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Running on Empty 

by Paul K. Haeder & r & It would be nice to think that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush were engaged in serious discussion about breaking the old paradigm of fossil fuel gluttony and changing it into something drastically sane and very different for this country's collective lifestyle. It would be nice to think that, especially in the wake of such books as High Noon for Natural Gas by Julian Darley, Power Down: Options for a Post-Carbon World by Richard Heinberg, Thom Hartmann's The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late, and Matthew Simmons' Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. But it's not likely.


"I think it was unbelievably discouraging to see what occurred after the Bush Energy Plan was introduced," says Simmons, an investment banker specializing in the energy industry. "And then after 9/11, the administration got totally distracted in dealing with all the events that they've been dealing with since then. I will tell you that there is a growing genuine concern in Washington about what is happening with natural gas today."


Simmons will be at the Davenport Hotel on Oct. 4-5, joining several experts on oil production, global energy consumption and alternative energy schemes as part of WSU's "Conference on Global Oil Depletion and Implications for the Pacific Northwest." This macro-lens examination of oil demand by experts and prognosticators might lead to some sort of long-range plan for the Pacific Northwest.


According to Eric Lear, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at WSU, "The global oil depletion conference ensures discussion of an issue essential in our daily lives now and in the future."


"This conference is a first step in gathering people together to raise awareness of the growing gap between the demand and supply of oil and natural gas, and to begin a process for planning mitigation initiatives in the Pacific Northwest," adds Melissa Ahern, an economist and associate professor at WSU-Spokane.


While the conference will be full of heady optimism and some downright pessimism from experts in geology, oil production and hydrocarbon economics, the fact remains that most of the Western world's sense of its civilization developed in less than a century. From the corn in their sodas, ethanol gas, beef and cobs, to the plastics trucked across every corner of asphalt nations, to the sprawl cancer spreading through places from Sacramento to Sydney, to the cheap goods from Malaysia and Wal-Mart, and that microchip wizardry in the DVD players in mother's Ford Expedition -- all of it has been built on a pyramid of cheap and abundant oil.


The conference will tackle topics gyrating around alternative fuels, planning transportation, reinventing home construction and community building models, and so-called "savior" technologies as ways to mitigate the realities of what James Howard Kunstler dubs the "long emergency" precipitated by the end of cheap and abundant oil.


The phrase "Hubbert's Peak" will be bandied about at the Davenport by many of the participants, and we aren't talking about an REI-sponsored event at Mount Baker.


More than 50 years ago, famed geologist M. King Hubbert argued for his concept explaining that at a certain point oil production will peak -- and that thereafter it would unwaveringly decline regardless of demand.


"In 1956, Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would peak about 1970 and decline thereafter. Skeptics scoffed, but he was right," wrote James Jordan and James R. Powell in The Washington Post. "It now appears that world oil production, about 80 million barrels a day, will soon peak. In fact, conventional oil production has already peaked and is declining. For every 10 barrels of conventional oil consumed, only four new barrels are discovered. Without the unconventional oil from tar sands, liquefied natural gas and other deposits, world production would have peaked several years ago.


Gov. Christine Gregoire will kick off the conference on Oct. 4 by addressing the state's energy policy and priorities. On Oct. 5, Simmons' presentation will be followed by comments from Roger Bezdek, president of Management Information Services Inc. His report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy earlier this year, "Peaking World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management," confronts some of the economic disruption caused by rising oil prices and shrinking supplies.


Meanwhile, the United States still acts as a hunter-gatherer nation hunting for the last pockets of accessible oil. Contrast such a strategy to that of the Danish government, which has set its entire economy and culture on wind, solar, bio-mass and other alternative energy sources and energy savers.


A century ago, when the wildcat oil gushers hit Texas and Oklahoma with a throw of a pick to dirt, it took about one barrel of energy output to produce 28 barrels of crude. Now, one barrel's worth of energy extraction yields just four pumped barrels. The Texas and Oklahoma oil fields are running dry.


And, now, with the newest and brightest experts and commentators on energy saying the peak has already hit oil reserves (or will hit quite soon), we can expect oil to continue to rise in price. It's $64 a barrel now. Some experts project a price of $185 a barrel in just two years. Twenty years from now, they say, it may climb to $385 a barrel.





Oil Summit In Spokane & r & "Global Oil Depletion and Implications for the Pacific Northwest: Founding Summit" will be held on Tuesday-Wednesday, Oct. 4-5, at the Davenport Hotel, 10 S. Post St. Cost: $225; $175 per person for groups of three or more. Visit http://capps.wsu.edu/globaloil or call (509) 335-4194 or 358-7982. On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the venue shifts from the Davenport to the Met Theater, 901 W. Sprague. From 7-8 pm, when Bob Scarfo of the WSU Interdisciplinary Design Institute will moderate a discussion and public forum on sustainability practices. From 8-10 pm, a 1992 film entitled Baraka will be shown. A "global documentary" filmed in 24 countries on six continents, Baraka offers a beautiful but troubling artistic and musical glimpse of planet Earth.
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