Oil collapse: excellent analysis by Jan Lundberg


Richard Moore


Petrocollapse for change of culture -- Jan Lundberg speaks at
Manhattan peak oil conference, Oct. 5

Written by Jan Lundberg    

The Petrocollapse Conference 

The Community Church of New York, Unitarian Universalist  
on October 5, 2005 

[Culture Change Letter #111] 

Many in this audience have done their homework on the basics
of peak oil.  I will summarize the concept and offer evidence,
very briefly.  Then I will quickly move on to the larger
issues at hand highlighted by peak oil.  I've given a lot of
talks lately, all ad lib, but this one I must read.

I wrote this on the train here, as poor as this country's rail
service is.  Besides poor subsidies, Amtrak has to be
sidelined frequently by freight trains unpredictably.  But
reflection and making notes have flowed from my tour around
the country by rail, the nation's safest, most energy
efficient and least polluting motorized transport.  Out the
windows I saw nature mostly raped and buried, and in the train
I lamented the artificial and toxic environment I was
breathing in.

Since I stopped analyzing the petroleum market on a daily
basis in 1988, I have observed other aspects of our world and
learned far more about petroleum and energy after leaving the
industry.  I will impart to you some of what I learned in my
for-profit career, then in my nonprofit career up against oil
industry expansion, and now as a writer as likely to make
songs as compile my culturechange.org essays into a book. 
Some years ago I dedicated my life to a revolution in cultural
values.  When I realized this, I wanted people to define real
cultural change in terms of no longer paving over the good
Earth or driving around in deadly, isolating machines.  This
is mostly why I'm in front of you today.

I have observed petroleum closely and from a few steps back,
during my whole adult life.  My former firm, Lundberg Survey,
predicted the Second Oil Shock in 1979 from our data revealing
that a nine percent shortfall of gasoline would hit in March
of that year.  I no longer do primary research, but I
appreciate others' good efforts.  I do see tight supplies
today as real and deep-seated, and I fear a cold winter can
help trigger a sudden global shortage.  This could bring on
petrocollapse: a breakdown of the whole socioeconomic
structure that has an unhealthy relationship with the only
reality, our ecosphere wherein economics must function
sustainably.  In trying to understand the big picture, I do
not closely monitor oil industry developments except in broad
strokes.  Many of us are so distracted by myriad details that
our general direction remains unclear or misunderstood.  We
need to look beyond the current phase of history and forget
about news headlines.

USA Today had a headline in 1988 that said "Lundberg Lines Up
With Nature."  The story could have predicted he was ignorant
until a reader of that headline had him write a review of
Beyond Oil -- The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming
Decades. My huge review, in Population and Environment,
started with the announcement "Party's over!"

There comes a time that the crude oil of a field, nation or
the planet reaches its maximum rate of extraction.  It follows
a predictable, rough curve, although according to my analysis
we may see instead a sudden drop off in the case of the
world's oil "production."  This would be if the market's
reaction and resultant hoarding, followed by economic
collapse, bring on a swift and messy end to the oil age.  The
market in terms of soaring demand has helped bring the time of
peak forward, but we can also note some serious developments
indicating peak has arrived or will hit very soon.

About twenty oil-exporting nations are reported to be in
decline and are past their peak.  World discovery peaked four
decades ago. The U.S., for decades the top oil exporter,
peaked in extraction in 1970 about four decades after its peak
of discoveries.  Globally, reserves are not being replaced to
keep pace with consumption.  The world uses about four barrels
of oil for every one barrel discovered. The lower and lower
energy production ratios of new wells, and more dry holes,
indicate the world has been rather well exploited for oil. 
Less and less net energy yield from oil can be an accelerating
factor in permanent shortage, and serves to raise costs hidden
in countless goods and services. Although oil companies' data
are misleading, these entities' preference to buy other oil
companies rather than explore for more oil is an indication of
the long-term global supply picture.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq had petroleum
considerations driving the decisions, and, petroleum helps
dictate the military occupation, "privatization," and policing
of the region.  There appear to be no huge oil discovery
bonanzas possible that could change the basic depletion trend,
so the violent, illegal seizing of Middle Eastern oil makes
sense -- especially since the White House, for example, has
been aware of peak oil longer than the general public. 
Lastly, OPEC cannot seem to open the spigot further, although
one may debate what is really the interests of nations and
corporations profiting off high oil prices; prices could
become still more lucrative yet backfire and be a total damper
on global economic growth.  As you may know, OPEC nations
jacked up their oil reserves on paper massively in the 1980s
and '90s.  Smoke and mirrors will not change peak or prevent
the final energy crisis, as Andrew McKillop described the
world's coming situation with the title of his recent book.

