Heinberg: How to Avoid Oil Wars, Terrorism, and Economic Collapse

Any minute now I'm going to read this essay by Richard Heinberg called "How to Avoid Oil Wars, Terrorism, and Economic Collapse". Liz at Sustenance and Jeff at Sustainablog have already given it the thumbs up.

I could've waited to post until I have commentary, but I'm not sure when that's going to happen. Why don't you get started instead?

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Heinberg's piece starts with a bold assumption: "By now most well-informed people are aware that ..."

My personal experience, and maybe I travel amongst ignorant people, is that most people deny almost everything that smells of bad news.

They deny that something is wrong with the eco-system:

They deny the significance of Global warming and climate cahnge (not the same things by the way)

They deny something is wrong with outsourcing aircraft maintenance ... not funny ... http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/americas/08/02/toronto.crash/index.html

They deny the significance of PO or that it will happen in their life time

They do worry About whether Paris Hilton will befriend J_lo or whatever .. sorry I don't keep up with that stuff

The Protocol would be an interesting exercise if indeed we had "well informed people" but we don't

Just "informing" them is a huge problem

Yep the problem is the average IQ is just too darn low. We need a good dictatorship. For something like this to accur. Anyways its all to late now. Economic collapse is inevitable.

Some of the steps this essay calls for are already occuring to some degree. Instead of maximizing production immediately, OPEC nations are opting for steady long-term production of their fields. They realize that with PO and a guaranteed steady rise in oil prices, it is more profitable to sell future oil than it is to achieve maximum production now with oil prices still relatively cheap. Only problem is that the demand-side of the equation is certainly not cooperating as the world's consumption levels continue to increase. My guess is that the there will be a sharp correction in demand once gas prices are near $5. At that point the mpg of a car is its most valuable asset, and cars which boast an mpg twice the current avg (21) will finally become popular. We can easily double our avg mpg as the technology already exists (hybrid, diesel, electric), it's just a matter of getting Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sixpack to realize that they will not be able to afford an escolade for each member of the household. High prices will certainly do that just as they have in Europe.

Off topic comment/question:

Did anyone notice that the latest ASPO depletion model in Campbell's newsletter combines gas and oil? Makes the drop off look slightly less catastrophic. For a second I thought he had made some stupendous error when I looked at the horizontal axis and the production levels he was showing. ; )

See: http://www.peakoil.ie/downloads/newsletters/newsletter56_200508.pdf

I wish that he had included a separate graph that modelled oil only.

the further along i read in that essay, the more and more it seemed like wishful thinking.

Name one thing (ONE THING!) that the collective of humanity has ever worked in total cooperation on? Our history as a species, and perhaps the very mechanism by which we came to be (DNA), is rigged into a constant power struggle. Each individual unit or tribe jockeying for even the slightest advantage and more than willing to spill blood to do so.

The only thing that i can think of would be polio elimination...and even after 17 years and billions of dollars and countelss volunteer hours of effort...it still ravages on...


I say our chances of working together as a species in a meaningful way as outlined in the protocol are 5 to 1 against. Our chances of continuing to repeat the past (war, opression, famine) are better than even money...the moment a mother hears her child cry in hunger, she will be more than willing to put knife to vein to squelch it. we will see the reemergence of and vast disgusting power contained within our lower brainstems this century. the neo-cortex will be thrown out with the bathwater as soon as the stomach rumbles.

and on that note...i need another drink....

Back on topic:

Most well informed people know absolutely nothing about peak oil, in my experience anyway. See Sen. Schumer as Exhibit A. For Exhibit B, I broached this topic with a relative who worked at a DC think tank until going off to a top law school recently and she looked at me like I was on drugs--she had never heard of such a thing in all her years of Washington seminars and think tank papers.

I suspect that many who have heard of it have never focused on it and probably lump it into the general category of one of many potential pending disasters (like global warming, loss of biodiversity, falling water tables, overpopulation, etc.)

Personal confession: I first heard about peak oil in the late 90s when I stumbled upon dieoff.com while surfing the web. Peak oil was just one of many disturbing trends explored on that site and, not knowing whether the site was credible, I surfed on. I didn't take a serious look at PO until 2004 after I read an article by Klare (I believe) in The Nation.

How many people who are exposed to PO in an article simply "surf on" not knowing whether the threat is credible? I suspect that among the relatively few that have been exposed to the concept, quite a few ignore it and move on. Call it denial, desensitivity, or ADD---most people are not going to focus on something like this until they are living the crisis.

As complement to JLA's post, this from Reuters today...

