More Science Teachers Grasping Reality of Peak Oil

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Awareness of oil depletion spreading among science educators; a report from California conference.

Just two or three years ago, if you had asked a science teacher about "peak oil," chances are he or she would have drawn a blank. But if the recent gathering of 3,000 science educators in San Francisco is any indication, a massive shift in awareness has taken place -- thanks in no small part to activists such as Richard Katz and Dennis Brumm.

Last week, these two San Francisco residents were busy working the floor of the California Science Education Conference, talking to teachers about peak oil -- the idea that global petroleum flows will soon crest and decline. They also passed out copies of The Oil Age, a richly detailed poster depicting the rise and fall of mankind's most valuable energy resource.

"I was amazed at how many teachers already understood the concept of peak oil and its implications for modern industrial societies," says Katz, a member of several local peak-oil community groups, including SF Post Carbon and SF Informatics, which produced the oil poster. "Science teachers grasp the issue of peak oil at a basic level because it's really a simple matter of geology and the fact that we are drawing down a finite resource."

Brumm, a long-time community activist, has been involved in numerous grass-roots campaigns to sound the alarm over what amounts to a permanent global energy crisis. Earlier this year, he and three other activists convinced San Francisco's Board of Supervisors to pass the first peak oil resolution in a major American city http://www.sfbayoil.org/sfoa/media/resolution_to_board.pdf

"More and more geologists and scientists are coming to the conclusion that we've reached the physical limit of the planet's ability to pump more oil," Brumm says. "Discoveries of oil have been declining steadily since the mid-1960s and most of the world's biggest fields have topped out and their output is now in decline."

Brumm cited studies by Princeton geologist Kenneth Deffeyes, who claims the world may have reached peak output at the end of last year, and by geologist Colin Campbell, who is projecting maximum production in 2010 followed by a steady and irreversible decline that will strain the capacity of industrial societies to adapt. Experts point to the tripling of oil prices since 2002 and this year's roller-coaster price swings as evidence that markets are already beginning to feel the impact of oil depletion.

Katz and Brumm said they handed out more than 550 posters at the annual event sponsored by the California Science Teachers Association. One of the recurring themes at this year's event was global warming, an issue Katz says is inextricably linked to oil consumption. "These two phenomenon -- fossil fuel consumption and global warming -- are two sides of the same coin," he says, adding that the connection poses a fundamental dilemma: "If we try to 'solve' the peak oil problem by burning more coal, for example, we're only going to exacerbate the other problem, global warming."

Invigorated by positive feedback from this California conference, Katz and Brumm say they plan to continue their awareness-building campaigns. SF Informatics has updated The Oil Age poster with the latest production figures and is targeting science teacher conferences in other states. To date, more than 3,500 posters have been donated to teachers.

Copies of The Oil Age poster can be purchased at http://www.oilposter.org. Qualified teachers can request a free poster for their classroom*. Donations to this self-funded project can be directed to http://www.oilposter.org.

*Currently limited to the U.S. and Canada

About SF Informatics

SF Informatics represents a group of concerned citizens committed to researching and communicating critical ecological and societal trends worldwide. Among its projects is a colorful, information-packed poster called The Oil Age that traces the history of oil production and displays the latest energy statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, BP Statistical Review and other industry sources. The poster was distributed through the offices of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) to every member of the House and Senate.

Copies of The Oil Age poster can be purchased at http://www.oilposter.org. To date, more than 3,500 posters have been donated to teachers worldwide. For more information: e-mail. For donations or to sponsor your city or state go to http://www.oilposter.org.

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RICHARD KATZ
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