Floyd Preston, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Kansas University, points to a saying written on the blackboard in his Learned Hall office as he makes a point about the current crisis in the Middle East.
"Oil is wealth, wealth is power, power is politics, oil is politics," the words on the blackboard say.
Preston, who has taught petroleum engineering at KU for 36 years, says it is important for Americans to understand that the amount of oil reserves in the Middle East is "mind-boggling."
But Preston also said that Americans, after going through several oil crises over the years, need to realize that something must be done soon to decrease the nation's almost complete dependence on oil for energy.
"We talk about the drug problem," he said. "We are so hooked on oil, we're like oil junkies."
PRESTON IS the first of two KU professors with expertise on the current crisis in the Middle East scheduled to speak at global issues seminars at KU over the next few weeks. The talks begin at 3:30 p.m. in the Pine Room of the Kansas Union.
Preston's talk, "Crisis in the Middle East: Oil and Technology," is scheduled for Friday.
On Sept. 7, Deborah Gerner, assistant professor of political science at KU, will talk on "Crisis in the Middle East: The Iraqi Invasion."
Gerner, who travels frequently to the Middle East and was in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank when Iraq attacked Kuwait, said tension among all people in the area is high.
Like Preston, Gerner pointed to oil as the reason for the U.S. troop buildup in Saudi Arabia, which borders Iraq.
"We certainly are not supporting democratic rights," she said about the countries in the region. Many of those nations are monarchies. "More than anything else, the right in question is of the United States and other industrial states to determine the price and quantity of petroleum."
ALTHOUGH SHE said she did not want in any way to endorse Iraq's invasion of Kuwait that resulted in a U.S.-led buildup of military forces to protect Saudi Arabia, Gerner said there are some underlying differences between what leaders of Arab states such as Saudi Arabia are doing in the crisis and what the Arab people think about the crisis.
"The fact that we see a number of Arab leaders condemning Saddam Hussein is a little misleading," she said. "A lot of Arab leaders don't represent the population."
Gerner said people of the Middle East want "renewed Arab unity and elimination of imperialistic influences" in the region.
"It's what Saddam Hussein symbolizes to people that causes them to rally around him," she said. "They do not necessarily support the invasion, but they see a leader standing up for the rights of Arabs."
Gerner also said the Israeli government had been "stirring up public opinion against Iraq even before the invasion," and said some Israelies who disagree with government policies expect Israel to attack Jordan and Iraq soon.
She noted that the Israeli government has passed out gas masks, but only to Israeli citizens and not to people in occupied lands controlled by Israel.
IN HIS TALK, Preston said he will try to impress people with the "awesome economic potential in the Middle East."
He pointed to the Reserve Potential Index, a gauge of the number of years of production left in an oil-producing country based on the amount of reserves divided by current production.
Using this index, which he said isn't a perfect measure because of changes in production capacity, Preston said Saudi Arabia now has 135 years worth of oil reserves; Iraq, without Kuwait, has 105 years of reserves; and Kuwait has 190 years of reserves.
Preston compared this with the reserves in the United States, which he said are equal to 8.7 years.
Looking at the long history of the many oil crises the United States has faced, Preston referred to the famous Yogi Berra quote "It's deja vu all over again.
"I don't know how we can get this thing turned around," he said. "We really, desperately need energy conservation on a very broad front. And we've got to get a national energy policy that decreases our dependence on petroleum and possibly other fossil fuels."