The incentives have also let the domestic automakers pump up sales of fuel-thirsty pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. The highly profitable models have been hurt by sagging demand this year in the face of rising U.S. gasoline prices...Ford said it sold 126,905 of F-Series pickups in July, up 58 percent from a year ago and more than any other vehicle in a single month since the Model T of the 1920s. GM, meanwhile, said sales of its full-sized pickups were up nearly 55 percent, while sales of its SUVs rose to an all-time high.


It really is all about sales, profit and growth for the corporations isn't it? How depressing.

I respectfully disagree with your suggestion that the human brain is fixedly programmed to respond in one and only one way; i.e. wait for disaster to strike and then throw the neocortex out with the bathwater in a desparate but futile attempt to save the baby.

I very much agree with you that Peak Oilers need to become aware of concepts like "primitive brain stem" and "neocortex" and "limbic layer" so that they can systematically alert others in the population who possess such equipment (aka the human brain).

If you had to pick one population segment that will react with uncontained energy to save the species, then you are wise as Solomon to realize that a mother will do anything to save her baby once she realizes the baby is in peril.

There lies one of the magic keys to saving the species.

stepback: of course i did not mean that all brains are wired to respond this way only. i am implying that as a collective, as has been demonstrated countless times through history, and on varying scales, the sum total of our reaction will tilt in that direction. probably enough to make the outcome quite dark.

and yes, that may be a magic key...but it also has the unfortunate side effect of diminishing the mothers ability to think rationally while simultaneously motivating her to move faster and faster. there may be uncontained energy there...how it will be focused is what i find truly frightening. i've seen too many examples of irrational mothers to be convinced that they, as a group, will take actions that will move us toward a collective solution...the least common denominator seems to be self-ISH-ness not self-LESS-ness...


Unfortunately for Americans, women in government generally have "hypo-Momism" - they take on the masculine perspective within which they have to work in Federal and State government. They sever those relationships they formerly cherished, because now they have to keep secrets like the men do, and play Machiavellian games. They are not usually happy like this, and tend to get very disconnected from traditional Mom-interests except in an abstract "get more votes" kind of way. Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and THE Ms. Rice are some fine examples of the shriveled Mommy gland... thus it would need to be something grass-roots which the politicians would have to pay attention to...hmmm...

Threaten the cubs and stepback is right - Moms will unite, and drag their football-watching, poker-playing, truck-buying spouses along. When the issue is laid out as disaster for "the children", things can get rolling. Maybe this is the tack to take..???

Heinberg is too much of a utopian socialist for his ideas to ever catch on, unless everybody dies off except those living in ashrams....

I think that all of our current models about how people think about this topic are predicated on the notion that what is going to happen in the future is what has happened in the past. That is, all that is going to happen is that gasoline is going to get more expensive. In that case your pessimism is well founded because I think we have done that experiment. Demand is inelastic. People will bitch a bit about it but in the end they fill it up and put it on the credit card. Eventually they refinance the house and pay off the card and the whole cycle starts over again.

But the fact is that what is going to happen isn't what has happened in the past. It isn't just that the price is going to go up. It is that there are going to be physical shortages. There will be closed gas stations and lines at gas stations that are open. This not higher prices will force people to re-think their assumptions and give serious thought to the unthinkable. Under those conditions public sentiment can change almost overnight. If you didn't live through the oil embargos of the late seventies you can't understand how quickly public perceptions can change. Only this time there will be no quick fix.

That is why it is important that we have the narrative out there to explain the phenomena when it happens. There will be others out there trying to exploit the basest nature of the population in response to these events. We will need to counter this with the truth.

SW -

Our generation hasn't been through this, but other civilizations have. That is what makes me both sleepless and hopeful. The big question this time is; "Are we smart enough to take the right path, now that we know what destroyed these previous civilizations?"

Peak oil will not go away - civilization as we know it today is much more likely to change, and drastically. If we migrate to nuclear or coal in an attempt to avoid the hard choices, we are still on the same hamster wheel, just forcing the tough choice on the next generation, who may have even less available technological resource due to the disruptions we caused. Nuclear and coal have the same depletion curve - they aren't generational solutions.

Goes bacl to that quote from Hoyle that J used - we got one shot at this, and then it is over...

The quote that the depletion protocol brings to mind is from Benjamin Frankin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence ""We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
Unfortunately I expect wealthy nations to try to outbid each other, oil rich nations to use oil to increase their power, and well armed nations to try to take it. Thus we will all hang separately.


Not so fast, but you are on the right track.
It is never enough to unite and instigate just the Sally soccer-moms.
We need to hit multipe demographics at the same time with what are called "mixed messages". One message hits many demogrphic groups at the same time on different levels of conciousness.

It's easier said than done.

