the long-term effects because that is what the people hire us for. They elect us to come here and discuss and debate the future of this Nation, and it is very easy to forget that because we are always caught up in the instantaneous things we do, the stuff we have to get done today; but the people of this land, struggling every day to make a living, keep ends together, do not have the time to do the long-range thinking.

Corporate leaders are bound by their requirement to produce profits every quarter, to get the stock price up. It is up to us to really think about where this Nation is going and what is really important and what is likely to happen to it.

So I wish to approach this topic this evening to talk about our energy future, where are we now, what is energy like, what is going to happen in the future; and between the three of us discussing this this evening, I hope that we can enlighten our colleagues and others who are interested in the topic.

Let me begin by an introductory way just talking about energy and the nature of energy.

I happen to be a scientist, a physicist to be more precise; and I have been involved in energy studies for some 30 years, but also because of my background in physics, I have learned a lot about energy, and I would like to tap some of that knowledge to talk about some of the issues and point out some of the characteristics of energy.

First of all, energy is unique. Unique means there is nothing else like it. It is unique in several ways. Energy is our most basic natural resource.

[Time: 21:00]

For one simple reason: Without it, we cannot use our other natural resources.

Now, let me give an example of that and to prove my point that energy is our most basic natural resource. If you would like to build something out of iron, suppose it is a car or a can or whatever, the first thing you have to do is dig the iron ore out of the ground. That takes energy. Then you have to transport the ore to the smelting plant and recover the iron out of the ore. Transportation takes energy. Smelting it takes energy. When you are finished with that, you transport it the rolling mill. That takes energy. And you roll it out into sheet steel so it is easier to work with. That takes energy. Then you transport it to the factory. That takes energy. Finally, you fabricate a car or something else out of it, and that takes a lot of energy. Finally, you transport the finished product to the consumer, which once again takes energy.

Notice that every step of the way you were using energy in order to use other natural resources. I could have picked any other natural resource, and the same thing would be true. So energy is our most basic natural resource. You must always remember that. But secondly, and perhaps even more important, energy is a non-recyclable resource. Once you use it, it is gone. Now, if we use up our iron, we could go mine our landfills. We can recover scrap iron, as we do already to a great extent, and we can recycle it over and over and over. There is only so much iron on this planet, but we can keep using it over and over and over, and we are not likely to run out. Its cost may go up, but it is still there.

But when you use energy, it is gone. When you fill your tank with gasoline and you drive it for a week and the tank is empty, the energy is all gone. It is used up. Where does it go? We know energy is conserved, but it can change form. All the energy from the petroleum you put in your car, from the gasoline you use, gets consumed and turned into heat energy, largely unusable heat energy. And eventually, that gets radiated out into space, and it is gone for us forever.

So these two important features define a great deal about energy and how we should treat it and how we should handle it. Finally, because of this, the price of energy affects our economy more than the price of almost any other resource, simply because when the price of energy goes up, that price gets added on to every step of the manufacturing process which I mentioned.

Let me mention some other characteristics of energy. Energy is intangible to most people. To me, as a scientist, it is very tangible. I have worked with energy so long I can almost touch it, feel it, taste it, et cetera. But to the average person, you cannot touch it. You cannot see it, unless it is light energy. You cannot feel it, unless it is heat energy. You cannot smell it, and you cannot taste it. So energy is intangible. To most people, the only tangible aspect of energy is the price at the gas pump or the utility bill at the end of the month.

Because energy is intangible, people tend not to understand it. They do not know how to use it properly. I have a saying I often use, and I even have a tie to match the color I am talking about, I wish energy were purple. Because if energy were purple and people could see it, their behavior would change. When they drive home from the store or from the church and drive up to their house in the middle of winter and see a purple haze oozing through the walls because of poor insulation, or purple rivulets around the windows or doors because they are leaking heat, they would say, Man, that is terrible; I have to insulate this house better. I have to seal up the windows and doors more. Because they do not see it, it is not purple so they cannot see it, they are not aware of this.

If you were driving down the highway and a little Toyota Prius or some other hybrid car goes by, something like the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Bartlett) drives, and he may discuss that a little later this evening, and this little Prius goes by, and there is just a little purple around it, because it does not use much energy; but then a Hummer or a large SUV goes by, and there is a purple cloud around it, if people could see it they would say, Hey, I am going to get a Prius or some other hybrid car and use less energy. So I wish energy was purple so it would be tangible to everyone. I think behaviors would change very quickly.

To show the importance of energy, I would like to point out that energy affects civilization in a very direct way because energy represents the ability to do work. That, in fact, is the definition of work in physics. Energy represents the ability to do work.

With the first use of nonhuman energy, in other words using animals to plow the fields and so forth, we had the agricultural revolution beginning. We talk about these big revolutions in the human history, and the agricultural revolution is a large one. There is no contention about that. But the agriculture revolution occurred only after we started using nonhuman energy, because people were not strong enough to really do a good job of pulling plows. Before they had plows that they could pull, people tried agriculture, and it never really succeeded until they discovered they could domesticate oxen or other animals and have them do their work, and then the agriculture revolution succeeded.

