Richard Heinberg Speaks to European Parliament

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16 Mar 2007
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Peak Oil Discussed at European Parliament

On February 27 I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet with three members of the European Parliament, and to address a session of the Parliamentary Trade Committee on the subject of Peak Oil. All of this was arranged by members of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG)—and particularly by Caroline Lucas, Green Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from southeast England. Also along on this adventure were Debi Barker, Co-Director of IFG, and Victor Menotti, IFG Program Director.

After twenty minutes spent passing through security at the EU Parliament building in Brussels, the day continued with an hour-long breakfast with MEP Claude Turmes from Luxembourg, a member of the Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy. He and his assistant Frederic Thoma seemed well versed on energy issues in general, and highly sensitized to Europe’s precarious and growing dependence on gas and oil supplies from Russia.

The same could be said for Derek Taylor, Energy Advisor to the Parliament, with whom Caroline, Victor, and I met for an hour in the late morning. Taylor did not express any doubts about the notion of supply problems arising in the near future, but seemed pessimistic about the likelihood of significantly raising awareness about the issue, or achieving relevant policy breakthroughs, within the Parliament. (The EU Parliament, by the way, now has roughly 750 members who are affiliated with numerous parties and are elected directly by European citizens every five years; collectively the members speak over twenty languages. The Parliament began with largely symbolic status, but now has legislative powers regarding the functions of the European Commission.)

After the meeting with Derek Taylor came one with David Gow, European Business Editor of The Guardian, and still another with Anders Wijkman, MEP from Sweden. Wijkman had previously been briefed by ASPO President Kjell Aleklett and was therefore conversant with the basic evidence and arguments surrounding Peak Oil; he seemed genuinely interested in helping further the discussion within Parliament.

The culmination of the day consisted of a joint presentation to the Trade Committee, with nearly 100 MEPs and assistants present. Victor Menotti and I were each allotted ten minutes for our presentations; these were followed by about 30 minutes of questions, most of which focused on the information about Peak Oil.

In each of these meetings Victor spoke of the proposed new WTO energy rules which would in effect make it impossible for member nations to choose among energy sources (for example, to discriminate against fossil fuels in order to protect the climate or to reduce vulnerability to supply shortfalls). It seems unlikely that these rules will be accepted—if trade negotiators understand their meaning and impact. But this cannot be taken for granted, and Victor’s efforts in this regard are highly important (he has written a background paper on the subject that is available at www.ifg.org/reports/WTO-energy-services.htm)

Each of the one-on-one meetings that day seemed productive, and each of the MEPs with whom we met requested backup materials (including my slides and the Hirsch Report). It was my impression that, for most of the MEPs hearing the Peak Oil message that day, this was new and disturbing information. My experiences did not confirm the widely held view that world leaders know about Peak Oil and have secret plans to deal with it. In my opinion, this could only be true if the members of the European Parliament are not sufficiently highly placed in world leadership to be privy to such plans. That is entirely possible. However, a more likely explanation, it seems to me, is that few if any world leaders understand this enormous, impending dilemma or have any idea what to do about it.