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Richard Heinberg on Dwindling Oil and 9/11

Richard Heinberg speaking to Lynn Gary on Unwelcome Guests SHOW #206 9 May 2004 Dwindling Oil and 9/11 - Part 4 of the International Inquiry on 911's Unanswered Questions

Transcript of radio broadcast linked above for online listening at your pleasure

Lynn Gary: This is Unwelcomed Guests, I'm Lynn Gary. This week we continue with presentations by independent investigator's at the International inquire on 9/11 held in San Francisco in March. This weekend phase II of the inquiry is in progress in Toronto, Canada, I hope to bring you some of that material in the coming weeks.

Tonight's presentations will place 9/11 in the context of the planets dwindling oil resources and the closed door decisions about how to deal with the phenomenon of peak oil that has apparently already been made by American power elites. To defend corporate capitalism and consumer society at any cost, even if that means species extinction. This places 9/11 in a high stakes context that may change the way you look at the issue of 9/11's unanswered questions. I hope you can record tonight's program and share it with others. I concluded after hearing this material that it's urgent that a massive grass roots effort begin in communities across the nation to transform the fundamental economic and energy structure of this unsustainable society and that this realization of emergency needs to be brought to the American people across all boundaries of ideology, ethnicity and social class. As you will hear tonight, our so-called leaders have no intention of telling the truth about this situation, much less doing what needs to be done. They are worse than useless, they're killing us all.

We are going to begin with a speaker that has been heard on this program before. Professor Richard Heinberg, author of 'THE PARTY'S OVER: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Society.' ( He is a journalist, educator and lecturer and is on the facility of New College of California. Heinberg began this presentation by referring to a film clip his audience had just watched titled 'The End of Suburbia, oil depletion and the collapse of the American dream.' ( Here's Richard Heinberg.

Richard Heinberg: Well, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage here because that film is so good, it said much of what I had hoped to present to you but what it didn't do was tie the subject of peak oil into 9/11. Now I think it's being very clearly documented by many of the speakers this weekend that the events of 9/11 were in fact related to some sort or government complicity and that point is brilliantly made in this book I've been reading every chance I get, every couple of days. 'The New Pearl Harbor' by David Ray Griffin.( If you don't have this book I would recommend getting it immediately and get a few copies and give it to your friends. It presents the case for government complicity in an extremely logical and well written fashion. So what would motivate such an extraordinary course of events? That's a separate question and one that I purpose to address.

As we saw in the video clip just a few minutes ago, oil is essential for our modern way of life and it has been a remarkable party that we have been enjoying for our lifetime and for the last century or so. I still occasionally meet people who can remember when they saw the first automobile in their town and it's such a pleasure speaking with someone that age and getting a sense of what it must have been like to see the beginning of this modern industrial era and to be able to remember something before it. Most of us however know nothing else, this is what we expect, this is normal reality to us but normal reality is changing. It seems to me that we are in fact living in an oil empire and like all of the great empires of the past, this empire is in the beginning stages of again what all empires do. It's in the beginning stages of collapse because of resource depletion. We can trace back civilization for thousands of years and most of them have declined for essentially the same reason. Only the nature of the resource is different. In most cases it's topsoil or fresh water, in this case it's oil, water and topsoil.

I'd like to use 1950 as a reference point because it was the year I was born. Back in 1950 the US was the worlds foremost oil producing nation and the worlds foremost exporting nation. When I talk to my students about this, most of them are in their 20's and they tend to assume that the US has always been importing oil. No, oil is what made the US rich and powerful. We were the Saudi Arabia of the early 20th century, we were exporting oil. Seven out of every eight barrels of oil used in World War I and World War II by the allies to win those wars came from American oil wells. So we were also the worlds largest exporter of machine tools, manufacturing goods. The worlds foremost creditor nation, we were loaning money to the rest of the world and we were self-sufficient in nearly all national resources. How things have changed, now we're the worlds foremost oil importing nation by far. The worlds foremost debtor nation, again by far, the worldss foremost importer of manufactured goods and non-petroleum resources and of course our manufacturing jobs are fleeing to other countries. Now is this just the result of mis-management? Well of course there's been plenty of that, but I would suggest that it all has to do with the depletion of the resource that made all of that possible in the first place.

