Economic collapse will come before peak oil or climate disruption, says investment guru Chris Martenson, author of “Crash Course”. Matthew Stein, author of “When Technology Fails” explains how a solar flare could cripple society and set off 400 Chernobyls – and how we could fix it. Alex rants against 2012 mythology. Radio Ecoshock 120425 1 hour.
Sorry, it’s a long blog this week. Blame it on our guests – they had too many good things to say!
If you want to quickly download the interview separately, here they are, in CD quality (larger file) and Lo-Fi (faster download, lower quality)
CHRIS MARTENSON INTERVIEW (22 min)
MATTHEW STEIN INTERVIEW (27 min)
CHRIS MARTENSON – THE FINANCE GURU WHO KNOWS ABOUT CLIMATE, PEAK OIL, AND THE TOPPLING ECONOMY
Most of us have a gut worry about the state of governments, big banks, and big finance. Like we’ll wake up one morning with nothing.
Our guest Chris Martenson trained as a scientist, but retrained in business. He made good money in the investment world with a big American corporation. Then the Martenson family life changed dramatically. We’ll ask him why, and then pick his brain about things we all wish we knew.
In a talk at Oxford University in 2010, the very wealthy investor Jim Rogers told students to forget about financial careers, and go study agriculture or mining. In a way, Martenson made a similar transition. He tells us about his journey from the business world to a rural life.
Investments weren’t going his way, and when Chris investigated money and high finance, he didn’t like what he saw. He and his family moved out of the rich enclave of Bridgeport Connecticut to a more rural location. Now they are involved in self-sufficiency and community building.
But Chris continues to be one of the more popular financial bloggers on the Net. He also podcasts with another top Net blogger, Mish Shedlock. His “Crash Course” advising people how to prepare for a much more difficult financial and social scene has sold very well.
There is a lot of stress out there about banking, and broke governments. A growing group of blogs, radio hosts, and just plain folks wish it would all just end somehow. Some are cheering for a collapse. Chris says “Be careful what you wish for.” He isn’t hoping for a crash, but thinks the current system cannot go on indefinitely. Most of us, says Martenson, should prepare for a lower standard of living.
The never-ending question is: WHEN will the stuffing hit the fan. I’ve just read an analysis by Charles Hugh Smith, in his blog “Of Two Minds.” The article title says it all: “When Does This Travesty of a Mockery of a Sham Finally End?” Charles says various historic cycles show a major collapse around 2021. The problem is, and this is always the case, we can see the financial system is totally unsustainable, but so far the central banks and governments have managed to keep the dance going much longer than any of us thought possible. Nobody can say whether the readjustment will come this month, this year, or even in this decade.
It is even possible we may not see a really big collapse in our lifetime (depending upon your age now). I thought it might all go under in 1981, when New York City and Chrysler went bankrupt. Interest rates went to 22% and folks lost their homes. But it all limped on.
ENERGY AND WEALTH
Scientist Tim Garrett wrote a 2009 paper saying without a complete collapse of industrial civilization, out-of-control climate change was inevitable. He based that on a historic formula about the relationship between energy and wealth. More energy makes more wealth, less energy makes less.
Chris Martenson talks about the relationships between energy availability and wealth. Basically, without energy, we can’t build much of anything else in the way of an industrial society, or even feed the current world population.
I ask Chris for his position on human-induced climate change. Too many finance gurus have either denied climate change, or said it doesn’t matter. Martenson is much more clued into the environment. He sees climate change as a long-term problem, with peak oil biting sooner, and the financial system the most pressing short-term problem.
On his blog at chrismartenson.com, you ran a two part series by Gregor MacDonald called “The Race for BTU’s“. The second part requires a paid subscription, but check out the first part, there is lots there for you.
Martenson dismisses claims that North America will become an oil giant once again. He’s very knowledgeable about such things as the oil shale in Utah, and the Bakken oil field. The trillions of barrels of oil claimed is much different from the amount we can actually get out without expending more energy than it is worth. Martenson says America will always be an oil importer, as long as it has the money to buy.