This conference is not so much an exercise in proving peak oil
has occurred or will occur soon, but rather an attempt to
explore our post-peak options and fate as individuals and
communities.  Clearly, the government is offering no
leadership other than war and social control.  Even if Bush's
new conservation option sticks after the recent hurricanes, it
is too late for the U.S. to recreate its infrastructure to a
non-petroleum infrastructure, and it is inconceivable that the
government would start facilitating local economics at the
expense of the transnational corporations.  With the U.S.
gobbling up one fourth of the world's 80-plus million barrels
a day of oil demand, and no sensible policy-change in sight,
we are all consigned to involuntary and sudden change through
nature's force and/or global financial events reflecting
monumental debt and deficit situations.

Even the environmental groups paid to tout the renewable
energy technofix have to admit that the substitutes for
petroleum are not ready.  Such boosters are engaging in the
same promotion tactics as the coal and nuclear industries. 
These technologies, along with heavy oil and tar sands, are
not ready to substitute for today's preferred petroleum
sources.  If the alternative fuels were ready to go on stream
massively today, then and only then might we see the widely
assumed gradual, downward curve for post-peak petroleum.

The prestigious insiders in the peak oil "movement," Matthew
Simmons and Robert Hirsch, want to see economic growth
continue.  I do not.  Such members of the establishment as
Simmons and Hirsch want the present industrial society to
continue.  I want to see a transformation, and it so happens
that the effects of peak oil promise to provide it.

Several other well-known peak oil authors and activists
prioritize "regime change" in the U.S., or at least a host of
policy reforms.  I do not.  Such authors and activists would
do better to fully understand the implications of peak oil and
what is likely to happen that will sweep away agendas.  We
don't know what is ahead, but it might be unrecognizable to
the typical oblivious citizen who ought to be learning here
today with us.

One reason for my stance is that petrocollapse, like peak oil,
is inevitable and is right up ahead.  There is little the
government can do about it except to try to protect the most
powerful elites.  This will not work in the long run, and more
equitable means of people helping one another will jump in. 
I'm accused of being too optimistic about a new culture of
egalitarianism and mutual aid, when I predict cooperation and
solidarity will be the order of the new day.  I frankly do not
see any alternative if we are to survive as a species, and if
peace is the only state we can allow at this juncture.

Fossil-fuel intensive societies may be ten times beyond their
ecological carrying capacity, if cheap energy is finite which
it is.  Such a measurement is made in a crucial book,
Overshoot, by William Catton. This realization gives us an
idea of the potential for die-off.

A bigger reason for my possibly unique stance on growth and
reformism is that I'm promoting fundamental, system-change. 
The idea of returning to our species' former, complete
reliance on nature during our long prehistory, instead of
relentlessly exploiting nature -- at a time of apparent
incipient ecological collapse -- and the idea of returning to
a real community-based culture (e.g., tribal), are heresy here
in the land of techno-worship.  The Western Civilized world is
still revered by those who approve of destroying nature and
driving countless species extinct, or by those who believe
Western Civilization is its own cure.  I do not.  I believe
petrocollapse can cure the Earth of this civilization, such as
dissolving the U.S. because only local bioregions can
correctly and efficiently address their own problems.

