A Conversation with Richard Heinberg

I caught up with Richard Heinberg, author of The Party's Over and Powerdown at the recent Peak Oil and Community Solutions Conference. Here's the conversation.

SS: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

RH: I grew up in several towns in Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa in the 1950s and ‘60s. Went to the University of Iowa where I studied violin performance and fine art -- painting. Then I quit school during the Vietnam war as an undergraduate. Iowa was one of the schools shut down by protests and riots during the war and I was an active participant in those. From there I taught myself how to play electric guitar and played in rock bands for about seven years, and realized that the music business was not going in a particularly productive direction and there was more I wanted to do in my life than play music. I became a writer and lived in a number of intentional communities.

SS: Which ones?

RH: One in Toronto, Canada called Society of Integrated Living, SOIL for short; one in Colorado called Sunrise Ranch

SS: Which is a spiritual community?

RH: That’s right. In the early ‘90s my wife and I moved from an intentional community in Southern California called Glen Ivy up to Santa Rosa and I decided from that point on I would make my living completely as a writer. I wrote several books on environmental spiritual themes, one called "Celebrate the Solstice," another "A New Covenant with Nature." Then toward the end of the ‘90s I read a Colin Campbell/Jean Laherrere article in Scientific American, and that set some gears going. I got on the energy resources list and started reading Jay Hanson's “Die Off” web site and all the links and recommended readings there. It basically turned my whole world around. I had written a whole book criticizing industrialism and the whole industrial revolution without any reference at all to energy (laughs). This completely reorganized my thinking.

I imagined that somebody else would write the definitive book on peak oil, some petroleum geologist would do it because I didn't feel I was qualified to do it . I was waiting for somebody to come out with such a book but it wasn't happening. At a certain point I said well, this is too important to wait, and at least I know how to write a decent book. I had edited a bunch of books for other authors, I had worked for a publisher - I figured, maybe I can contribute that to this cause, even if I'm not an expert. At the time I didn't think The Party’s Over would be as successful as it has been. It's been very gratifying to see the response that's come from that book.

SS: Are the roots of your social and political development in the Vietnam war protests originally?

RH: That definitely was a mind changing event, but it was in the air. I remember in the early 1970s giving a talk at a college in Toronto, where I was living at the time, where I predicted that by the end of the 20th century there would no longer be car companies and that civilization would have changed profoundly and we'd all be growing organic food, and all of these things…obviously that didn't happen. I was wrong. Maybe I was just a decade off.

SS: I think that in this question of how one relates to peak oil, there are some people who hear the facts and think, "Oh we'll be fine, we're all going to think of something, this must be a soluble problem"; and there are other people who hear it and think, "Oh what are we going to do", and begin to focus on the difficulties of solving the problem. We often come with some personal factors which determine whether we take an optimistic stance or a pessimistic stance. Do you think there's anything that shapes the way you react to it that you've identified, that you're comfortable talking about?

RH: I'm sure there are a lot of people who pick up The Party’s Over and read it and think of me as a doom-and-gloomer. That was the substance of most of the comments and feedback I was getting in the first year or two after the book was published. But now I find people coming up to me and saying, “Thanks for being so hopeful.” It's very strange. I think other people have published books that were more doom-and-gloom than The Party’s Over like The Long Emergency, and by comparison I look like a moderate and even sometimes hopeful. I think it's important that people either come away from a lecture or a book with a sense of what they can do, some possibility, because if you're just giving people the message that the end is coming and there's nothing you can do about it you're not doing them that much of a favor. If you have terminal cancer I guess it's better to tell the person they have terminal cancer rather than hide it from them, but it's better still if you can tell them, hey, if you change your lifestyle, stop smoking and all of these things maybe you can prolong your life and have a better quality.

SS: I love the cover of The Party’s Over, where did it come from?

RH: A British publishing company, Clairview, bought the rights and got their own designer and the minute I saw it I said, "That's way better than our cover". I called my publisher and said, "We have to buy the rights to that." All the printings since the first printing have had that other cover.

SS: How do you track progress toward peak: are there particular indicators you look at on a regular basis that give you a sense on how it's evolving?

RH: I'm doing what everyone else is doing, looking to the people who are doing the studies, watching what studies are coming out. When Chris Skrebowski comes out with something…I was interested to read this thing from Rembrandt Koppelaar. Whenever anybody’s actually crunching the numbers, I pay attention to that. Opinions are easy, I can spout my own opinion as to when it will happen, but I'm not one of the people actually doing the studies; I'm a reporter. So I have to rely primarily on data from international energy agencies, OPEC, whoever is releasing numbers, and then from the people who understand the significance of those numbers and can actually put them into some context and interpret them. People like Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrere and Matt Simmons, even. I listen to them and each of them has a slightly different view of the numbers. You have to take that into account, and say why is this person a little more pessimistic. It's a full time job keeping up with it all. I spend 3-4 hours a day reading all the web sites and what's been published over the last 24 hours.

SS: You have the likes of CERA coming out with significantly more optimistic projections than the various peak oil figures. What do you think is going on?

RH: CERA has been very wrong before. They made some very optimistic projections about North American natural gas as recently as 2000 that were completely wrong. That was at a time, or very near the time, when Matt Simmons was making some projections about American natural gas that were much more pessimistic and much more accurate. I look at that and some of the rebuttals to the CERA report on your site and elsewhere are very convincing to me. I think the CERA folks are dramatically underestimating the power of depletion. When we see Norway's production going down in the range of 10% a year, we need enormous amount of production capacity over the next few years to fend off that degree of depletion. What’s going to happen when Canterell starts down that slope? It takes a lot to offset that kind of depletion and I don't think the CERA people are taking it that seriously. And they overestimate what we can get through non-conventional resources, like the tar sands. They seem to be much more economistic in their thinking. For instance, if the tar sands are economical to produce then throwing more money at them will translate into higher rates of production. I just don't believe that.

SS: It's clear that existing expansion plans don't look adequate. Once society realizes that and panics, why can't we ramp them up rapidly?

RH: Certainly, more resources will go in that direction but there are basic physical constraints. Shell's process of removing oil from shale, it's an ingenious method but I can't imagine producing millions of barrels a day, it would be mind boggling. The scale of the technology, the infrastructure that would be required to do that…

SS: You don't think it can be scaled that fast

RH: I don’t think it can be scaled that fast, no. I really don't.

SS: At this conference there's been a strong sense in the audience, summarized very nicely by John Ikerd this morning, essentially saying the industrial revolution was a mistake and we've made ourselves dependent on all these non-renewable resources and we need to go back to where we went wrong, back before we started using these non-renewable resources. Which to me suggests an 18th century level of economy and output. The 18th century population is about a 10th of what we're going to have here before long, we’ll easily reach nine or ten billion. Do you have some basis for thinking we can feed that many people with that kind of level of energy?

RH: I think we probably can't. We're approaching the population bottleneck. I write in both of my books about the population problem and make a few suggestions, not original with me but suggestions from people who understand population issues, as to how we can gradually reduce global population. I'm not particularly saying we're going to do any of those things, I think that over the course of the 21st century we'll see a culling of the population by starvation and famine and epidemics.

SS: When we're making choices -- say like nuclear power -- suppose it were the case that we were able to ramp up nuclear power, and that would allow society to have more energy and not as many people would have to die, wouldn't we be obliged to just do it?