It all started in the 1860's when the first oil wells were discovered in Pennsylvania and very quickly a smart young fellow by the name John D. Rockefeller hit upon the idea of cornering the market and he became the richest individual in the world and also his company, Standard Oil became the world's first multi-national corporation. And at first the problem was figuring out what to do with this stuff because it was so cheap. The reason oil was drilled for in the first place was because we were running out of the resource whale oil, which was being used for home illumination. So the idea was hit upon of using rock oil, which is the literal translation of petroleum in its place, hence the petroleum industry and for the first several decades, virtually all petroleum oil was refined into kerosene for home lighting. But there was so much of this stuff that they had to find other uses for it. So for machinery lubrication, for running ships and heating homes and eventually for the internal combustion engine.

This graph is very important because it shows us the quantity of energy supplied by non-renewable fuels, such as oil, gas, nuclear electricity and the amount supplied by renewable energy resources such as wood, wind, hydro electricity and so on. And you'll see all of the growth since 1850 has been in non-renewable energy in the US economy. That line on the bottom which shows renewable energy in the US economy, interestingly there's not that much more renewable energy in the US economy now then there was in 1850, only about twice as much today as 150 years ago. The reason for that of course is that nature can only provide so much energy on an ongoing basis, whereas fossil fuels are like winning the lottery or getting an inheritance from a rich uncle, you can go through it very quickly but if you have to live on yearly income then you have to restrain your spending a little bit. Each of us has become accustomed to a way of life that is extraordinary by any historical standards. If the services performed for us by fossil fuels had to be done by human muscle power, which was done only a few decades ago, each of us would have to have about 300 slaves to supply the same horsepower, but I don't know about you but I can kinda' get off on the idea of having 1 or 2 energy slaves to pick-up my dirty socks and so on but to have 300 and think of that as normal, it's extraordinary.

Now this graph really shows the 20th century in a way that most of us are not accustomed to thinking about, but it reveals a lot. The red vertical bars are oil discovery and of course the black line is oil production in the lower 48 US. Oil discovery peaked in the 1930's with East Texas and oil production peaked as you saw in the film in 1970. Now as a result of the US oil production peak in 1970, literarily everything changed. The US being self-sufficient in oil, now is becoming more and more dependent on resources from elsewhere. The Carter Doctrine in 1979, of course there was a global economic slump that resulted. The CIA woke-up to peak oil. This intelligence memorandum from 1977 recently declassified says, “the Soviet oil industry is in trouble. Soviet oil production will soon peak probably as early as next year and certainly not later than the early 1980's.” Actually the Soviet oil production peak was in 1987. There's some evidence to suggest that this memo resulted in the policies of the Reagan administration attempting to bankrupt the Soviet Union by lowering global oil prices through an agreement with Saudi Arabia to drive down prices during the 1980's and then to start a proxy war in Afghanistan that would cause the Soviet's to produce oil at the maximum possible rate in order to earn revenues from oil sales, so they can pay for the arms race and also for the Afghanistan war. It worked, 2 years after the Soviet oil production peak, the Soviet economy went belly-up. Well we're seeing the same phenomenon in country after country. Of the 44 principal oil producing countries in the world, 24 are already past peak. So we're not talking about a pronunciation really, we're not talking about crystal ball gazing, we're looking at history as it's happening. Every year it's possible to record another country, UK, Norway, Denmark, Oman going over that peak and finding itself unable to produce as much oil as it did in the past.

Global oil discovery peaked in the 1960's. This particular slide is from the power point presentation of the executive vice president of Exxon Mobil, Henry Longwell. Thank you very much Henry, I didn't get it from him personally but from his web-site. And it shows very clearly discovered oil volume peaking in the 1960's. Now at the very end, there to the right, there's a little up-tick, a little note of optimism but look more closely, add more recent data, fresh oil finds in 2001 and 2002, very disappointing, resuming that downward trend and 2003. Ken White, senior editor of the ISH report, 'Discoveries and Highlights 2003' says it's one of the most significant. He says 2003 didn't produce large and pretty good finds. And Chris Skrebowski, editor of 'Petroleum Review' described the years exploration results as, little short of horrifying in a recent editorial. (