Individually, all of us are suffering the same fate as nature.
 We hope, in our immersion in high-tech plastic convenience
and pesticide residues, that the epidemics of, for example,
breast cancer and prostate cancer don't get us.  But we, like
nature, are being raped constantly in every orifice.  We don't
even know all the ways, when a safeguarding government is an
anachronism or a myth.  Chemicals such as plastics --
petroleum -- and their additives amount to the unlearned
lesson of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

We continue to tolerate the poisonous chemicals spewing into
our ecosphere and into our bodies with hardly an objection. 
These are mostly petrochemicals that were developed from
left-over crude oil refining after kerosene and other early
products were made.  With the scientific revolution and
materialism that had taken place previously, we were all set
up to buy into endless progress.  Progress is a new idea, and
a dangerous one as history has shown if we read between the
lines.  Nature does not need progress.  Tribes that survived
for millennia did not need progress, although there was some
very, very slow "progress."

Human beings have clearly gotten out of control starting about
10,000 years ago.  Not all humans are out of control; the
dominant culture of exploiting nature and consuming the Earth
is the subset of humanity creating havoc.  But even though not
all humans and cultures are guilty of civilization, humans as
a whole through their sheer numbers are out of control.  I
believe the Earth will be lucky soon to accommodate one
billion people, considering the crash in energy supply and the
rapidly declining state of the ecosystem.

There are three ways to deal with overpopulation and
population growth:

    Plan a reduction of population-size that would be fair,
    gradual and effective, with some compassion to encourage
    voluntarism.  Enforcing it might not be gentle or evenly
    applied, however.
    The elites simply bring about involuntary population reduction
    of huge segments of peoples by nation and/or genetic traits. 
    This would probably be without warning.  It may be
    disorganized and sloppy, as in the current damage done to the
    ecosphere by depleted uranium on the other side of the world.
    People do themselves in as a species via environmental
    destruction or starvation, whether it be by climate
    destabilization, petrocollapse, or enough nuclear bomb
    explosions to poison the globe virtually forever.

Of these three possibilities, the last looks operative
already.  The first one seems idealistic and would require
much less corruption than prevails today.  There would have to
be a chance to try such intelligent design in advance of some
shattering event.  To avoid the second "option" of top-down
culling through violence, the first option (compassionate
planning) would have to start soon.

The only good aspects of the last "option" are (1) that it
could preempt the top-down violent option -- an option that
requires nation-wide government control though having
plentiful energy -- and (2) that petrocollapse is the scenario
that the human race can recover from.

Therefore, the whole range of possibilities seems to offer
petrocollapse as the most hopeful or desirable approach or
outcome that is a realistic scenario for population reduction.
  However, so much would have to be learned from petrocollapse
that other means of die-off would be avoided somehow.  It may
be too late to prevent total climate destabilization due to
positive feedback loops.

Civilization is the threat.  Civilization is what brought
about nuclear bombs and the commodification of nature.  
Culure change is the cure.  Today we will be hearing about
models for sustainability such as urban gardens, pedal power
produce delivery, depaving and lawn conversion to gardens and
farms, and more.  Cuba has gone through its own petrocollapse
and we are fortunate to have a new film that will be shown
during the lunch break.  Petroleum-dependent societies
urgently need Citizen Petroleum Councils, to survey the
problems and possible solutions. It is up to you to pursue
implementation of common sense approaches to energy and land
use, even though we run up against bureaucracy, and there are
notions of individualism, private property, and other abused
concepts often cloaked in patriotism.  The idea of our country
may be redefined back to love of the land.

The frequent concern voiced by well-meaning people is that
there are threats to civilization.  The assumption these folk
make is that alleged progress has been a positive thing.  But
the very idea of improving on pristine nature is the classic
mistake of fixing something that is not broken, and it's the
height of god-playing.

Now that we have broken nature, or broken a good part of the
ecosystem, it is assumed that we can only fix it by going
"forward" and abandoning natural living as simplistic or
impossible or dangerous or savage.  This linear thinking is
what got us into hot water in the first place.