RH: Maybe there is a scenario in which that’s possible; I tend to doubt it. I see this discussion in a larger ecological context, because that's what I teach – I'm not a trained ecologist, but I do teach human ecology, I managed to educate myself in the science of ecology over the years. I see the energy problem, the problem with fossil fuel depletion, in the larger context of the ecological dilemma: the population pressure, resource depletion, habitat destruction. The only way to solve that ultimately is to scale down the human project. You can't solve it by simply replacing one resource for another that’s becoming scarce – you can ameliorate the problem temporarily, but it will only come up in another guise. Maybe oil or natural gas is the first resource to be depleted, but what's next? Will it be topsoil or fresh water or copper? There's a whole list that's depleting quickly. The only answer is to reduce the per capita rate of consumption of resources and reduce the population. We can't do that in an organized way, and I think we've shown that we can’t, with a few exceptions. China has experienced less population growth than it would have otherwise but the population is still growing. If we can't do it in an organized, cooperative, deliberate way, then nature will do it for us.

SS: The lessons from Cuba do seem to be the best one can find of a society that was faced with a similar issue and handled it about as well as one can imagine handling it.

RH: I think so.

SS: What do you think are the lessons of that?

RH: There are a lot of lessons for the U.S. in the experience of Cuba. As dysfunctional as planned economies can be, and socialist governments can be, there was an advantage in this instance in that they were able to make decisions quickly and change their modes of agricultural production rapidly. One person could say, “This is the way we’re going to go,” and cause a whole chain of responses within the system. They could decide to pay agricultural workers better than urban engineers and that would happen overnight. It's a very difficult scenario to imagine that happening in the U.S. with a diversified economy and a political class that is so deeply corrupt and dysfunctional. So, lessons from the U.S. will have to be learned by individuals and small groups who are willing to learn them. The U.S. government is not likely to learn many lessons from Cuba because I don't think they're paying attention. I wish it were otherwise.

SS: In history, when societies get into crisis, you sometimes see great people emerge as leaders that you might not have expected. For example, in the Great Depression we have FDR. Then on the other hand you can look at Weimar Germany, where they elected Adolf Hitler. Crisis will certainly bring out something different in us. What do you think it might be?

RH: In the U.S. I'm sad to say, the deep leadership, not the people we elect but the people who are actually making the decisions, are aware of the general trend of events. They see the American standard of living cannot be supported. Rather than informing the American people of this and asking for a national consensus based on a shared willingness to cooperatively reduce living standards, what they're doing is to quietly put in place the mechanisms for an authoritarian regime. When the time comes they will enforce that on the American people. How that will come about, when, I don't know.

SS: You're not optimistic about us finding an FDR?

RH: Maybe there's someone waiting in the wings who could be the benevolent dictator under these circumstances but I don't see that person out there. The American political system has been eviscerated in terms of democracy - in my opinion the last two presidential elections were fraudulent. At this point if there is a benevolent dictator in the wings, it’s not going to be somebody we actually elect, or if we happen to elect them it will only be a coincidence that we vote for the person the elites have chosen for us. It’s not a very happy place to be in, but the evidence I see points to it.

SS: Could you tell me about New College?

RH: New College is a small private college in Northern California started back in the ‘70s by some idealistic leftists. Its main campus is in San Francisco and teaches courses on social justice issues. About 8 years ago they decided they wanted to have a satellite campus that focused more on environmental issues, so I was hired to design the curriculum for the Santa Rosa campus. We’re doing some pretty exciting things there, particularly the BA program there is education for a post-petroleum world. We teach our students ecological agriculture, natural home building, and the year-long program is designed so that students get a clear understanding of how the modern industrial world came to be, with its roots all the way back to the very beginning of agriculture itself. It’s an education in not only ecology but cultural anthropology, history. On top of that with every subject we explore, whether it be economics or technology or food and agriculture, we also look at sustainable alternatives that are happening in the world today, who are those leaders in those fields and what are they doing, what can we take away from what they’re doing to implement in our lives. Students come into New College and usually within the first month or two they become extremely depressed because they had no idea that things in the world are nearly as bad as they actually are. Then usually by the end of the year they’re, if not hopeful, then highly motivated because they’ve been given the tools to actually do things in their lives. They realize the information they have is very important because not many people have this information and therefore they have a sense of mission in their lives that they can actually be of value to their families and communities with this knowledge.

SS: There’s a new edition of The Party’s Over?

RH: Yes, it’s out now. It’s substantially revised and much improved. All of the data is updated, there's some spiffy new graphs, and an afterword. The first edition came out before the Iraq invasion had occurred, so the timeline is updated.

SS: Tell us about how you use the Oil Drum.

RH: Oh, I check in on the Oil Drum at least a couple of times a day. I look at EnergyBulletin.net to see what the latest articles are in the press, and then Oil Drum is the only site I go to for discussion because I find the discussion there is much better informed than any of the other peak oil sites. And with the hurricanes, I found the resources there for keeping up with what was actually happening on the ground, both with Katrina and Rita, were better than any other site.

My thanks to Tamsen Merrill for transcribing the tape - SS

It's interesting to hear the PERSON behind the famous book! Thanks, Stuart, for the good questions that let Heinberg talk. Somehow the conversation contexts Heinberg's stands on things --like stolen elections-- that make him easier to hear, even though I still have trouble with the notion of an intentional "elite conspiracy". (I wonder if he'll ever write a book on the coming authoritarianism). Yes or no, his PO/human-ecology work is solid and clear. I think his observations about population trends in the 21st century are 'right on the money' --i.e., ecologically and energetically based, and realistic instead of gloomy.
He actually mentioned on another occasion that he's working on another book on the oil depletion protocol.
"even though I still have trouble with the notion of an intentional "elite conspiracy". "

It might be easier to think of this as "prudent planning" for those who have the luxury and very deep pockets to think in generational terms.

Great interview.  He mentioned something that has interested me for a while....

"RH: In the U.S. I'm sad to say, the deep leadership, not the people we elect but the people who are actually making the decisions, are aware of the general trend of events. They see the American standard of living cannot be supported. Rather than informing the American people of this and asking for a national consensus based on a shared willingness to cooperatively reduce living standards, what they're doing is to quietly put in place the mechanisms for an authoritarian regime. When the time comes they will enforce that on the American people. How that will come about, when, I don't know."

Who are these people, the "deep leadership...who are actually making the decisions"?  I haven't read Heinberg's book yet, so forgive me if he's already covered this.  I would just be interested in knowing who these people are, so that I can watch what they are doing to prepare for what's coming.

I generally agree with the concept of peak oil, but from everything I have read, it's hard for me to decide whether it's an immediate problem or a problem for 30 years from now.  I guess if I could watch watch the actions of certain powerful, influential people (i.e., people who should have good information), and their actions are consistent with somebody who is preparing for life after the peak, that would help me decide whether the problem is imminent.

Of course you can look at folks like Cheney, Rove, Wolfowitz, etc. But the elites that are really "behind" (or simply confused) about all this reside in places like boards of Wall Street, senior positions at the CIA, consultants for either organization, CEOs and other people who are very powerful, and often wealthy. That is not say that there is some grand conspiracy or meetings of "America's Elites" per se. I would encourage you to look at the idea of elites as a structural thing. Our capitalistic/government subsidized structure encourages the consolidation of ridiculous amounts of wealth and power. If you are one of those "lucky few" you either give it all away (as some do) or figure out how you're going to hold onto (given the information you have), or land somewhere in between. I guess when you see all the super super wealthy/powerful moving into exclusive neighborhoods, taking their money out of stocks, pacifying the public through coerced consent (in corporate media), and activating the frameworks (that have existed for a while now in some cases) for authoritarian rule you would be advised to be afraid. Much, if not all of that has happened. It may not be blatantly obvious, and frankly yelling that there is an elite conspiracy from every street corner is probably not the best approach, but keeping in mind the following things will probably be a good guide. All those rich people A) do not deserve what they have B) probably don't care about you all that much C) really want to hold onto it, at all costs, and are probably smart enough to do it.

