Conference on oil should interest us all

Kai Hagen

September 22, 2005

Jimmy Carter was right.

Nearly three decades ago, President Carter said that "with the exception of preventing war," the coming energy crisis was "the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes." He encouraged — beseeched — the American people to tackle our energy future as if it were the "moral equivalent of war — except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not destroy."

He said that our decisions about energy "will test the character of the American people and the ability of the president and the Congress to govern."

At the time, the memory of gas lines earlier in the decade were fading, and he was widely criticized as unduly pessimistic, even weak. He was even ridiculed for conserving energy in the White House (and wearing sweaters) and for putting solar panels on the roof.

But Carter insisted that the long-term prospects "will get worse every day until we act."

He's not the sort who would say "I told you so," but he could.

If you don't want to take my word for it, ask Roscoe G. Bartlett.

Now serving his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Bartlett, who comes from the opposite end of the American political spectrum, has been trying to tell anyone who will listen, for a while now, that world oil production has peaked, with dire consequences if we continue to act as though the problem will solve itself.

On his Web site, Bartlett notes that "peak oil refers to a point when global oil production will be unable to keep pace with growing world demands for oil. Peak oil will be the end of cheap oil which presents daunting challenges for us in our personal lives as well as for America's economic and national security. Without planning and preparation, it will be a really bumpy ride."

Bartlett, who is a scientist and considers himself more a citizen-legislator than a politician, has organized the Peak Oil Energy Conference right here, in Frederick County. The conference is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday at Frederick Community College.

On the Web site, Bartlett says he organized this conference "to bring international and nationally recognized energy experts to Frederick to increase awareness and discuss practical changes to overcome the potentially devastating challenges posed by global peak oil."

"This conference will promote discussion and awareness of practical changes that we can make as individuals, businesses and as a country to transition to living well using less energy and alternative energy sources. These steps will relieve the burden on our family and business budgets from increased prices for oil and natural gas and reduce our country's reliance upon imported oil."

In 1977, Jimmy Carter said, "One choice is to continue doing what we have been doing before. We can drift along for a few more years."

And so we did. For more than a few years.

Now, when Bartlett tackles the same problem, he speaks with a heightened sense of urgency.

"This time it will not be like the '70s," Bartlett said last spring on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. "The big difference between now and the '70s is that in the '70s, we were just going up this curve. We were nowhere near the top of the curve, so there was always the ability to expand, to surge. If, in fact, we are now at peak oil, there is no such ability remaining."

He may not be referring to the situation as the "moral equivalent of war," but he is calling for a "Manhattan type project."

Bartlett is no Johnny-come-lately to this issue, but with gas prices reaching record highs, more people are listening to his case for conservation and the need to develop alternatives to oil.

President Carter said that "by acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us."

Today, Roscoe Bartlett is saying much the same thing.

The biggest difference — perhaps the only meaningful difference — is that now we have a lot less time. The future is here.

And if they are wrong?

Well, the best plausible scenario only offers a bit more time to make the transition. We would wise not to waste it.

For information, visit If you can attend, RSVP to or call 301-694-3030.

Whether your personal politics lean more toward Jimmy Carter or Roscoe Bartlett, we all need to pay some attention. An Internet search on "peak oil" will retrieve a large and expanding universe of information.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at