Noting that we would probably have to go back to the early 1920's to find a year when fewer large oil discoveries were made. Back in the 1960's we were discovering much more oil every year than was being extracted from the ground and that trend has gradually reduced so that now we're burning about 3 barrels of oil to 4 barrels of oil for every 1 that's discovered every year today. The oil depletion analysis center in London and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, also in Britain, keep very close track of current reserve and production figures. This is the ASPO 2004 scenario. The 2003 scenario showed a global peak around 2010 from all petroleum liquids, the 2004 scenario has that advanced to 2007. The industry has been reluctant to comment on this but if one reads between the lines, it's clear that at least some people in the industry know what's going on. John Thomson, president of EM Explorations says “we estimate that world oil and gas production from existing fields is declining at an average rate of 4 to 6% a year. To meet projected demands in 2015 the industry will have to add 100 million barrels a day of new production.” That's equal to about 80% of todays production level, in other words by 2015 we'll need to find develop and produced a volume of new oil and gas that's equal to about 8 of every 10 barrels being produced today. In addition to the cost associated with providing this additional oil and gas is expected to be considerably more than what industry is now spending. Translation, it's not going to happen. Also academic geologist's, energy expert's are reaching similar conclusions . Warner Zittle and Jorg Schindler, scientific adviser's to the German Parliament, their report future world oil supply (, concluded basically the same things. Production peak of individual fields is already an historical fact and almost all large fields have already passed their production maximum and are in decline and the pattern has been observed for more than 30 years. The aggravate decline of mature regions is getting steeper with every new member of the peak club. In order to keep overall production just flat, ever fewer regions have to increase their production. Therefore it's very likely that the peak of world oil production will be reached before 2010 at the latest.

Some recent headlines, of course Shell has had to downgrade it's reported reserves, not once but twice. Asian wall street journal says, “OPEC producer's are hitting limit on sweet crude production. OPEC takes back seat as oil prices run wild. Indonesia crude oil output is expected to fall below 1 million barrels per day in 2004, down from 1.09 million barrels per day in the previous year due to declining productivity.” So again, where's all the oil left as we see Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, Former Soviet Union, Africa, South and Central America and then the Middle East. Now actually the Middle East may not have quite as much as is shown there because as we saw in the video, the reported reserves of OPEC countries of the Middle East are probably inflated but never the less, there's a heck of a lot of hydrocarbons there.

So, what's the plan? Now, Dick Cheney, of course is a former oil executive and there's every reason to believe that he's familiar with the situation. He said in his speech in London in late 1999.( By some estimates, quoting, “there will be an average of 2% annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with conservatively a 3% natural decline in production from existing reserves.” And he ended on an alarming note, “that means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day.” Now the world currently produces and uses 75 million barrels a day, so that means by 2010 - 2/3's of what we're currently using and producing will have to be replaced by new production. And where's that going to come from? That's very unclear.

Project for a new American century in addition to outlining the need for American control of global oil reserves also says, “the need consensus in that regard will be difficult to achieve absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor, and of course that's exactly what happened. A new Pearl Harbor on September 11th, 2001. Now, the alternative that most of us would I think would like to see is a very different approach. First of all, the people of America, and the people of the world will have to be informed of what's happening and told that our current way of life is in fact un-sustainable and we will have to transition from fossil fuels, which is, we see in this graph from the US Department of Energy. Fossil Fuels, which currently account for over 2/3rds of the current energy production in the US. Now that's going to require tremendous investment in alternative energy resources. Now what's being proposed right now is something like 1.2 billion dollars in subsidies for alternative fuels and research and so on. What's actually needed is on the order of 100's of billions of dollars, in other words, the equivalent of the entire defense budget being transfered from military to the transition to renewable fuels. Good idea, but so far we don't see the political will for that on either side of the isle. In fact we're going in exactly the opposite direction. This graph is from about 2 years ago, from the US Department of Energy, it shows the slice of the total energy pie that's occupied by renewable energy, it's at 7% and that breaks down mostly as you can see from conventional hydro-electric power and wood and waste with solar and wind as just tiny fractions of that, at 7%. Well 2003 that renewable energy slice was down to 6%, we are actually reducing the percentage of the national energy budget coming from renewable energies. There is no easy quick answer to this problem, there's no magic elixir.