And as for knowing when we're on the peak, "we won't know until after the fact" and neither will they, but as can be seen now, it is pretty clear we're approaching the plateu (or hopefully the mountain pass).

I'm not sure about this notion of a structural "deep elite." Warren Buffet would certainly qualify as a member of this elite, but his political views bear very little resemblance to the Bush administration's. As for your point about "all those rich people who do not deserve what they have": what does "deserve" mean, anyway? Do you really want the government to take all the money from the rich because they don't "deserve" it and give it to others whom the government thinks are somehow more "deserving"? I believe we already ran that experiment in the 20th century. It didn't work out so well.

Your other points are truisms. It ain't only the rich who don't really care about other folks, and it ain't only the rich who want to keep what they have.

P. D. Scott, in his book "Deep Politics and the Death of JFK" gives what I think is the canonical elucidation of deep politics or deep leadership.  He maintains that it is not in any sense a conspiracy.  It is simply that there are a number of people and organizations in our society that have large amounts of non-political power, but whose actions impinge on the political arena.  They end up reinforcing each other, not because there are any agreements (formal or informal) in place, but simply because their interests and actions are aligned.  Scott identifies the traditional military-industrial complex, other large corporations, the intelligence agencies and organized crime as major players.  To this I think today we can add right-wing religious movements - especially those with a Dominionist flavour.

It's not that they set out to create a "shadow government" - it's just that power works always for its own advantage, and those with money will always seek to pull the political levers.  The fact that all this lever-pulling has similar goals even though it comes from many different organizations is what gives the appearance of a layer of extra-political government.

Personally, I think Scott is being too charitable.  While his analysis might have been accurate in the early '60s, ever since the Chamber of Commerce memorandum by Lewis Powell in 1971 this accidental alignment has become much more organized and intentional.

It makes sense to me that because people with similar interests, degrees of wealth and world views will act in an aligned way, there is no need for a conscious conspiracy to exist for it to appear that there is. There appears to be a conspiracy when there is mainly a cohesion of values, interests, and goals among people of similar backgrounds and wealth. Since people in the 'deep leadership' stratum of society also have a lot of corporate, institutional and governmental clout, naturally their perspectives, values and interests are going to show up in the decisions made by the governing bodies of corporations, institutions and government. This overall picture doesn't preclude sub-sets of the 'deep leadership' having highly intentional programs for achieving what I'll call retrogressive (or authoritarian) ends. For example, Tom DeLay (more a demagogue than a 'deep leader') and his pals were highly intentional in their makeover of Congressional districting in Texas.
Add to that a little cronyism, and a little bit of overlap and connections between the groups, and you get a lot of back-channel communication that can help to synchronize their separate efforts. That doesn't require conspiracy; just communication that's not completely open.

Remember that it doesn't take a lot of people to make a really big mess of things. How many did it take to set the corporate culture at Enron? Or to destroy FEMA?

Regarding the whole issue of "Deep Leadership:"  There is a classic book by left-wing sociologist C. Wright Mills which discusses this topic.  It is called THE POWER ELITE, "power elite" being essentially a synonym for "Deep Leadership."  Even though it came out in 1956, I think many of its lines of analysis have enduring value.  In some way, I think, its relevance as a classic for the Peak Oil movement is analogous to that of William Catton's OVERSHOOT.
I don't think Heinberg formulated much of a "conspiracy theory" at all. Basically all he said is that insofar as any long term choices are being made at all, they're not  being made by elected politicians but by the people who own the elected politicians; that those people are more or less aware that our "non-negotiable" American Way of Life is unsustainable; and their choices are moving us in the direction of authoritarian government to deal with that fact.

I'm not sure exactly how true all that is -- obviously it's something whose truth could be a matter of degree -- but it's not obviously wacky, as some commenters here seem to think.

Once again Stuart, thanks for putting all of this together for us. Ianqui and I have our work cut-out for us at the Petrocollapse conference next week. You've set quite a high journalistic standard.
Ridge - I don't know who the "deep leaders" are - I suspect they're hard to see even if you want to.  But take a look at what their front men - the Bush Administration - are doing for an insight into their thinking.  They're engaging in a hugely unpopular war to secure a big chunk of the dwindling lifeblood of corporate society.  They're establishing bases in central Asia to have a further foothold in one of the last regions that may harbor significant exploitable reserves.  They're rattling their sabers at Iran, another major producer, but one that has national control of their own resource.  And the media, which is just another front for the corporate power brokers, are asking no hard questions about this path, and virtually ignoring anyone who does - like the quarter million who swamped the streets of DC last weekend.  The signs are everywhere...
There was an interesting article in counterpunch by Paul Craig Roberts on Iran and Korea. Quite disturbing.


So now we know...

Timothy Leary had more credibility.

If we need to reduce population without tragedy, the only way that's worked so far is... a Western standard of living.

If we have the kind of economic drawback where people have to choose between heating and food, how much are they going to be spending on birth control?

If we have a back-to-the-land scenario where everyone has to spend hours growing veggies, what will that do to education?

If our entertainment-based culture breaks down, if even electricity is scarce, what will people do after dark?

I pretty much agree that economics can't provide new capacity with existing technology--and existing technology doesn't look environmentally sustainable anyway. I don't know if technology can advance fast enough to keep our civilization going; there are some very hopeful possibilities, but they may take more time than we have.

But the idea that collapse of civilization will reduce population seems very questionable. It will surely increase the birth rate. The only way to reduce population with increased birthrate is to kill lots and lots of young people.

Think about that for a minute. Remember in the Old Testament, where God told people to bash babies' brains against a rock? Or, more recently, when babies weren't even named until they'd survived for a year?

If we actually need to reduce population, we have only two choices. 1) Better technology--fast. 2) Unimaginable horror.


CP: I think your options are too extreme.  There are ways to have a "soft landing."  (Although if you can't imagine life without shopping in a mall, that might feel like  "unimaginable horror.")  A soft landing, however, will require some careful planning.  The longer we go without facing reality, the worse it will be.
And we are choosing not to face reality right now. I would say teh potential for a "soft" landing flew out the window sometime in the 1970s/80s for everyone on the earth. I think its falling away very fast (if not lost already) for those of us in America. (see ecological damage, overpopulation, drawdown of valuable metals (like iron ore near the surface))
I said, "IF we actually need to reduce population." There are scenarios in which we don't. Those are soft-landing scenarios.

What I'm objecting to is the assumption that lower population will somehow only mean killing off the existing surplus population. If we get into a dieoff or collapse scenario in Western nations, birth rates will go way up.

It's not that soft landing scenarios don't exist. It's just that they are incompatible with steep population declines.

The only known ways to get population declines are:

  1. Massive oppression (and even that doesn't really work; see China)
  2. Western standard of living (slow, and requires significant energy)
  3. Massive tragedy

Note that Western living doesn't mean U.S.  Europe uses half our energy, and has sub-replacement birthrate. And as computers get more efficient, we'll be able to have at least some aspects of Western culture (entertainment, data-processing, communications) even in extreme oil-scarcity scenarios. Already, iPods and cell phones cost about the same as a tank of gas for a Hummer.