The next big step was again related to energy. You have heard of the industrial revolution, where we began using industry to manufacture things and to replace human labor. What did we use? Fossil fuels. Coal first and then oil and eventually natural gas. So the first use of nonanimal energy led to the industrial revolution. Once again, this indicates how important energy is to life on this planet and to civilization and to our economy.

I have drawn here on this chart a model for responsible energy use, trying to relate it to something that everyone understands. When you talk about your money, you go out and get a job because you need to eat, and you would like to have a house and a car. So you get a job, and you earn money. That is income. And most people in this country have to live within their income.

That is what everyone aspires to. Sometimes, there are special needs, and you dip into your savings. And some are fortunate enough to inherit some money. So that is the model of individual use of money.

Now, you can look at energy the same way. If you look at the income of energy on our planet, most of it comes from solar energy. We talk a lot about using biomass. That is energy from the sun captured by plants, and we can try to retrieve the solar energy from that. Wind energy. Lots of efforts to build windmills and use wind energy. Once again, that energy comes from the sun because the sun differentially heats the atmosphere and that causes the wind to blow. How about hydropower? Huge dams generating lots of electricity for us. Once again, that is solar energy, because the sun evaporates the water off the oceans and the lakes, gets into the clouds and comes down as rain, collects behind the dams, and we use that energy. Waves are also related to solar energy, because that powers the wind, which generates the waves, and people have tried to extract that energy.

The only one on this list that is income energy but not from the sun is from the moon, and that is the tidal energy. And efforts have been made to tap that, but it is pretty tough to do and you do not get a lot of energy out of it.

What about the savings? Our savings account are all the fossil fuels; coal, oil and natural gas. Those are stored solar energy. That comes from plants which grew many, many, many, many years ago. Those plants eventually got covered up and over the years decayed and turned into coal, petroleum, natural gas.

Then there is wood, which is also a short-term savings account. Again, it is plant. It really could go up in biomass here, but trees live a long time, so I put it down here in our savings account because, normally, we do not use all that energy in our lifetime.

Finally, our inheritance, that is energy we inherited with this planet. Our universe and our planet were so beautifully created, and there are energy sources within the planet. There may be more than I have listed, but certainly geothermal energy. Heat energy within the earth can be used to drive power plants and already is in certain parts of California and other parts of the world. And nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is so long term, and it is basically there from the creation of the earth, so nuclear energy I would also classify as an inheritance.

Now, I would propose that when we are using energy, we should treat it the same way we do our money; try to live within our income. In other words, try to use as much as we can of the solar energy, lunar energy and so forth. Recognize we have to dip into our savings account, and so we can use the fossil fuels and wood for that, but not to the extent we are using it now so that we use it all up, unless we use that to develop new energy resources for our children and grandchildren.

And, finally, the inheritance. That is a long-term thing, but we do not want to depend totally on it. But certainly, that is there and that is a very promising thing to pursue.

Finally, I hope as a result of the discussion we have tonight that all of us in this Congress and all the people of this country will come to appreciate energy. It is my hope that a better understanding of energy will lead to a wiser use of it by our citizens. And so that is the theme of this hour's discussion we are going to have tonight.

Mr. Speaker, I have been joined by several colleagues, and next I would like to yield to my colleague, the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Gilchrest).

Mr. GILCHREST. I thank the gentleman from Michigan for yielding to me, Mr. Speaker, and I want to thank the gentleman from Michigan for the fascinating discussion mixed with science, history and a little poetry there, I think. Mr. Speaker, I hope many of our constituents across the country are listening to this most important topic.

My colleague, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Ehlers), began to speak about energy as not something that you can see or touch, and very few people think about that or think about where energy comes from. It comes from that fuel tank that you lift to fill your car. It comes from someone delivering it to your house. But I would suspect that many Americans and many of our colleagues here in the house feel that energy is a resource that will last forever.

I would like to pose a question tonight to follow on with what my colleague from Michigan was saying, and that is: Is energy infinite? Is energy a bottomless well? And if we look at the bottom of the bottomless well, what do we see?

If we are to have a cohesive energy policy in this country and in this world, in fact, we need to know what that is at the bottomless well, because I happen to think there is no bottom to the resource of energy. But we have to know what that is. What is that resource? What energy source can we rely upon for the unforeseeable future, for generations to come?

The modern world right now is dependent, the industrialized world and the new industrializing world are enormously dependent on an energy source known as fossil fuel. That is coal, natural gas and oil. We also know that the demand is increasing as the supply is diminishing, dramatically. The U.S. oil reserves peaked in 1970.

What is at the bottom of the bottomless well? I think it is initiative. It is ingenuity. It is intellect, and it is logic. Oil, or natural gas, is not at the bottomless well. Oil or natural gas or fossil fuel are finite, and they will not last forever. So we are in a transition period, because the demand is increasing dramatically, and the supply continues to decrease.


Editorial Notes: Kindly supplied by G. Thornwall, who is also hosting the text.-LJ

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