10/16/2007 07:00:00

Caltech Public Lectures Address Fossil-Fuel Supplies

Pasadena, Calif.--In his inaugural address, Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau stressed the importance of taking the lead in addressing energy production and consumption and the environmental issues related to them.

True to this theme, the upcoming Watson and Lauritsen public lectures will focus on the subject of fossil-fuel supplies. On Wednesday, October 17, David B. Rutledge, the Tomiyasu Professor of Electrical Engineering and chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech, will address the campus and Pasadena community in a Watson lecture about fossil-fuel production and climate change. On Tuesday, October 23, prominent oil-industry insider Matthew R. Simmons will talk about the consequences likely to follow the end of cheap and abundant fossil fuel.

In his Watson lecture, "Hubbert's Peak, the Coal Question, and Climate Change," Rutledge will discuss the timeline for exhausting fossil fuels and how this impacts climate-change predictions. Hubbert's peak refers to the prediction by geologist M. King Hubbard that the U.S. petroleum production rate would peak around 1970, after which the supply of cheap conventional oil would drop and prices would rise dramatically.

Rutlegde notes that little effort has been made to connect the debate about sufficient fossil-fuel resources to efforts to predict the climate change that will result from fossil-fuel consumption. Indeed, fossil fuels will run out long before the environmental impacts of their use come to an end.

The following week, Caltech welcomes Matthew R. Simmons, renowned investment banker, leading expert on the topic of peak oil, and author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. He will discuss why he thinks the world's supply of oil and gas is peaking now, and outline difficult choices the world will face when our addiction to using fossil-fuel energy is forcibly ended. He will also explain why far higher energy prices are a blessing, not a curse.

Caltech has offered the Watson Lecture Series since 1922, when the late Caltech physicist Earnest Watson conceived it as a way to explain science to the local community. The Lauritsen Memorial Lecture commemorates two former Caltech physics professors, Charles C. Lauritsen and Thomas Lauritsen. Together they served the Institute for more than 68 years, and their commitment to excellence played a significant role in Caltech's development and accomplishments.

Both lectures begin at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, at 332 S. Michigan Avenue, south of Del Mar Boulevard, on the Caltech campus in Pasadena. Seating is available on a free, no-ticket-required, first-come, first-served basis.

For more information, call (626) 395-4652. Outside the greater Pasadena area, call toll-free, 1(888) 2CALTECH (1-888-222-5832).

Written by elisabeth nadin