One of the stories I’ve been following is the bottleneck of refineries. Three refineries on the U.S. East Coast have closed, because the oil they were built for is too expensive or going elsewhere else now. We’re down to the heavy oil, and we don’t have refinery capacity connected up. It’s a sign of the shift that happens during peak oil, and it’s happening now.
MAYBE FOOD NOT OIL WILL CAUSE THE CRASH?
Many people expect a destabilizing blow to come from high gas prices at the pump. I think it may come in the grocery store. There is potential damage to this year’s crops from lack of snow cover in the Prairies. A big part of the South and East are experiencing drought conditions, among a host of other problems. I ask Chris if he expects a food crisis in coming times. Martenson recommends having “deep pantries” with enough food to outlast a temporary food shock.
How much pressure is the average North American feeling because of increased consumer demand in Asia? In a resource-defined world, do we have to give up everything they gain? Martenson says “yes” – our standard of living will drop, even as poorer people in Asia gain just a little each.
When trying to model the future, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change develops several possible scenarios. I ask Chris for his plausible scenario where the current macro-financial system melts down fairly quickly. What would be the warning signs, if any, and what would we as ordinary people, the kind who need work for our next paycheck, – what would we experience?
Most of our listeners believe the science of climate change. A lot of us think M. King Hubbert was right about peak oil. But hardly any of us understand the giant dinosaurs bumping around in the secret night of high finance. Derivatives give us the shivers. With the help of people like Chris Martenson, all of us need to get smart about the economy. That is partly what the Occupy movement is about.
We got some good advice, from Chris Martenson, the investment expert who is not afraid to look a bear in the face. You can find a lot more on his web site, chrismartenson.com.
MATTHEW STEIN – THINKING THROUGH DISASTER
We have a fascination for disaster, don’t we? It sells in the movies and the news. Fearing the future is part of our evolutionary brain that got us this far.
Mathew Stein doesn’t just think about it. He plans, writes, and advises how to survive emergencies and crisis of all kinds. With his MIT training in engineering, Mat’s built off-grid homes that would probably survive hurricanes. His books include “When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival“, and his giant reference work “When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency“.
First we talk about a possible quick planet-wrecking event, and then get a few tips for surviving a long period of troubled times.
Mat Stein, welcome to Radio Ecoshock.
I’ve listened to several of your interviews, and listeners have written in asking to hear you. We finally get a chance to talk.
A SOLAR FLARE = 400 CHERNOBYLS?
Surfing through Google news just a week ago, I saw brilliant NASA images of a giant solar flare. It was beautiful. But in the Huffington Post you warned there could be a problem if one of those big solar storms hits the Earth. Mat explains this danger better than anyone else, I think.
You can find a Radio Ecoshock feature on the risk of solar storms here. But that was prepared before the Fukushima triple nuclear meltdown in Japan. Now Mat Stein fills in the details about a risk of 400 nuclear melt-downs around the world. It could happen!
If you are new to solar storms – they are the big flares that come from the sun from time to time. Whether we experience damage depends on whether that part of the sun if facing Earth at the time.
The worst solar storm we know of happened in 1859. It’s called “the Carrington Event” named after Lord Carrington who happened to see it occur on the sun. Three days later the world’s telegraph lines were hit with an electro-magnetic pulse which set off some fires in stations, and knocked out many lines. Other than that, there weren’t a lot of wires.
In 1921 there was a solar storm so large it lit up the night-time sky from the North Pole all the way south to the Caribbean for 3 nights, and from the South Pole up to Samoa – that’s most of the world, except the Tropics!
As Mat Stein points out, most of the big cities in North America had their own electrical grids – there was no national power grid in 1921. There were some problems – and Mat says that why Penn Station burned.
Fast-forward to today. Since the 1970’s, the United States alone has built over 100,000 miles of high voltage lines. These would act like a big antenna drawing the electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) toward the hundreds of big transformers which regulate the national grid.