As to depletion of valuable metals: Non-metallic materials can fill that gap to some extent. I was just at a robot trade show, and some of the biggest industrial robots now have major structural parts made out of carbon fiber.


I guess what I mean by "soft landing" is one in which population declines by means other than starvation, etc.  Mostly it means poeple choosing to have fewer children.
Pardon me for saying this but,  where are you going to get carbon fiber if you don't have high tech tools to make it?

Post Oil, think stone ground corn meal, or wheat, think "Today I have to make my tools with wood, instead of Oil Based materials!"

If we have a soft landing, it only means that "some" of our skills will be intact, not all of them.  How many of you in five years after the collapse of the world around you, can make a loaf of bread.  What plants in the wild can you eat, if its not in the grocery section at Wally World?  

You folks seem to think that this is a problem that can be solved.  Take away 10% of the world oil production and sure its easy,  Take away 30% or 50% and your next meal might depend on what you know to eat out of your front lawn.

If you have a front lawn.

If we had to maintain 1950's industry with 1990's transportation, we'd indeed be in deep doo-doo with scarcer oil.

But instead, we have to maintain some of 1990's industry (the less luxurious parts) with far less transportation than we use today.

People are saying we'll have to give up our iPods. Well, why? They cost very little to make; much of their cost is intellectual property and "luxury tax" from Apple. At the rate computer technology is developing, they'll be "old tech" in just a few years, and you will be able to buy today's iPods for less than a few gallons of gas.

Our entire industrial base takes far less oil than our transportation does. If we had halfway sensible re-allocation, I think we could keep necessities and even some luxuries going with half the oil.

The risk is that the re-allocation won't be sensible. If it's communistic, it'll be destructive and inefficient. If it's capitalistic, it may leave enough people starving to cause social collapse.


After reading this article,

I think I was likely wrong about my original claim: that any civilization collapse large enough to reduce population would also increase birth rate.

Perhaps there will be a delayed effect, if education fades over time. But there doesn't seem to have been an immediate effect.


"Remember in the Old Testament, where God told people to bash babies' brains against a rock?"

Would you be so kind as to provide the specific quotation?  I have a bit of biblical knowledge and have never found anything like that.  Thanks.

Way off-topic, but it's an old thread.

Psalms 137 "8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who pays you back what you have done to us. 9 Happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks."

OK, so it was David, not God, speaking that time.

I also found Ezekiel 23: "46 "This is what the Lord God says: Summon an assembly against them and consign them to terror and plunder. 47 The assembly will stone them and cut them down with their swords. They will kill their sons and daughters and burn their houses with fire.  48 So I will put an end to indecency in the land, and all the women will be admonished not to imitate your indecent behavior. 49 They will repay you for your indecency, and you will bear the consequences for your sins of idolatry. Then you will know that I am the Lord God."

This one is ironic because one of God's complaints against "them" is that "they" killed children: "37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands; they have committed adultery with their idols. They have even made the children they bore to Me pass through [the fire] as food for the idols."

Good interview...but I hope that outside
of the official interview you got
to ask RH about energy profit ratios. I'm the
fellow who mentioned RH had the references on hand
for the studies showing low energy profit
ratios for nuclear, certainly, lower than for wind.
When you expressed doubt about this issue I mentioned
RH would have the references to the study and it
would be disappointing if that's not followed up by
at least an attempt to have those studies on hand.

I can see someone like yourself expressing doubts, but then I hope you
at least have the willingness to take such an small
easy step as to ask for them from the
man who has the references (I tried to locate
mine so far haven't been able too...too many
files related to peak saved on disk).


I do have a number of references on both sides of that debate but don't feel like I've gotten on top of it enough to write analyses yet.
Here's a metastudy of EROEI estimates for the nuclear energy option:


While not quite Ghawar, they are quite good.

Stuart: Great interview (and notes from the conference).  Keep up the nice work.

Couple (probably pointless) observations:

  1. From what I've read, and from reading both his latest books, I like Heinberg and his intent.

  2. I think we always must take into account that Heinberg had the "solutions" before he discovered peak oil.  Logically speaking, that doesn't matter.  His opinions should be analyzed based upon their merit, not how he came to them.  But still, I always consider issues from several perspectives--including motivation of those making them.  And those in the sustainability and no-growth community have latched onto peak oil, perhaps rightly so, because it is now the linchpin to their arguments.

  3. By and large, I find his conspiracy mindedness to border on nonsense. About the people making decisions--heck, look at our government, they can barely make decisions.  They can pander.  And the pendulum seems to swing about.  In the 50s, we had people pulled before committees to discuss their unamerican activities. In the 40s, an entire race was put into camps.  I believe it true that Kennedy won the whitehouse through illegal means in Illinois.  I don't see any conspiracy now, no more than we've always lived with.  I see muddle.  Stupidity.  Power struggles.  But not the new world order.  Some direction provided by people like neocons.  And do these people in power know about peak oil.  Some.  But I think the people in power are so surrounded by the noise of this and that particular issue--often largely pointsless in the grand scheme--that peak oil is just another input.  And still not a loud one.

So I take Heinberg's political opinions with a very large grain of salt.  I think the environment he's operated in for most of his life colors his thinking.
Re: Comment #2. I think Peak Oil is the practical reason to do all the stuff that we all know is probably the right thing for the planet, our society, international relations, our own health, etc...His already believing in sustainability seems like good instincts to me.

Agreed about conspiracy theories. I'm sure a lot happens that we don't hear about, but I think we assume a higher level of coordination that in reality is possible. I would argue that there is a convergence of sorts that happens more spontaneously than would ever be possible in a coordinated fashion.

On point #3 - yes, I don't agree with Richard at all on the conspiracy theory stuff. I certainly think rich powerful people tend to be very strong networkers and have a lot of influence and that the political system responds to their needs differentially over the needs of poorer, less powerful and well-connected people. But I think what happened in 2000 was an artefact of a race that was statistically a draw - the outcome was closer than the error margins in the electoral process. I believe a significant shift in the mood of the electorate could perfectly well produce a different outcome, and not that elections are fixed up in advance by some set of conspirators.

It briefly crossed my mind to edit out those parts of the interview as I don't think they help RH's credibility, and I like and admire a lot of other things he says, but that seemed intellectually dishonest in this kind of portrait piece - he chose to say those things so I let his words stand.

Interesting.  For me, they enhance his credibility.  I don't think that the notion of the last two presidential elections being stolen is much of a conspiracy theory any more.  It's gone pretty mainstream in the last year, even if it's still an uncomfortable idea for Americans.

But this is not really the place for discussions like that.  I'll just say that leaving the conversation intact was the right thing to do.

Agreed.  Keep the material in.  I don't hold these particular opinions against Heinberg.  For me, they don't detract from his thinking.  I'm just not convinced.  And they are still important views to consider. Because in fact, we as a nation were pulling people before unamerican activities committees, and did put an entire race into camps not so long ago.  One must always be aware. And concerned.

Unfortunately, the intellectual cretins--e.g. the Sean Hannities and Bill O'Reilly's, those of black and white, us or them thinking--would eviscerate someone with connections and ideas like Heinberg.

