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Petrocollapse - chaos or sustainability

Jan Lundberg, former analyst for the petroleum industries and founder of CultureChange.org, discusses peak oil and the upcoming Petrocollapse Conference, May 6 in Washington DC.

The following are excerpts from the interview (AUDIO at Global Public Media:

Jan Lundberg: "On May 6th in Washington DC we hold the DC Petrocollapse Conference, and this takes the peak oil discussion to the next level as to whether it's going to bring complete chaos and destruction or a transition to a sustainable culture."


Global Public Media "When you say Petrocollapse, what do you mean?"

Jan Lundberg: "Petrocollapse is a term I coined to describe the effects of Peak Oil. Peak Oil in itself is a geological phenomenon that affects the market, and how we have depleted the stores of oil in the earth. But the actual process of coping with peak oil and its effects on the economy, on society -- that's a different matter than just a geological theory. So we have to look at the likely effect of the oil market on our supplies of energy and how people intend to keep living their normal lives as consumers and using so much energy.

"So if we have sudden shortage that is exacerbated by the market and people start hoarding -- which is our experience from the 1970s, when we only had a 9% shortfall in 1979 when my firm Lundberg Survey predicted the second oil shock -- I anticipate that we're going to see some very sudden, difficult times that will snowball rather rapidly. Because when prices skyrocket and it's very difficult to get fuel because everybody wants to get it right now so that it won't be more expensive or completely unavailable tomorrow, then the eventual effect of this after a few days is that people cannot get to work, and next we'll see the trucks not rolling into Walmart and Safeway.

"This is probably going to take down the whole economy, and that's because there is no Plan B, as Matthew Simmons has pointed out. When the alternative energies are not online and cannot even be implemented on the scale required, people are going to be without the usual means to get to work or attain food. And then we have to look at the other uses of oil and how we'll be impacted, and then by extension we can look at natural gas, which is a petroleum also. And the natural gas situation is comparable to oil, roughly, in terms of the supply pinch and our dependence on it."


Global Public Media "You mentioned when Petrocollapse occurs, or when the economy starts unraveling, then the trucks will not be rolling up to Safeway and some of the other stores. And I'm wondering how much of a buffer zone we have with respect to the number of days of food that would be available in a metropolitan area."

Jan Lundberg: "Supermarket shelves can be emptied in hours. This is past experience with localized crises. And if we have failure to resupply, and when you look at other sectors of the economy such as factories and shippers, they rely on 'just-in-time delivery.' And if the FedEx and UPS trucks are having supply problems as well, if there's enough social upheaval and disturbance that deliveries are made difficult, then the attempt by society will be to use the police and military to keep order and to make sure that deliveries of energy, food, and other goods and services will continue.

"However, that is not a permanent option. And so Representative Roscoe Bartlett quoted me in Congress, saying that the effort to control society through the military and police will last only a few days at best. Congressman Bartlett also pointed out to me subsequently that when police and firemen are in a touchy situation, and their safety is impaired, and they try for a given number of hours or days to contain a situation, they will abandon it and go back to their homes and protect their own loved ones and properties."

"So the idea of the continuation of the consumer economy, either through the technofix or through the power of the government, these are only theoretical suppositions. We are going to see a very different world as soon as we have to go into the downslope of peak oil. We are not ready for any kind of contraction. The economy is not about shrinking and is not about reaching a steady state that would make it sustainable given the limits of the ecosystem."


Global Public Media "So if you had to choose between the two different frames of us having a resources problem or us having a culture problem, which one would it be?'

Jan Lundberg: "Well, our culture has depleted resources as if there's no tomorrow, or as if there's no end to the size of the ecosystem. Herman Daly, the economist who was with the World Bank, pointed out that the economy grows, but the ecosystem does not. And if we look at in what sort of timeframe we've used up fossil fuels, and we see that we're not really going to be able to substitute in a quick enough fashion for a huge overpopulation of vulnerable consumers, then we have a problem of culture where we'll be feeling these absences of resources. It is a very deep issue of community and family, in the United States especially, where our value system has suffered from the so-called advantages of no limits to consumption and of isolated living. All of that is going to have to change, and it's not really whether you or I want it to be that way or not, but we are facing a historic time."


Global Public Media "It seems to me that you see petrocollapse as being an inevitable step along the possible path to a more sustainable way of being, and I'm wondering what you envision the possibilities for something positive coming out of this."

Jan Lundberg: "Most definitely. I'm sometimes accused of being an optimist. I think a sustainable lifestyle will flow from being able to rely on our community and ecosystem in creative and cooperative ways. So we will no longer be driving to the mall. We will no longer be leaving our neighbors and families alone by commuting off vast distances, driving the kids to daycare, or farming off the old folks to nursing homes. So when this changes, and I think it will be sudden, then we are going to be in an atmosphere in sharing. So if an oven is working, people will be able to stick in six loaves of bread instead of just able to cook one at a time, so there's even this possibility for greater efficiency.

"I believe that we're going to have a positive outcome ultimately, but there will be a lot of pain on the way. It's going to be a very sudden shift, and there will be casualties. So with estimates of human population that are really sustainable given the earth's limited resources and depleted resources and trashed environment and climate change being out of control already, that means that we'll be lucky to settle into a sustainable culture. This will be something completely foreign to the mainstream concept today of what a good life is, but I believe that in many ways it will be much better."

Editorial Notes: Transcription provided by Ethan. -BA

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