Many of those transformers would be blow out. “Just get some more” – you might think. But each weights hundreds of tons, and was custom made. Only two factories in the world make them. Freeways have to be closed to move one in. A Congressional panel found it could take two to ten years just to replace the transformers in America. But the Americans would have to compete with Europe, China, and everyone else for the limited production. We don’t even have enough copper in stock to make them. And the rate of production assumed a normal world – not one that closes down with no electricity.
Without that electricity, refineries and filling stations stop running. Trucks laden with food for cities stop running. And cities no longer have food warehouses. The food you eat Monday was in a truck the previous Thursday. Starvation and riots would occur.
But the most serious problem of all is this: as we found out at Fukushima, nuclear reactors require outside power to cool the core, and spent fuel, even after an automatic shutdown. After a big solar storm, 400 nuclear reactors around the world might not have cooling power, after their diesel fuel runs out.
Most American plants have up to 30 days of diesel fuel. So after a month, there could be 400 Chernobyl size nuclear accidents around the world. It’s hard to know how many living things could survive that. The radioactive damage would last for millennia.
The wild thing is a congressionally mandated EMP Commission studied this problem. In their report, they found just $1 billion could help protect the America grid. There is a type of giant vacuum tube technology that can quickly isolate transformers from the electric pulse. Apparently, solid state electronics cannot react fast enough, but the old vacuum tube tech can. That’s the kind of great info we get from Matthew Stein, who is an MIT-trained engineer.
It’s a mark of our cavalier attitude, or tendency toward mass suicide, that this small amount of money has not been invested to protect the electric grids of the world! It’s just half the price of one Stealth bomber – but the Commission’s recommendations have not been implemented. We are totally exposed to the next solar storm.
We are talking with disaster expert Mathew Stein about events that happened in the past, and will happen again. We just can’t say when.
We started with a low probability, super-high risk event we call a solar storm, which could cause nuclear reactors around the world to melt-down. Again, here is the link to Matt’s article “400 Chernobyls: Solar Flares, EMP, and Nuclear Armageddon“.
WHAT ABOUT A FOOD EMERGENCY?
Then we move on to another projected event with no fixed date. I’ve spoken to several guests who expect just-in-time shipping methods that feed us all, could stop on short notice for a number of reasons. It could be a war, super-storms, a new virus, or a sudden economic break down, like the one that almost happened in 2008.
Let’s assume we don’t fall into violent anarchy if the industrial system stops for a while. Our better intentions come out, and we want to survive as communities. Before we get to some solutions, I ask Mat: “What are the early challenges we face, when technology fails?”
If anybody is an expert on that question, it is Matthew Stein. His huge book “When Technology Fails” has just been updated. It’s like an encyclopedia of work-arounds you’ll need if the lights go out.
WHY SOME BECOME LEADERS WHILE MANY GO PASSIVE OR INTO SHOCK
In an emergency, some people go into non-responsive shock. We saw it in New Orleans after Katrina, in Asia after big tsunamis, and in towns blown away by hurricanes or tornados. But other folks come alive in an emergency. They go into over-drive to organize for survival. Is it from thinking about these things in advance, or do you think it’s social or genetic differences that freeze some folks, while empowering others?
Mat thinks it’s a mix of factors, and impossible to predict who will become a leader if a disaster strikes. He has examples of those survival leaders in his books.
Let’s imagine a major Western city is heavily damaged and cut off from outside help for some time. It could be an earthquake that brings down all the freeways and ports. It could be after a nuclear attack, or even a deadly virus.
What will the real survivors do? Do they organize people, or hide in holes with provisions? I suppose that depends on the nature of the threat. Personally, during a plague or super-virus, I wouldn’t head out to self-organize with my community. I’d stay home with my food stash.
But after a quake, we’d all be out there helping the wounded, and trying to build new shelter and water supplies.