I don't believe that the powerful can guarantee a victory for their preferred candidates, but they're smart enough to recognize leverage points in a system and clever enough to find ways to manipulate them, legal and moral constraints be damned.  Purging tens of thousands of eligible black voters from the rolls in Florida didn't guarantee W a victory, but in such an electorally close race it pushed the odds heavily in his favor.
I teach philosophy, and I would like to make a basic epistological point in Richard Heinberg's defense concerning his graviting towards conspiracy theories.  In my experience, those who dismiss them out of hand have often not researched the facts at hand that suggest the plausibility of a conspiracy theory in any kind of depth.  In many cases, the incentive for this kind of hasty dismissal is high, both because one can live in the comfort of not having to make a major adjustment to one's world view that might result from a thorough and rigorous investigation, and because the relevant facts that bear on the matter are often voluminous - in the very nature of the case.  There simply are so many facts to consider that evaluating the theory on the intrinsic merits of evidence and logical rigor becomes a daunting task.  But I think that those who do not engage in this daunting task ought to be slow to critize those who HAVE, and who are persuaded that the mass of facts DO support a conspiracy thesis.

My own advice with someone like Richard Heinberg if you find yourself doubting his conspiracy theories without having really researched their merits yourself:  I think his assent to such theories PRIMA FACIE deserves to be taken seriously, because he is obviously brilliant, but not erratically so.  Quite the contrary, he is very level-headed, balanced, and disciplined in the way he exercises his intellect.  Doubtless he has brought these qualities to bear as well in his investigation of the merits of various conspiracy theories; he himself has affirmed this to be true in the case of the 9/11 conspiracy that he alleges.

#Re: Comment No2:
What Heinberg has come to before discovering PO is simply the result of something we've silently lost during the centuries: this is respect - respect to our mother - the nature, its laws and even respect between our selves; Hundreds of generations before us had learned and knew the unity with the nature. Now this wisdom has been displaced by greed and selfishness. We simply lost our roots and the bill is coming to pay. PO may be the first of disasters to come and for our luck it is coming as a ring-a-bell before we've done any other major damage... Imagine what would it be if the Earth had 10 trillions barrels of oil and not our children but our grandchildren had to deal with all those other surprises we're cooking now?

#Re: Comment No3:
Could be right. Could be wrong. Much of it is about what you believe, and much of what you believe is about what you want to believe. It appears to me that you want to believe in a government that is not that corrupt - its easier to live with that thought. Maybe he wants to believe the opposite - it's easier for him to believe that the correct way is to kick them out now because he simply does not like them. Who knows? Hanging a blacklisted conspiracy label on something just from academic purism is simpy forcing your own assumptions and assertions on other people. BTW when you go back in history any major event organaised by humans could be called the bad word "conspiracy" before it happened. But after that it was simply called history...

Point #3
It Says a lot.

 I don't believe there is a "power elite" Or whatever term you use for "them" that seem to control things.  The Whole sit at your desk and do nothing more than sip coffee all day Gov't is the "group" we have to be mindful of.  Those whose jobs never much change no matter what person sits in the White House.  If you did a poll, the biggest employer in most every state of the Union, and Every nation on earth, is the Government, Those people "in charge of things" be it police, or the janitor that takes out the garbage, or the person who signs the payroll check.

In the end, when "Peak Oil" and the cliff beyond hit, everyone will be hurt by it, even the guys and gals, in thier gated housing projects.

It is difficult to understand someone speaking about a "post-petroleum world". Nobody of us will see that. But we will very likely see a world with less oil and energy available than now. We will probably have 30% - 50% of the present energy level available in 30 - 50 years. That's a lot. There will be some more people to share that but may be not so many as predicted.

The inevitable end of economic growth and moving to negative growth is a major historical paradigm shift. But it is very difficult to see any collapse ahead. There are people who wait eagerly for the Peak Oil. Some expect to have nice green communities, some would like an opportunity to finally use the survivalist gear they have acquired over years. Some deny it and expect technology or alternatives or something to save us so nothing will change, they just will drive a Prius with biodiesel.

I cannot see anything of that ahead. I find it quite likely that the Peak Oil as such will not be noticed at all (mostly). It will have consequences but they will probably not seen to be connected to oil depletion. We have evidence of this: we have had several energy supply crises before, but they have mostly not been recognized as such.

It is not coincidence that both the German and UK coal production peaked just before the WWI. The depression of the '30s was closely connected to the coal crisis in Germany and UK. The Western European coal had peaked and there were also political disruptions in the main coal mining areas in Central Europe. There was not enough oil available to offset the energy shortage at that time. The WWII was connected to the German and Japanese oil shortage. The first and second oil crises in '70s and '80s were real production crises. It was not physically possible to continue the supply growth of '50s and '60s. Very few has connected the Argentine economic crisis to the peaking of its oil production. And so on. All kind of energy crises are quite common around the world.

We have also the energy booms. But they are also rarely recognized. The economic growth during Reagan era was attributed to the Reaganomics in the US and Thatcherism in the UK, not to the Alaskan or North Sea oil. And so on.

What does all this mean? May be there are no "Peak Oil solutions" at all. If there is less energy available it will be consumed less. No problem there. The problems lie in the consequences and handling them. Probably the avalaible choices and solutions will be the same as before. But choosing between them will happen in a new context. And this context will be the global energy crisis. And the choices will probably be better if those who make the choices are aware of that.

"The inevitable end of economic growth and moving to negative growth is a major historical paradigm shift. But it is very difficult to see any collapse ahead."

I see you agree about it being a "major historical
paradigm shift" about the end of economic growth,
to the extent (and I believe it a considerable
one) that is coming our way.

Then you state, that it's "Very difficult to
see any collapse ahead"
 If you mean collapse of all human life, I can see
where you are coming from.

But what if we mean the collapse of the global
economic order which is based on, and for its
very survival needs, constant growth? By your
first statement about the enc of economic growth,
that system would have to collapse (or change
so drastically as to be for all intents and purposes,
a new system)...again by the first of your two statements...

Collapse does not come easy.  If every major refinery in the US were to see a 20% loss of personel, How long could they function?  

You ask when that will happen?  When someone thinks that it's a good idea to limit the amount of Oil we have.  Some guys with a car bomb or a strapped on bomb take out a few processing plants in Saudi Arabia. The world rolls over and yells "uncle" but the end is there anyway.  Wally World stops Getting "On Time" delivery of goods.  Your workers at the refinery start having to pay the credit card debts they have amassed, and everything seems to be running out.  This is where we in the US are headed, Peak Oil just being the catalyst to bring it about.  

 Now say that instead of 20% of the world force going bye bye for whatever reasons.  Say 30% or 40% don't show up, you not only have a shortage you have a crisis, that won't stop.  Where do you find the men and women to replace those workers?  

 You are saying, "NO this can't happen!".  Is it Peak Oil that causes it, Or an outbreak of a Flu, that kills the population randomly, taking just 20% of everyone, or 30%, or 40%, or 50%, see where this could lead you.

 Suddenly the Oil that is plentiful, stops flowing.

 But I think that the Oil will stop flowing long before the above might happen, it will happen inside most of our lifetimes, might even be next year.

 Do not assume, because it has not happened in our past, it will not happen in our future.  Though likewise, I must not assume that though it could happen this way, it will happen at all!  My yard will sustain me for at least 3 weeks, even in the dead of winter, without going into starvation mode.  Can you afford not to go to the Wally World nearest you?


May be there are no "Peak Oil solutions" at all. If there is less energy available it will be consumed less. No problem there

That is of course a true statement. How can you consume more energy then is available?

