Thom Hartmann: Corporations Are Fueling Our Peak Oil Crisis
March 2, 2011
In this ninth video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, radio and television host and author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight Thom Hartmann talks about ways we can all help combat global warming. Speaking from the grounds of Wisconsin's 2010 Fight Bob Fest, Hartmann insists that Americans need to change the way we live if we are going to save the planet, and the first step has to be getting active in the political process.
He believes the weather's "global weirding" will be the thing most people notice first about our changing climate: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and vanishing freshwater glaciers are extreme enough that they should eventually force people to adapt and take action.
But for Hartmann, who also wrote Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became People—And How You Can Fight Back, the most critical fact we must face is that "the unholy alliance of corporation and government is every bit as destructive as the alliance of church and state was perceived to be two hundred years ago." We have to to fight back against the corporate capture of government, Hartmann says, because the companies profiting off our addiction to oil are doing everything in their power to keep us on our destructive course.
There was another interview published this week from Lindsay Curren at Transition Voice of Richard Heinberg, the author of The Party's Over, Powerdown, The Oil Depletion Protocol, Blackout and Peak Everything. In the interview, he discusses the subject of his upcoming book due in June or July of 2011, The End of Growth. It's worth reading the whole interview, but here are some highlights:
RH: Sure. Let me just say a few words about the book. The book is making the argument that we have reached the limits to growth.
And the first of those limits has to do with oil. We’ve reached the end of cheap oil.
I mean, whether we’ve actually, technically seen the highest month or year of oil production at this point may still be arguable. Maybe in 2011 or 2012 we will see a month of oil production higher than July 2008, or maybe 2011 as a total year will see higher production than 2005 which is so far the record year for world oil production.
But that’s all kind of academic.The reality is that the cheap oil is gone. And we’re seeing oil prices right now in the range of, well today $90 a barrel (this interview took place 12/21/2010) historically a very high price.
In effect, the oil price has become a limit to economic growth. Because if the economy starts to recover, then that drives oil prices higher. Every time we have high oil prices, really high oil prices, that undercuts economic activity.
If you look back in the last forty years, every time we’ve had an oil price spike we have had a recession immediately following. It happened in 2008. We had the highest oil price spike in history and we had the worst recession starting then since World War II.
Now, was the oil price spike the only cause of the recession? Absolutely not. And I agree with people like Nicole Foss who say that the financial economy was set up for a crash.
The financial system is based on debt and there are limits to debt. And we’re beyond those limits to debt and that’s part of what’s causing the economic crisis.
But at the same time, I would say that the oil price is essentially forming a cap on possible economic recovery at this point. That’s why I’m fairly confident in saying that we have reached the end of growth. And what we’re seeing now is basically the US economy just sort of bouncing along under that ceiling.
Meanwhile, I had a discussion just this afternoon with a very, very high placed environmentalist who was instrumental in the founding of some of the country’s foremost mainstream environmental organizations and has worked in the White House and so on. I asked him, does he see any policy maker in the US who really gets growth and how growth is undermining the environment and how we need to move away from a growth-based economy? And he thought for fifteen, twenty seconds and he said, “No, can’t think of a single one.”
Dumb ideasLC:Now here's one. We decided to read a chapter from Glenn Beck on peak oil. His take on peak oil lead him to conclude that the direction the United States needed to go was more coal-to-liquid.
What are your thoughts on this direction and what are your thoughts on the probability of policy makers and those in the position to move things going in a dirtier energy direction or going in a cleaner energy direction?
RH: Right, well coal-to-liquids really has no future.
It’s going to be a very expensive way of making liquid fuels. I think the only future it’s likely to have is with the military to produce fuel for tanks and fighter aircraft and so on. But even at that it’s going to be really problematic.
Because, as I pointed out a few weeks ago in an article for Nature co-written with David Fridley of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, our analysis shows that global coal prices are going up. And sharply up. Largely because of consumption patterns in China.
China’s going to be absorbing virtually all of the export coal volumes that are presently available.
Countries like Australia and Indonesia and South Africa are going to really have a tough time mining and exporting enough coal to satisfy the needs of China, much less China and India and all the other countries that want to import coal. So that’s going to drive up coal prices not only for those countries, but also for the US.
Even if you can somehow make the math work for coal-to-liquids with coal at current prices, once you start factoring higher coal prices you’re talking about liquid fuels that are so expensive that economic activity would be highly depressed by liquid fuels at that price point. So again, the only way that works really is for the military which doesn’t have to worry about paying for things.
So, you know I’m sorry that Glenn Beck doesn’t have better sources of information. If he could look into these things a little bit more deeply, I think he’d come to very different conclusions. But they’d be conclusions that I think he would find upsetting to his whole paradigm.
Because you start following out all of the potential solutions to the energy problem, and...as we did in our study at Post Carbon Institute last year, Searching for a Miracle, we looked at 18 different energy sources, analyzed them by 10 criteria and our conclusion was there is no likely mix of alternative energy sources including nuclear and solar and wind and tidal and all the rest that’s likely to make up for fossil fuels as fossil fuels become scarce and expense.
They’ll help, certainly, around the margins, especially if we invest now while we still have some cheap energy.
But the days of abundant cheap energy are effectively over and that means we have to change the way we live. And we have to change the goals that we’re pursuing.
I think people like Glenn Beck imagine that we Americans have economic growth sort of as our birthright and we should all be driving SUVs. And if we don’t it’s because some pointy-headed intellectual in Washington who works for the EPA is writing regulations keeping us from doing so.
That’s simply not true.
The reality is that it’s the market that’s going to keep us from pursuing business as usual. So we have to adjust to that. And helping people adjust to it could be a huge help.
Glenn Beck with his national TV show, regardless of his politics, if he were helping people to understand the situation we’re in, and helping them to adapt, that would be a good thing.
In other news, the Los Angeles Peak Oil Meetup group is alive and well! I'll be attending a Meetup at the Cat & Fiddle on March 9 at 7pm. Hopefully it will be a fun time and I'll give a report on that next week.