THE LONG SLIDE DOWN
As you know James Howard Kunstler has written at least two novels about times after the oil supplies have run out. One was “World Made By Hand“. Kunstler isn’t talking about a sudden disaster, but a long slide when energy becomes more expensive, harder to find, and then gone, for most of us. He calls it “the Long Emergency”. In the interview, I ask Mat how his ideas work into that scenario of a long, slow descent.
We wrap up with a simple question I ask myself, and like you ask yourself. Why do we focus on such negative futures?
Mat replies he’s a kind of realistic optimist. We need to look honestly at the problems to figure out solutions. He thinks we will muddle our way through most challenges, although nothing is guaranteed.
Some serious people, including major scientists, have suggested humanity may not survive, joining the procession of other species into extinction. I can’t believe that, but perhaps we are programmed to always believe in human survival. Anyway, I express my hope at the end of this blog.
Much of our future fate may depend on this question: If our current high-energy globalized life-styles are fragile and unsustainable, can we picture a different way of living?
If you really want to know what to do if the lights go out, make sure you have a copy of Mat’s latest encyclopedic work called “When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency”.
We’ll have to have Mat Stein back, to get more tips. He’s a really useful guest for all of us.
MY RANT AGAINST 2012 CRAZINESS
I’m Alex Smith with an important message.
Pull up a chair; you may want to be sitting down.
Despite what you may have heard, the end is not coming in 2012.
A big solar storm is possible. As Mat Stein said, that could possibly end civilization as we know it. But that’s a high risk, low probability event. Don’t quit your day job waiting for it, unless you want to quit your day job anyway, and have another plan to make a living.
An economic crash is possible, but far from guaranteed. I expect the banks to be open next week, next month, and probably next year. This civilization has a lot of momentum. We humans have the flexibility to keep going.
Even when three reactors melted down on a small island, millions of people went back to their regular jobs and lives.
THE REAL PROBLEM: THIS PLANET-WRECKING SYSTEM MAY NOT CRASH
That is the real problem. A growing number of scientists say without an economic crash, we will continue to wreck the world, in some ways that cannot be repaired, and may not be survivable for mammals. Our biggest problem may not be that the world will end this year, but that it won’t.
GOING BACK TO MEDIEVAL SUPERSTITION
Millions of humans are responding to this existential threat with a strange desire to see the collapse of absolutely everything. Money will be worthless, anarchy will be the norm.
There are really odd ideas are popping up all over the Internet. Our new means of mass communication by and for the masses has also exposed an echo chamber for the weirdest fringes.
Look, I could build up a really solid following by telling you this is the last week of Radio Ecoshock. The collapse is coming this week, so stock up on some food and water, because the whole system is going down.
I could probably do that every week for a few years, and still have a loyal following. It’s like the bands where the lead singer collapses, the audience is worried, but somehow the star revives, and struggles back by sheer will power to play three more songs. That is old “stage magic”.
Even worse, the magic of the Internet is connecting up a style of medieval thinking and emotion I hoped we’d left behind us. No, a strange dark planet is not about to appear and envelope us in evil. The distant Pleiades stars are not driving human affairs. Here is a good video which debunks most of the 2012 claims – but bail halfway when the scientific answers against star alignments, unknown planets etc ends – and gives way to a Christian explanation that old-fashioned Medieval-style “devils” are to blame! (Sigh).
David Icke can pack theatres with his stories of evil reptiles in human form. David Wilcox claims he’s channeled alien voices which will be revealed in a television special with President Obama – a 2 hour special no less! – this year.
We don’t know why the Mayans ended their calendar in 2012. They didn’t say. We do know that Sony Pictures is milking popular superstition to sell lots of box office tickets on that fear. Sony has a long-running Net and You tube campaign to make you afraid this year. Fear sells, and while millions are packing into the 2012 fantasy, the multi-billionaires continue to rake in more of the world’s wealth unseen.