But if you can't heat the Sears Tower and if the people that work in the Sears Tower can't make it to work, all because the amount of energy available is insufficient, then what? Peak oil will probably be noticed.

Let's wake up and realize one thing. Conspiracy thinking is a way to absolve oneself of any and all responsibility. If we can't figure out what is going on we posit an all powerful "They" who are doing it. Let's give it up. If we are about empowering ourselves, that is one thing each of us can do... evaluate the facts as we see them and ask honest questions when we don't understand something.

I too was uncomfortable with the 2000 elections (the Supreme Court opinion, Bush v. Gore, was not exactly pleasant reading for me) but in 2004 the Democrats put up a weak candidate who dared not speak the courage of his convictions. Need we look  much farther? I think not. The real reason Nixon did not protest the 1960 elections is simple: even if Illinois's 26 electoral votes had gone the other way, Kennedy would have squeaked out a win. Chicag's Mayor Daley might have stolen Illinois' electoral votes but not the Presidency.

I'm not saying that everything in the world works the way we learned in religious school or civics class. Certainly monkey business exists and people who do wrong do their best to conceal wrongdoing. I am saying, however, that conspiratorial thinking is no more sound, than fears about Friday the 13th or broken mirrors. It is our modern way of sinking into superstition.

Thanks for the interview, and thanks for the conference. I enjoyed talking with a lot of very good people.  I am sorry to admit that when I found out that Heinberg hadn't had  technical or science training I automatically downgraded his book, even tho I know full well that was a dumb thing to do.  After all, you judge the book, not the person.  And anyhow I liked what he had to say, and I particularly liked the way he said it.

I had a brief minute to ask  him what he thought of vacuum tube trains as substitutes for airplanes, and he allowed as how he never heard of them.  That was a good modest thing to say; not what I expect from the smart-asses I know  who have always heard of everything and rush to reveal their entire ignorance of it.

But it made me think that maybe there should be an archive of good technology we could be using if we weren't so damn stupid- or whatever it is in our heads that makes us do the things we do instead of what we very well could be doing.

So I will offer a very small beginning of that list, even tho I have already said it all  elsewhere

Trains running at very high speed in tubes full of nothing, using magnetic levitation and propulsion.  the energy they need to get going can be put back in the storeroom as they slow down.  Look for this on the web and you will find good answers  to the real tough questions that have just popped into your head

Houses, apartments, even whole cities that store winter coolth and summer heat and use it in summer to cool and winter to heat.  This is a very old idea and a perfectly feasable one.  Look it up.

Transport systems on demand, wherein you have a cell phone connected to an all-knowing computer that gives you whatever you wnat whenever, and charges you exactly the real true cost of what you get.  In this way, you never have to "own" a private car, and you get to drive your date to the prom in the most super duper limo imaginable, driven by a liveried robot of your specification.

Domestic appliances that get nearer to their theoretical efficiency than the 5 or 10% of it as is unthinkingly accepted today.

And so on and on and on.  

Of course, technology isn't the solution, esp if you are not a gadget person like me, but you have to admit that it is sure as shootin' a part of the problem, and therefor, it followeth as the night the day that it has to be SOME part of the solution.

The Planetran system was a good idea, and every so often you can find folk still working on aspects of it, and other elements are making their way into everyday life.
I think you should open a separate thread for this. Here are the ideas I consider:

  • I've been thinking about the use of hydrogen as a jet and ship fuel but I haven't researched it yet. Liquid hydrogen contains 5 tims more energy per kilogram than kerosine, which should make it an excellent fuel for the jets consuming 10% of the world oil. The best part is that we will not need a huge piping infrastracture - just a small electrolisys and liquification plant on each airport and seaport. Further on the huge airport areas might be covered with solar panels and wind turbines for further local independance.

  • Electric highways plus plug-in hybrids running on ethanol/biodisel for longer out-of-highway ranges. This is covered much on the net and personally I believe that is the future of private transportation - if there will ever be such.

  • I'd rule out the vacuum tubes + mag levs - it's prohibitavely expensive. China has been trying to implement mag-levs without putting the train in any vacuum but the cost was about $50 mil. per kilometer (with chinese labor).

  • But what about conventional tubes? When oil begins to end we can use the existing pipes, add some more and we can transport all sorts of goods by just putting them into capsules floating in the injected seawater. Very low cost and low energy transportation.
I think you discount how difficult it is to develop new technologies. MagLev trains may come someday (I've ridden on a prototype in Japan). Implementing them on a large scale (San Francisco to Los Angeles for example) will require huge effort.

Also, you discount the expense of new technologies. Yes, appliances can be made more expensive, but if it costs even a dollar more to do so manufacturers will only implement them if mandated to by the government. Not that they are particularly averse to better technology, just that they can't add costs unless customers are willing to pay for that. If two appliances appear about the same and one is $10 cheaper that will sell better. Probably most people won't care that the pricier one uses a tad less electricity. If we require a certain level of efficiency then all manufacturers can be treated equally.

Another way to approach this without government intervention would be to add the cost electricity for the life of the product to the sale price. Unfortunately, this is not practical.

Neutrino.  I didn't see your post until just now.  Just a few quick points.

  1. A lot of people have thought a lot about maglev trains and seem to have good reason to believe they are not as costly as airplanes, esp when you factor in the usually ignored things like global warming.  But I leave that to those guys who have done real work on the subject who you can find on the web.

  2. As for me, a backroom R&D person, I had occasion to test some fans and  water pumps, and found them to be really bad, and for no reason of cost.  It was quite obvious that using the same amount of materials, they woud need much less input for the same output, just using very well known design methods.  Same with refrigerators.  We actually did succeed with fridges, which you can now buy from the Koreans.

When I had the opportunity to ask the people who made those pumps why they didn't make them better they gave me just the same old answer you would expect-  " Hell, we are making money on them now, why change?"

That's why I keep harping on the economic system as a major part of the problem.   Can't we just cook up ways to make the price of things closer to the real cost?

Wimbi, I vote with you. It is the economy stupid.

We have a society that trains (programs) young people to believe whatever the "accountants" and "economists" say. Worse yet, many accountants blindly use computer programs without knowing how the computers work. Their answer is: It is true because the computer says so.

What do accountants "count"?
The truth is, not much.
They have these so-called, "conservative" rules of accountancy (GAAP -generally accepted accounting practices).
You count money in and money out.
Therefore you do not account for "externalities".
You do not make a full accounting for what is going on.
You hide the truth under the guise of "GAAP".
It is a charade.

No accountant is accounting for "Peak Oil".
It does not exist on their "books".

I find the conspiracy theories more than annoying.

Putting that stuff out in public requires good backup. Real information. Otherwise it's just a toxic brain state that should be taken to a shrink.

Why can't the left stick to the world as it is! Real, factual, verifiable reality - that's the big problem, after all. Why add mumbo-jumbo to it, especially when it just discredits the useful stuff you may say.

Camille (and others with similar concerns),

Please see my post about nine entries up.  It speaks directly to the issues you have just raised.

Agreed Camillle. The Peak Oil movement should be about, well, oil. At least you would think it would be.

Instead it seems to have beem hijacked by the sustainability/anti-capitalist movement. It gives them publicity they would normally not ever receive given, as you so correctly point out, mind boggling conspiracy theories.

If y'all want to talk about the oilfield industry, I'm here. I'm in it and I've been a part of it for over a decade. But this conspiracy stuff is tiring and tedious.

Believe it or not PO
exactly a political problem. And exactly a problem of our current capitalist arrangement.