The people most responsible for our problem believe they are
in charge of solving it.  As long as the rest of us accept
that irrational, authoritarian, and unjust notion, we are all
in danger of being victimized with extinction.

We can examine other approaches or leadership that rejects
linear thinking and the idea of progress.  However, this
contains a contradiction we must address: a way out of this
dilemma in today's world of empire and globalization most
likely is linear and authoritarian, even if through an
activist movement.  In any case, there is almost no opposition
movement.  Upon petrocollapse, there could be a hopeful
embracing of non-linear living within the cycles of nature as
well as a hopeful adoption of community-based or tribal
culture that rejects with finality materialism and

Our time as a species in a favorable, biodiverse ecosphere is
about up.  Without a positive scenario attempted soon, there
appears to be little hope for a viable future.  Instead of
waiting for a sustainable culture brought along by
petrocollapse, it is possible for people to stop buying their
executions by ceasing the purchase of new cars.  It is true
that these consumers would still be buying gasoline, and when
they react to the coming oil shock they will fill up their
vehicles' tanks and thus exacerbate the shortage.  But en
masse a buying pattern of only used cars, by enough people who
might have bought new cars, can  cause immediately the
proactive termination over a few months of the main threat to
life on Earth: the growth economy.

In anticipation of your wanting elaboration on my predictions
of petrocollapse and a positive recovery for a sustainable
culture, let me summarize:

Rather than just a geological phenomenon, peak oil and its
effects can turn out to be a function of the oil market acting
as its own executioner.  As alternatives to petroleum do not
quite exist -- on the scale and cheapness necessary to allow
the growth economy to perpetuate -- there will be nowhere for
"petrosociety" to go but down and out.  Reasons for the
likelihood of rapid collapse include hoarding of fuel which
will create artificial shortage.  Businesses and people
already hurting from post-hurricane petroleum prices and from
the anticipated much higher-to-come oil prices, will not be
able to stay on the road and on the job.  As Congressman
Roscoe Bartlett quoted me at the House of Representatives in
May, "the trucks will not be rolling into Safeway and
Walmart."  As he added, "the veneer of civilization is very

The U.S. government and other leading institutions are not
willing or able to provide leadership, as evidenced by the
lack of any learning from the hurricane's effects on society
and energy.  Just as the warning on Katrina was not heeded,
the warning from Katrina's and Rita's effects was not heeded. 
These hurricanes may be the straw that broke the camel's back.
 Now the Energy Secretary is warning of high prices and
shortages.  We may be being prepared for rationing, and
military management -- or the attempt -- of the nation under
emergency conditions, although rejected by governers a few
days ago.  But the government will not be able to manage long
without energy, especially when the population is no longer
busy using energy as before.  Congressman Bartlett told me
last month that police and firemen are known through studies
to abandon attempts at public order when the conditions of a
given situation are past a certain point.

Although there will be insufficient food and therefore massive
upheaval culminating in die-off, there will be plentiful land
and housing.  A new society will come together on a
local-ecosystem basis.  Cooperation and sharing will be
necessary for survival, to make urban and suburban land
productive and to assure water is as clean as possible. 
Petrocollapse along with climate distortion shall be such an
historic learning experience that a completely different
approach to human relations and economics will be adopted.
There will be a perhaps universal rejection of the ways and
values of petroleum society, and those who do not adapt will
fail in contrast to strong, tribal communities.  A lifestyle
of separteness or non-community behavior, so rife in today's
dominant, mainstream culture, would be seen as threatening the
common good and a throwback to history BP: Before
Petrocollapse.  The bright side is that we will be taking care
of the Earth in order to survive.  This is how it always was,
and appreciation of the long-term for the common good will
return as a basic cultural value.

All the best of luck to every one of you. I will now answer
questions, and then show a short documentary on plastics
pollution after a brief introduction.


www.petrocollapse.org  --  (Soon see conference papers and
details for availability of webcast and video)

Peak Oil Poster: $10 from www.oilposter.org 



"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"