Hydrogen certainly isn't it because hydrogen is not even an energy source. We have to get hydrogen from other primary energy sources. Currently virtually all commercial hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels, including natural gas and even gasoline and coal. So what's actually needed, is a transformation of the entire modern industrial, you can say American way of life. Aiming for maximum efficiency, localizing and decentralizing our economies.

The whole project of globalization that we've seen over the last decade or so has been all about maximizing distances between producers and consumers using cheap fossil fuels for transportation. That project of globalization has to be reversed, we have to run the movie backwards. We have to use alternatives now even though fossil fuels may momentarily be cheaper. Why would fossil fuels be cheaper than renewable alternative fuels? Because fossil fuels are, mother nature has done the work for us over millions of years. It's just a matter of sticking a straw in the ground and drawing the stuff off, and it's energy dense, it's the most powerful energy supply that human beings have ever had. Where as solar, wind, that's more like running on the basis of yearly income.

We have to redesign our economies and our lives for that. So we have to learn to use much less and that's a message American's don't like to hear. We have the world's largest propaganda system, called the advertising industry telling us in every possible way to use more and only that will make us happy, only that will make us fulfilled. That message has to be reversed and we have to become aware of these issues and talk about them with each other. Now that's a hard sell, it's so much easier to provide scapegoats, to say that there are enemies who wish to undermine our way of life and if only we will mobilize and eliminate those enemies, those sources of evil in the world. We can maintain our way of life in which we are unique, ah god has given it to us after all.

The question about 9/11 therefore is multi-dimensional and profound in it's implications for our entire world view, our entire way of life. We must get to the bottom of what happened on that day and in doing so we arrive at awareness of things that are themselves profoundly shocking and disturbing and will require even further levels of activism and hard work in order to change those things and preserve nature and humanity that is going to occur in the remainder of our lifetimes. We have a choice essentially between plan A, which is to fight for the last drops or to transform everything about industrial society, which will require in addition to our sources of energy, also our financial and monetary systems, our agricultural systems which are currently reliant on fossil fuels and even, and this is probably the most controversial of all, to find ways over time as humanely as possible, reducing the human population. Because currently we are supporting 6.4 billion people and counting. As a result of cheap fossil fuels, used not only for agriculture but also for transporting resources from where they're abundant to where they're scarce.

Currently China is growing rapidly economically. We all have the image in our minds of China using millions of bicycles on city streets. Well just within the last year Shanghai has banned bicycles from it's major streets in favor of automobiles. The Chinese are buying automobiles at record rates. We are seeing the likelihood of an ultimate confrontation between the 1st and 2nd foremost oil importing countries in the world which are now the US and China, over the remaining oil reserves. The alternative to that is going to have to be not only national but international means of resource conservation and cooperation. The go it alone strategy of the Bush administration is exactly the opposite of that. I believe that if there were leadership from the US, there is the possibility for a global power down. Global mechanisms for resource conservation and transition of which the Kyoto protocol could be a kind of model, although much more than that is actually needed. Kyoto is only the beginning but of course we've seen the difficulty of ever ratifying Kyoto without the US being not only on board but being in a leadership position. With the US in the leadership, this transition can be made peaceable and with minimal loss of human life and other species. Without the US in a position of leadership, and in fact with the US dragging it's feet and going in the other direction.

Unfortunately I think the overwhelming likelihood is for, as we already heard the famous quote, “war and war without end during our lifetimes.” This time in the next few months leading up to the next election therefore is an extremely crucial period of time and the unraveling scandals from the books by Richard Clark and others are putting tremendous pressure on the current administration. These are people who are not going to give up power easily or lightly. If they have already what done they did on September 11th, what would they do in order to retain power if threatened. It's I believe a very dangerous time but it's a window of opportunity that we must seize. If we do so, our children and grandchildren will thank and praise us and if we do not I shutter to think what we and future generations will have to endure.

Thank you very much.

Lynn Gary: That was professor Richard Heinberg of New College of California, author of 'War Oil and the Fate of Industrial Society' you can find out more about Heinberg's work on the web at

Transcibed by David Meldrum


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Editorial Notes: Richard Heinberg's talk was to an audience familiar with many of the unanswered questions of 9/11. If you are not familiar with these questions, please consider reading the book mentioned by David Ray Griffin's book The New Pearl Harbor, available here: The full text of the book is also available on many indymedia sites including here: Donate/volunteer at Global Public Media: Unwelcome Guests website:

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