Now while Soccer Sally will sacrifice her life if Solomon raises the sword over her cubs --Sixpack Sam is not going to go that far. He will be pulled by other factors.

sam Sixpack may want to be seen as defender of the cub pack --the alpha of the house so to speak. So we need an image that provokes that instinct while at the same time hitting Sally on the save-your-cubs level.

Here's a crude example: A cartoon picture showing a proud Pappa bear buying an Eco-Tech Zero-Emmisions Family-Mobile for Protecting smiling Mamma Bear and the Cubs from the threat of Global Pollution. A memorable banner goes underneath like: "The EchoTech Way --It keeps the Asthma away --From thriving cubs and Beary Happy Family"

This image lets Pappa bear preserve his image as the tech savvy head of the cave and protector of the family while making mamma bear feel she is preserving the family unit. win win for both egos

of course, all this stuff needs focus groups to see what thought patterns each word and image triggers in the general populace You don't want to rub anybody the wrong way

As for Hillary Clinton. She's easy. She already told us. Make this a "voting issue" and then I'll back it up. She is a pragmatic politician.

I guess I missed something. Where does the avoidance of war, terrorism, etc get *derived* from the proposal? It's a catchy headline by Heinberg, but I just don't see those issues, and their causes, really being addressed here.

About the actual proposed Accord, all I can say is that it might have a moderating effect upon the oil market, so if you are a trader in futures your nerves might be a bit calmer.


PS Has anyone considered that said Accord might actually encourage invasions/takeovers?

Wishful thinking!
We are on the verge already of an energy crisis. I'd ike to know how the ave Joe sickpack will move from Big factory farms to small farms non the less these ideas...Farming is extremely difficult. Farming also requires a large knowledge base.And alot of petrol imputs for a good crop yeild. Today's generation has enough knowledge to answer their cell phone or watch MTV. that's about it. Most adults in America are so busy surviving our schitzhophrenic economy that they can't even think about peak oil. They also do not want to admit that it is coming.
If these measures were put in place about the 1970's time I could see...But we seen when one wanted to place these measusres the resistance in one nation alone non the less the entire world.

Wishful thinking is what made our modern world what it is. Before Thomas Edison succeeded in electrifying the world with his inventions, he wished for it. He dreamed up new ideas and then he made them happen.

You are right. America is sleeping even as the "headwinds" (Greenspan's name for it) of the Freak Oil Storm blow over our borders and through our walled off streets. But America's sleeping generation can be awakened from their slumber to take on this challenge with revolutionary speed. They are smart. They are energetic. All they need is a rallying call.

As for big land agri-business, there is no way to immediately reverse the advantage of economies of scale there. However, if we start electrifying the fields, then farmers can drive electrically-powered farm equipment through for plowing and harvesting and pest control rather than relying on fossil fuels. Those windmills on the farms may be needed in the end just to power the farm.

As for survival in this schizophrenic society, you are not alone. Many of us are feeling the pressures of the downslope headwinds and are afraid to admit it. Like everything else, we deny that something is seriously wrong with the way the system is operating. It's not you. It's the matrix. I wish I knew of some sane way to run a society so that people are encouraged to work productively and yet they do not become slaves to the machine. Just speaking about it may help. Maybe someone out there has ideas and they are afraid to speak them out. Maybe not.

"I wish I knew of some sane way to run a society so that people are encouraged to work productively and yet they do not become slaves to the machine. Just speaking about it may help. Maybe someone out there has ideas and they are afraid to speak them out. Maybe not."


Start with the money.

Current money systems reward divide-and-conquer and are inherently unsustainable with their requirements for interest. Growth is forced. We need a money system that rewards stability and cooperation.

Implementing and making use of alternative money systems in our communities will help achieve independance (or healthy interdependance).

This way people can come together, identify a problem, and put resources together to solve it.

But nobody will take the idea of a non-government backed fiat currency seriously right now. So, first we need to wait until the civilization is irreversibly in decline. Then people will be willing to embrace a new form of money. Just dont embrace the wrong kind. When the failing governments tell you that they can gurantee you'll be able to buy food if you agree to get a digitalAngel chip implanted and work in work camps to pay back the food, then you know you are being tempted into the WRONG new money system. When the people in the community start doing transactions and accounting amongst themselves for distribution of resources and invite you to join the trading network, then you know you have discovered something good.

If it is interest bearing and centrally controlled by 13 families, it is bad. If it is open and distrubuted and controlled by the participants, it is good. Right now all we really have is the bad.

At least there are plans for some good currencies. People like me are thinking about these things.

The Oil Drum is probably not the best site for far reaching discussions like this.

Can anyone suggest alternate blog sites? Thanks.