As always, plenty of Christians also believe they will be physically lifted off the Earth, as the Anti-Christ goes into a last battle this year. They’ve believed that for two thousand years.
I’m calling B.S. on all that. The truth is horrifying enough. We have serious changes to make, and these 2012 rumors are just distractions.
It is true our industrial system has taken fragility to the max, to wring out billions more in profits for the few. You should have some fallback food and water around the house, or at least deep pantries as Mat Stein suggested. I also recommend having a little money at home, in case the ATM’s stop working, as Chris Marten son said. But neither of these guests promises this is the year of collapse. The end may not be nigh. Sorry, but 2012 is just another year. I expect to be making useful radio programs in 2013.
Let’s list out a few real problems:
One: We continue to grow the human population even though we can’t feed those already here.
Two: we are wasting the limited resource of fossil fuels, leaving little for coming generations.
Three: we can’t burn what we have, because we are wrecking the atmosphere with pollution that threatens all life on Earth
Four: even if we could burn them all, we are hacking down and poisoning the natural life-support system in other ways, from pesticides to plastics filling the oceans. The richness of life on Earth is going extinct.
Five: our economic system is unfair, to the majority of people on the planet now, and to the next generations. When we create trillions or quadrillions in debt we are lying to ourselves, and borrowing from the future. That is unsustainable and will collapse, whether suddenly or slowly. Nobody knows when.
Six: we continue to use nuclear technology, for power and weapons, even after their irreparable danger and terrible consequences are fully known.
Seven: Although we have limited our past history of all-out war, militarism continues. Social and family violence continue.
Which leads to our central problem: in all of the above, we are showing an inability to respond to reality – to do something about these situations, even when solutions exist. Instead, we continue to adopt and spread fantasies which do not address reality. These delusions make it less likely we will survive our self-made challenges, and more likely our children and grandchildren will suffer more.
ROASTING IN BOISE – HANSEN SAYS IT’S NO ACCIDENT
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Boise Idaho. It’s in the middle of the United States, sort of. I’ve just looked through their high temperature records from 1973 to 2011. The highest April temperatures are generally around 80 degrees, or about 27 Celsius. The top was in 1987, when Boise hit 88, or 31 C.
Last week it was 32 degrees, or 89.6 degrees in Boise. In April. Then it went higher, into the 90’s. That is just one of the tens of thousands of heat records which continue to break across much of North America this year. There was hardly any snow in Eastern North America. See my recent program “Summer in March” with guests Jeff Masters from the Weather Underground and Joe Romm of Climate Progress (now at thingprogress.org).
The TV weathermen just call it strange, or weird weather. They seldom call it global warming. Even scientists have said for years you can’t call any one season “climate change”.
Now the leading American climate scientist, the man who warned Congress of this coming change in 1988, says the heat events in recent years are due to human activity. NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, along with Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy, has published a new paper called “Public Perception of Climate Change and the New Climate Dice“.
It’s a game changer. Without going into detail, this paper explains how we can now know, scientifically, these extreme weather events would not have happened without human modification of the climate, by burning fossil fuels. The dice are loaded, and they will continue to come up “hot” many more times than “cold”.
That means our climate, and life for all living things timed to the seasons, will get stranger and stranger. We are committed to at least a century of climate disruption, and warming for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
In future shows, I’ll be looking at ways we can adapt, while still fighting to contain the damage.
I CAN’T GIVE UP HOPE
I should have given up hope. This is not an option for me, as long as I love my children, and hold my grandchild. You shouldn’t give up hope either. We can make a significant difference. We can make a better society. We can live better with nature.
But we can’t do it by indulging in a mass psychosis where aliens are causing all our problems. Or by hoping to see the end times. Please, let’s keep our minds clear, even as others fall into delusions or despair.
The sun will rise tomorrow, in 2013, and 2100. Despite difficult times, many many people will experience love, happiness, and fulfillment, even as they struggle to make a better world. Join that party, join them, join us.
I’m Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock.
Find out more, at our web site, ecoshock.org