It is not "geological problem" as some say obviously to depersonalize responsibility. Mother Earth (Gea) does not have a problem - we have a problem and it is that we have not made an arrangement that makes us live well within our bounds. Posing PO as a problem of the oil industry is as shortsighted as hell... so what if tomorrow we discovered 1 trillion barrels of oil in ANWR? What, we will not have problems afterwards?

I agree with Gloomy.
Peak Oil is the tip of a Titanic problem.
The rest is a subsurface iceberg. It is is our New Orleans style, dysfunctional political system.  --It lies beneath the surface. Out of sight, out of mind.

One of the problems is that there is no "intelligent design" CONSPIRACY. There is no Plan B. Our system is randomly floating through dangerous seas and no one is at the steering wheel!!!

Instead, many of you believe that the mythical, magical Invisible Hand of Adam Smith's is steering our ship in the right direction.

Well wake up. There ain't no Tooth Fairy, ain't no Saint Claus, and damn us for sure there is no Invisible Hand. (I know, I know, I wrongly used those ungrammatical double curse negatives in this last expletive.)

It is the responsibility of the Peak Oil Aware community to get someone with "intelligently designed" brains into the white-painted steerage house so they can steer our boat away from the PO crash (or at least minimize the collision damage). Yes it is very political. We're all going down if we do not fix our dysfunctional political system. Hiding in the woods won't help you.

Exactly.  We are all too interdependent to think we can create our own enclave of security.  Shit hitting a fan covers a lot of ground...and no ground is safe.
Thank you, this is exactly what I was referring.

The invisible hand religion has made us insensitive and absolutely irresponsible for our actions. But it is the core of the economics - there is not such thing as responsibility, everyone should be allowed to chase his own interest without restrictions.

Personally I think that PO is not unsolvable problem even now and may be even in the next few years. The real problem is not PO but our unwillingness to face it.

I've got a theory that the whole reason for the Enlightenment was that people could be more productive driving machines than growing food.

If this is right, Enlightenment values are now threatened from two directions. Obviously, peak oil is one. But if that doesn't take away the machines, the increasing sophistication (computerization) of the machines will rapidly minimize the number of people needed to run them. Note how Enlightenment values have faded from the U.S. along with manufacturing.

I'm reminded of the joke, "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean people aren't out to get you."

Finding a conspiracy behind every tree is just as closed-minded as categorically denying the existence of conspiracies.

Of course there are and have been conspiracies in human affairs, but is there one by a power elite seeking to impose an authoritarian regime on us after peak oil? Or even a structural elite acting in concert because of shared interests?

I sure don't know, but I prefer to keep an open mind on the matter, because how those with power respond to the situation has a lot of impact on how it all works out.

That's really a good open-minded point. What bothers me is the hidden assumption of the guys up there, which is: "This can not happen here (in the US)". As though US is the only country in the world immune to whatever attempts to its elite to manipulate the public.

Personally I believe that the elections were stolen - I've seen the evidences and I also think that in the face of peak oil there is enough of interest for the people in power to put the right people in the White house. Ordinary people would never back the measures taken nowadays, and they just need the security that some liberal does not become a president. The stakes are enormous - what if the next president withdraws from the "war for oil" agenda?

What I would object is the interpolations made much more by people like Michael Ruppert than RH, that the dirtywork of the people in power now is leading us (by plan) to a facist dictatorship. I thing that for this one you must have much more evidence, otherwise it appears more like those bombastic claims meant to sell someone's book. And until it's been proven - that's what it is.

Regarding Mike Ruppert's claims:  The evidence for his assertion is contained in said book - 600 or so pages worth!  Is it not excessively hasty to dismiss A PRIORI the possibilities a) that the mass of evidence he presents is substantially rooted in solid fact, and b) that the conspiracy hypothesis he builds up on this evidence is in fact the most plausible possible theory accounting for the facts?

Those of you who are quick to dismiss conspiracy theorists:  Please read their books first - with great care - before you do so!

PhilRelig is right. Ruppert has written a very big book with very extensive documentation. To dismiss Ruppert as a nut job after reading a single article makes as much sense as dismissing Simmons after reading only one of his Power Point presentations. (That said, there is much to dispute in Ruppert's book -- but that's not a topic for TOD.)
I did not read the book but I watched the film and I totally agree with it.

What I disagree is that Mr.Ruppert is trying to extrapolate the actions of the elite to a stage, which is not likely that we try to reach. Moreover he likely sees a plan for us to reach this stage. My view is that what we see now is the result of self-reinforcing policy whose roots can be traced back to the foundation of USA. And some of the steps are also more like an act of desparation than an organised conspiracy intending to proclaim a USA dictatorship.

In short USA is an empire, and no empire has ever ruled over the rest of the world by any other means then force. And every empire has always tried to keep the peace at home by at least pretending to be a democracy. I don't see USA becoming a new Nazi Germany - I just see it more and more agressive over time against the weaker nations it can at least try to control. A good side effect of PO is that unless a miracle happens even this will die away in the next several decades.

It's not possible to investigate every conceivable hypothesis by every conceivable individual. We all make judgements all the time about which ones are plausible enough to bother investigating more deeply. I did look very heavily into what happened around the elections, and came away convinced that while there were some shenanigans, they wouldn't have mattered in 2000 if it hadn't been so incredibly close anyway, and would not have changed the result in 2004.
I don't have a problem with the allocation of one's intellectual resources to certain matters at the expense of others (such as conspiracy theories).  All I am saying is that Richard Heinberg and Michael Ruppert deserve the benefit of the doubt for the following reasons:

  1.  Both of them are intelligent, level-headed, and unusually dogged in pursuit of facts; thus, they deserve the benefit of the doubt until proven wrong.

  2.  Most people have no difficulty believing that Hitler was involved in a conspiracy to burn down the Reichstag.  What exactly is it that makes US leaders uniquely exempt from the conscious hatching of conspiracies?

  3.  That the idea of launching a major conspiracy has actually crossed the mind of American members of the power elite is a matter of record; do a google on "operation northwoods" to see what I mean.

Also, for what it's worth, a similar debate about the fundamental epistemological issues surrounding conspiracy theorizing was carried on in print during the 90s by Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti, two of the leading lights of the traditional American Left.  Chomsky, rather surprisingly in my opinion, dismisses conspiracy theories such as those surrounding the Kennedy Assassination out of hand, and he was eloquently assailed for this by Parenti.  I believe that parts of this debate may be accessed on www.zmag.org.
I'm not saying powerful interests don't scheme - DC is a hotbed of endless scheming sets of interests, half of which compete with the other half. I'm saying I don't believe our electoral process is as compromised as RH believes. It's biggest issue is that both parties have gotten much too good at gerrymandering to protect incumbents. But I still think a major change in political circumstances can change who's in power in Washington because ordinary people change their minds.
I think you may be responding to my post without responding to what I said in my post.

I am not against conspiracy theories per se.

I say, don't go public with it unless you have real, hard, verifiable information. Don't go public with 'fanatics will take over our govt!' unless there's content more substantive than mood.

If it's only mood, then it's a mood disorder.

We, the public, don't need more mood disorders, thank you very much.

I notice a blatant contradiction in RH's thinking, probably due to his political background.

First he admits that the authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime was key for their finding the best possible way out.

"there was an advantage in this instance in that they were able to make decisions quickly and change their modes of agricultural production rapidly. One person could say, "This is the way we're going to go," and cause a whole chain of responses within the system."