I see Peak Oil as being merely one of many symptoms that there is something wrong with the system we have been raised to worship and praise.

The system has worked somewhat well over the last 300 years, but now the machine is driving itself mindlessly towards the ledge with regard to Oil, Natural Gas, Global Warming, Religious Fundamentalism, etc. etc.

We are all standing here, dumbstruck and powerless to stop its relentless "progress" towards collapse. Some people are even cheering on for the collapse to happen quickly and with great fanfare. I don't understand that attitude.

In so far as basic interactions of a given person with others, you should be able to step back and see at least a few different kinds:

1) Person X is motivated to do/give something of "value" to another under expectation that the person X will receive back something of equal or greater "value" --but then comes the stickier question of what is the fair "value"?

2) Person X is motivated to do/give something of "value" to another *without* expectation that the person X will immediately or ever receive back something

3) Person X is motivated to do-harm/take something of "value" from another *without* expectation that the person X will have to pay back (account) for what X has done

The list can of course go on and be divided into a complex concept map

The use and abuse of Oil, including taking/buying it by force and dumping CO2 into the atmosphere without "accounting" for such externalities is just one branch of a large tree.

Snowball's chance in you know where.

The only systems that work are those that support the players' self-interest, like capitalism and the market economy and singles bars. This proposal has too many holes and too many rewards for cheating.

Pain sharing never has a constitutancy.


Very interesting perspective of the universe

What do you call it when a suicide-bomber-murderer-terrorist takes those around him/her to Allah land when they blow themselves up? No constituency? Last throes of the battle? this is pure denial of facts ... the facts do not match with the Adam Smithian theory of the universe

Also, what do you call it when your mommy wiped your hinney when you were a babe & you did not pay her back? no constituency ? i guess that business model is out the door ;-)


Humans, like most social animals, have a "altruism" gene. We all make sacrifices to some degree on some occasions to the greater social good. We are capable of risking our lives for the good of others but, scientists and common sense tell us, the closer we are genetically, the stronger the impetus. It only goes so far.

Nation-states, are usually even more cold-blooded than individuals. As Washington said, nations don't have friends, only interests.

Sorry if you don't agree but I'll place my bets on self-interest in this case. Someone will cheat and screw everyone else. Think the House of Saud or the French will give up any advantage to help the US?

You can argue for Utopia if you chose.

I'm for Utopia, mush. You?

Pinchy -

You're dead on with the money deal. It is that system which actually rewards resource depletion and wealth concentration. It is what got us into this mess. If stepback doesn't agree, then he hasn't dug deep enough. There is a reason that people gather, hoard and distribute resources. For our culture, it isn't religious zeal and status - it is wealth and hence, power.

But in the above discussion, what motivates and rewards people to do these bad things? In a word - money, which gives leverage and power when enough is concentrated. Right now, corporations are the big money wells, while people have little. But part of the problem is the corporate people trying to achieve their individual rewards based on their corporate policies and goals. These each build on the other, and soon everybody is trying to screw, cajole, obfuscate or finagle any advantage they can to get their bonus - money, in one form or another.

The mopney system is wrong - it forces bad choices on everybody, including resource depletion.

"The money system is wrong - it forces bad choices on everybody, including resource depletion."

Now there's a plan! Rid the world of money and our problems disappear.

Why didn't I think of that? Instead, I demand a paycheck for designing nuclear reactors. Guess I'm part of the problem.

Pinchy, you argue:
"The money system is wrong - it forces bad choices on everybody, including resource depletion."

That's a noble thought, but money is a brainless medium of exchange. It does not force anything. People, not bucks, make the choices. And people are driven by their cultures. If the culture in which you were cultivated encourages you to buy Hummers, then you will be prone to spending your discretionary dollars on Hummers.

If the Hummer sucks gobs of gas --oh well.
We live in a "corporate culture".
The prime directive of corporate culture is to maximize short term profit at all legal cost. So, if it's free and legal to dump CO2 waste product into the atmosphere --oh well, that's what's going to happen. If it is relatively cheap and legal to build fossil fuel based, "engines of prosperity" --then oh well, that's what corporations are going to do. They were born to do it. It is corporate nature.

I'm not against corporations. I'm against the currently extant corporate culture. The two are not one and the same.

Speaking of Guns, Germs, Oil and Blood
here are two oil related items from Common Dreams

Will you join us? Sorry not for this if true:

Happy Times Are Here Again --Kunstler:

"Common Dreams"?

Is that anything like "Visualize World Peace"?

It's not just for "dreamers".
Some of the writers are talking serious nightmare here:
The Twilight Era of Petroleum
by Michael T. Klare