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Peak Oil and U.S. Representative Vernon Ehlers

This morning, I brought up Peak Oil in a town hall meeting with U.S. Representative Vernon Ehlers of Michigan.

Representative Ehlers was formerly a nuclear physicist, is one of only three scientists in Congress, and is extremely well versed on both energy and Peak Oil.

After the Representative's opening remarks, I got the microphone, and set the stage for a few Peak Oil questions...


My concern is about gasoline prices and Peak Oil. It appears to me that the peak of conventional oil production is what is causing the gas prices to go up right now. It seems to me that gas prices will be up to $4 by the end of the summer, if things keep going the way they are going.

The Government Accountability Office recently released a report about Peak Oil and some of the consequences. I'm really concerned that it is going to lead to some kind recessions, like a series of recessions in the U.S., or maybe another depression. That's kind of what it looks to me, the way I read that report.

I understand you are on the Peak Oil caucus, part of the Peak Oil caucus, (yes) along with Representative Roscoe Bartlett who has given a bunch of talks to the House of Representatives. (yes) And so, I have a few questions on that.

How can we raise awareness of Peak Oil and its consequences?

The second question is, How do you think representative Bartlett's talks have impacted legislation in the House, if at all?

The last one is, What are the plans for the caucus?

Representative Ehlers:

Okay, very briefly, a caucus is a generic term for a group of like minded individuals who get together. For example, I started this S.T.E.M.E.d caucus, which has nothing to do with stem cells. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education, because we desperately need to train our kids better in math and science, so they can compete with those around the globe.

The energy situation, the term he used 'Peak Oil', for those who don't know, in 1954 a gentleman called M. King Hubbert predicted that all resources follow a curve. You first discover them. Then the amount goes up, and you produce more and more, and finally you reach a point where its harder to get, prices go up too much, and then the use goes down. You refer to that as a peak.

He predicted that American oil, oil produced in America, would peak in 1970. Remember this is 1954. In 1970, we peaked. You may recall the gasoline lines of '72 and '73. That's when we first realized that we were running out of oil in America.

M. King Hubbert also predicted that we would peak, worldwide in oil, in about the year 2000.

We managed to stretch that out because after the oil crisis in the U.S. we all got more energy efficient cars, we used less energy, and so it pushed the peak back, but the worldwide peak is projected to be roughly around 2010, which is not very far away.

What does that mean? Some people say that we are running out of oil. That's not true, yet. We are running out of cheap oil. And what this means is, as we reach that peak the cost is going to go up and up so people start using less, and as the use of it goes down there is still a lot there, but you're just going to have to pay a lot more.

That's a good part of what's going on. And professor Bartlett, he and I are the two Republican scientists in the House, and we're both very concerned about it, we've both given speeches. In the evening we have what's called Special Orders after regular business is done. We can get up, and we can give speeches about things we are concerned about. He has now given something like thirty speeches on the need for energy conservation, so forth. I have joined him a number of times, and have also spoken on my own.

It's just a tough sell. Sometimes people don't want to believe what they don't like, and that's the problem here. There is simply not an infinite amount of oil. And I have been preaching this nation-wide, I've given speeches all over this country, starting in the late '70s, about the fact that we have to conserve energy, we have to stop using so much energy. Not just gasoline, but all energy.

It's a tough battle because we're all used to cheap energy. And I could spend the whole hour just talking about energy, but let me say just one thing to emphasis how important this is.

The agriculture age, which started several thousand years ago, never succeeded until they discovered they had to use animals to plow the fields, thresh the grain, and so forth. Then, agriculture became profitable. So, the first great revolution, the agriculture revolution, occurred with the first use of non-human energy.

The second great revolution, the industrial revolution, took place when we first started using non-animal energy, in other words, burning fossil fuels: coal and gas to power the factories.

So energy is crucial. Energy represents the ability to do work. And since I'm a nuclear physicist, I understand energy. Energy allows us to have machines that do work for us. And, they're very efficient, but you have to have a source of energy.

We are running out of fossil fuels. And years ago, I advocated that we had to start developing alternative forms of energy.

Solar energy, lots and lots of energy, very very hard to use, because its so spread out, and its not very, not huge amounts are readily assessable. But my dream is someday that we'll have solar shingles on every house, instead of asphalt shingles, and that these solar shingles will provide a good deal of the energy that your house can use.

So, there are a lot of options, we just have not pursued them. You are absolutely right. We have to do it. I have spent a lot of time trying to wake up the congress and wake up the country. A lot of people simply don't want to believe it, because they can't believe it. But, I've gotta tell you that, that's the story, and it takes a lot of energy in today's world.

If you think, for example, 'it doesn't take much energy when you drive your car to the store to get groceries', just think about this: it doesn't take too much energy for you, you could walk to and from the store, if its not too far. It doesn't even take that much energy to transport the groceries back home. And you could probably carry a couple of bags of groceries. But it takes a lot of energy to get that car there. And if you don't believe that, next time you're going to the grocery store, don't drive your car there, push it. (laughter) That's where all the energy goes. And that's a lesson all of us have to learn.


This was the longest, and most detailed, answer that the Representative gave during the meeting. It is transcribed, word for word, from an audio recording (Listen or Download - 900 KB). The Representative later returned to energy in several of his answers, including his response to a question on global warming.

My intention is to set up a public talk where Representative Ehlers has an hour to give a lecture on Peak Oil, followed by question and discussion time. I have already spoken with his staff scheduler, and it sounds like it is simply a matter of finding a date, time and venue. I've actually had this in mind for over a year after learning from Representative Bartlett that Representative Ehlers was a member of the Peak Oil caucus.

The event would be sponsored by "Local Future Network", which is a non-partisan non-profit organization that I started designing about a year ago. (LocalFuture.org)

Editorial Notes: Contributor Aaron Wissner of the Local Future Network writes: It would be worthwhile if every congressional district had a peak oil education campaign point person, who would ask a similar question of their own representative in such town hall or coffee shop forums.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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