And then he regrets the perspective of an authoritarian regime been established in the US:

"Rather than informing the American people of this and asking for a national consensus based on a shared willingness to cooperatively reduce living standards, what they (the "deep leadership") are doing is to quietly put in place the mechanisms for an authoritarian regime."

So, if an authoritarian regime was the key for Cuba's success, why is that perspective so dreadful for the US?  Maybe because the American version will not teach marxist BS in the schools?

And regarding the alternative to that, can someone realistically think that you can obtain "a national consensus based on a shared willingness to cooperatively reduce living standards" from the American people?  What does Richard have in mind? A Swiss canton?

IMO, that consensus can be achieved only in countries with a highly cohesive society, e.g. Israel (jewish population only, of course), Switzerland, Scandinavian states.  Countries that do not have that level of cohesion (e.g. the US, most Latin American countries) when PO hits will have to choose between an authoritarian regime or anarchy.

Should have been:
"an authoritarian regime being established in the US."
Pick one:
a) Franklin Delano Roosevelt
b) Winston Churchill
c) Adolf Hitler
d) Joseph Stalin
I agree with Gloomy (if I understand his point!).

The 1930s were a desparate time. The American people chose FDR rather than fascism or communism. While it is impossible to predict the future, Americans are a resiliant lot and enjoy a remarkably stable form of government.

I remain hopeful.

Nothing personal Southsider1, but when I see people marching in virtual kick-step, hand stretched forward in salute, and screaming proudly, "Icht bin AmErIcAn !!!" , we are different, we are better; I get very nervous.

Here is some OBJECTIVE evidence:
Look at your hand: 5 fingers, see?
Look at your face in a mirror: 2 eyeballs, 2 ears, see?
Guess what? All people around the world share the same features.
If you could split open your skull, you would see grey matter. Believe it or not, all peoples around the world have the same grey matter. "WE" proud Americans --hubristically proud Americans-- do not have a monopoly on this grey matter.

Get over the "We are Americans" cliche. Mother Nature doesn't care. She is going to take us out, American or not, proud or not, defiant or not.

Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs and Steel, was trying to make this point. Maybe you did not get it. White European Explorers conquered "America", not because they were smarter, stronger, etc., but because they were relatively immune to the small pox germs they brought with them. We will see how much good the "We are Americans" slogan does us when the avian flu hits our shores. What do you think, will the germs curl up and die when they see our flag still waving over the land of the free and the home of the duped? I think not.

Whoa! All I said was that Americans are a resiliant lot, which strikes me as non-controversial, and that we have a stable form of government, which is a simple historical fact. I don't know how you extrapolated all that other stuff from these two simple statements. Cool your jets.
You know, step back, I must confess, with respect, that you note bothers me for another reason, beyond the fact that you are putting words in my mouth. At the end of the day we can chose to confront the coming crisis with negativity and pessimism, or we can try to work with some hope and optimism to salvage as much as our civilization as we can. It sounds to me like you hate our civilization too much to want to save it. I, on the other hand, would rather not watch my children, friends and neighbors starve to death if I can help it. Are you going to try to be part of the solution, or are you going to stand on the sidelines and pout?
Southsider1: Relax, we are on the same page.
I too have family, children, etc. and would like to see my grandchildren live in a world of peace and prosperity rather than the Mad Max scenario we are blindly sleepwalking into.

Regretably, I work with large corporate structures and government agencies. I see in my day to day work how insane our society is becoming. The organizations are so complex and growing more complex by the day. The people who run these organizations are such incompetent simpletons that it is a wonder anything ever goes right. Everyone is in a trance, doing things "by the book" without any clue as to WHY they do it one way rather than another. They cannot flex. They cannot adapt.

Specialization in our society has narrowed to the point where it is dangerous.

You can see it just by watching the FEMA disaster "investigations" (if you want to grace the white wash so politely). Brownie is sitting there with his lawyers pumping talking points from behind. Gee, the rule is that I have to wait till the Governor of Louisiana calls me first and "informs" me there is a Cat 5 hurricane headed their way. Only "then" can I officailly start directing the FEMA field operatives to start providing help. How dysfunctional is that? Don't you see it? There is something critically wrong with our civilization. I'm not trying to knock it down. I'm trying to point it out. I don't have answers. Maybe collectively we can start coming up with some.


That's why complex societies are collapsing - because they are too complex and have made too much assumptions in their structure to adapt to changes in the environment.
In the winter of 1996-97 my home country (Bulgaria) ran through a currency crisis. The country fell in chaos, there was no gas in the gas stations (nowhere!) people received the equivalent of 3-5$ sallaries. Guess what? We recovered and nobody died from hunger or frost. It is simply because the country has always been poor and everybody had learnt to make his own arrangements. If this ever happens here, I'm not sure people will know how ot survive. It's simply that nobody has plan B of this living arrangement because everyone made some assumptions planning, building and maintaining it. Are we past the time of building plan B? I can not tell, but possibly we'll have to get much worse before we start looking for it.
"Specialization," let me add, is one of the fundamental reasons why most people in our society do not "get it" about Peak Oil.

Let's say you work as an "accountant". Every morning, you get in your car, turn the key and it "goes". That's all you need to know about how a car works. When the dashboard dial says "E", you know enough to drive to the gas station and "fill her up".

If the price at the pump is higher, you believe that "market forces" are at work and that explains everything. You took a few economics courses in school, but they were kind of confusing. That's why you decided to stick with accounting. Besides, there are no jobs in economics. Why waste energy studying it? You never had much of a knack for science. Leave that to the nerds.

Your everyday world is filled with complicated IRS forms and ruling letters. You are proud of how well you know to negotiate through the IRS maze and all the accounting programs on your desktop computer. You are sure that everyone else in our society is equally adept at what they do and that Adam Smith's Invisible Hand is taking care of everything. It always has.

You have an unemployed brother-in-law who yaps once in a while about this "peak oil" thing. Clearly he is a dysfunctinal and complaining member of our otherwise successful society. All your clients are wealthy beyond imagination and getting wealthier by the minute as they play the markets. They pay you a nice commission. You are happy. They are happy. Everything is going along fine. What is that stupid brother-in-law ranting about? Who cares?

This is basically the same I have been trying to say. The accountant will go on keeping the books. His clients may not be as rich as before and the bonuses are leaner. But has this anything to do with oil production? May be the accountant is now without a job. What is new about that? The peaking of oil will happen but only its impacts are seen - and probably not understood.

Nobody will be interested in the "peakoilers" with there pet projects to save the world. No fancy solutions will be needed. There will be no saving of the world. Oil will be simply used some less. If somebody will like to do the driving less in a SUV - no problem. You don't even need a Prius to drive less. This is the easy part. That is why many "peakoilers" concentrate on that.

The hard part are the consequences. What will be done with the bancruptcies, unemployed, trade deficit? Should the US invade Saudi-Arabia? Would an authoritarian government help? Here the energy view of economics will help to give the better answers. No, the economic woes are not temprorary and will not go away, so structural changes and help for the unemployed are needed. No, invading Saudi-Arabia will not bring more oil but less. No, dictatorship is a bad idea, popular, democratic governments have more authority also in emergency situations (please, somebody tell Heinberg this).

If you look around, you will se that the US goverment is busy doing something about the oil crisis. They already did invade Iraq - less oil from there. They pretend that "deficits don't matter", economic growth will speed up and everything will be fine - it has not happened. They are interested in authoritarian governance - firepower did not help in New Orleans.