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27 Nov 2006

Exclusive to Transition Culture! An Interview with Richard Heinberg – Part One… Peak Oil.

**An Interview with Richard Heinberg – 23rd November 2006 – Part 1**.

h1While Richard Heinberg was at Schumacher College teaching part of the **Life After Oil** course I was lucky to be able to take 40 minutes of his time to do an interview with him. We explored various aspects of the peak oil challenge before moving on to explore solutions, in particular community-initiated responses, such as the work Richard is contributing to in Oakland, as well as the emerging process here in Totnes. Part One, posted today, focuses on peak oil, and was recorded the day after his talk in Totnes Civic Hall, which was attended by over 350 people.

**With the recent discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico and the falls in the oil price, what developments over the last couple of months have reinforced your belief that we are close to the peak?**

Well, there was the recent International Energy Agency report which didn’t give me any new information, but I thought it was interesting to see the IEA more or less admitting to the problem of future oil supply. Claude Mandil is clearly worried now, which is in stark opposition to the CERA Report which came out two days later that basically we have nothing to worry about for the next 3 decades (laughs), which of course is an entirely political document, not based on science at all, and is extremely irresponsible in terms of its message to the world.

h2Even though the IEA isn’t actually talking about a near term global oil production peak they are at least saying that supply is likely to be tight and may be inadequate in the years to come. People at least need to hear that message. As to new news, I mean of course a lot of things are slow to develop.

We know that Mexico’s oil production is going into decline with the decline of Cantarell, but that was forecast several years ahead, that’s not really a surprise to anyone who has been watching that sort of thing. I think the signs of near-term peak are not typically dramatic episodic events, it is the slowly developing accumulating evidence that we are seeing. The fact is that global oil production has been pretty well stalled out at around 84½ million barrels a day, on average, for the past year. Given the high prices, that is very suggestive that we may be in the early undulating plateau stage of the peak right now, but we won’t know for a while.

**In the UK there are now the beginnings of a concerted momentum on climate change. Do you see the two issues as being separate or intertwined?**

They are very intertwined but not always exactly the same. For example, because the emissions from natural gas are so much less than the emissions from coal or oil, many nations are looking to natural gas as a solution to Kyoto obligations, fuel switching from coal to natural gas. This is happening in the US too, the US emissions have been growing, and some states like California have at least attempted to keep their emissions under control by switching away from coal to natural gas for electricity production.

Well that makes perfect sense if your focus is climate change and reducing emissions, but if your focus is peak oil and gas and reducing vulnerability to future fuel shortfalls it doesn’t make any sense at all, particularly in the US and Great Britain where future natural gas supplies are guaranteed to decline over the very short term. California has got itself into a terrible fix as a result of its dependence on natural gas. There are going to be electricity shortages in the year ahead as a result of that.

**How do you see the state of health of the peak oil movement and how has it changed over the last 2 years?**

h3Well, the peak oil movement barely existed 2 years ago. So it has grown absolutely enormously and very quickly over the past couple of years and we are seeing groups forming spontaneously in towns and cities in many countries around the world, where literally nothing was happening even months ago. Many of those new groups are being very successful actually in advocating policy and contacting officials and affecting policy.

I think we have a lot to be proud of in terms of what we have accomplished, but of course any movement that grows very quickly is going to grow unevenly, and I’m sure that there have been growing pains in various ways and various areas and various kinks to work out along the way. I also think that over the past 2 years we have seen a rapid growth in oil prices and that has helped enormously in getting out the message.

However in the past few weeks where we have seen declines in oil prices exactly the opposite has happened, we have seen a PR attack against the peak movement, by Cambridge Energy Research Associates and by Exxon and others to say “peak oil theory is garbage

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1 Comment

William Jorgensen
28 Nov 12:51pm

I saw Richard Heinberg in Sydney, Australia recently and was impressed with his introductory message, though being an already well-indoctrinated “peakster” made it less informative. One of my few disturbing and notable observations was that the audience was mostly made up of academic-looking types of well-dressed and well-coifed appearance, not exactly the energetic radical gathering I’d been hoping to see. I got the impression that many of those in attendance would be most interested in their share portfolios than the survival of the species.
I certainly agree with his appraisal of the psychological effect on those who’d taken time to study the issue and the facts that surround this certain future crisis. I went through most of the trauma associated with “enlightenment”; without the denial aspect – though I did spend a lot of time looking for, and at, alternate arguments, all of which turned out to be much less factually substantial.
However, I’ve unfortunately come to the conclusion that there’s not much that can be done to “gather the masses” for an orderly powerdown. Very few people are willing to accept that the end is near, most will dismiss every fact no matter where it comes from. This is why I’ve finally joined the pessimists who feel the only chance of anyone surviving is to basically head-for-the-hills and prepare as best we can; personally, for my family, and possibly a small group of other like-minded families.
I’d like to remain positive but the evidence of mass indifference is too overwhelming. Anything that might’ve been possible by universally recognising the problem, and actually doing something about it, has become a past-tense exercise in wishful thinking. Time has run out.
I now spend my spare time watching the currency and stock markets (commodities mostly) waiting for the signals that will presage the collapse. Oil and gas pricings are only barely paid attention to; there’s so much political manipulation of oil and gas commodity news that the current prices are nearly irrelevant.
The house of cards will start to collapse in places most wouldn’t pay attention. I expect the finacial markets to register signs of demand-destructive news first, from there indicators will show up in radical currency fluctuations and then oil and gas supply instability will start an energy crunch as the petro-dollar is devalued and a downward spiral brings a total market collapse.
If you want an example of the paranoid you merely have to look at me in the last four days; I’ve been catching four hours sleep a night since the American Thanksgiving holiday watching the Forex currency trades.
I’m hoping there’s a stabilising of the US$ by Thursday so I can get back to getting enough sleep, I’m not ready for the “big crunch” just now. I’d like another couple of years to set up my bolt-hole in the boondocks. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!