Published on 1 Nov 2005 by KERA/Energy Bulletin. Archived on 26 Aug 2006.
by Glenn Mitchell and Jeffrey J. Brown
Matt Simmons and Jim Kunstler were interviewed on November 1, 2005 by Glenn Mitchell on KERA 90.1, the local PBS station in Dallas, Texas.
Matt and Jim, who had never met until that night, were in town for a symposium that night on: "The unfolding energy crisis and its impact on development patterns," sponsored by the Southern Methodist University Environmental Sciences Department and the Greater Dallas Planning Council. Among the financial underwriters were T. Boone Pickens and Chesapeake Energy.
This was a fairly remarkable interview, partly because Matt Simmons and Jim Kunstler, coming from vastly different backgrounds, had basically reached the same conclusions regarding Peak Oil. It's also interesting to see how events have unfolded since this interview.
Glenn Mitchell was a master at what he did; unfortunately, he passed away quite suddenly shortly after this interview, and he is deeply missed in the Dallas area. However, KERA has continued with a very good noon time (Central time) talk show in the same format that Glenn used. You can listen to the show, via the Internet, at www.kera.org.
The Simmons/Kunstler interview is available on an audio CD, from KERA 90.1. I highly recommend this interview as a great low key way to introduce people to the Peak Oil concept. Following is the ordering information:
KERA 90.1 can provide additional CDs for $10 each. Interested parties should send a check or money order along with details about the program (Simmons/Kunstler Interview on 11/1/05) to:
Talk Show CD Request
3000 Harry Hines Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75201
- Jeffrey J. Brown
MITCHELL: Jim, welcome.
MITCHELL: Matthew, nice to have you.
SIMMONS: Thank you.
MITCHELL: Let me start with you Matthew. Lots of places produce oil. How do the Saudis come to dominate the market?
SIMMONS: Well they had the luxury of finding five unbelievably giant oil fields that could be produced at almost at will for a long period of time through a really small number of wells. And over the years as the United States finally peaked and went into decline they became the largest oil producer on Earth. They actually don’t produce more than about 8 million barrels of over 80 million barrels of oil we now use per day, but the problem is they are the only country that anyone knows of that hopefully has the capacity to keep expanding their production to meet ever-growing need for oil. So it’s not as much how much oil they produce today, it’s the fact that they are the only country that realistically could start to grow production as long as the world continues to use more oil.
MITCHELL: Jim, what’s the connection with modernity in oil?
KUNSTLER: Well our industrial societies are powered by oil. They are the final fuel source in the sequence that went from wood to coal and now to oil and there is kind of an accompanying delusion that there will naturally be another fuel source that “they” will come up with to replace oil. And this is the hope of a great many Cornucopians who believe that we are going to be able to keep running the Interstate highway system and Walt Disney World and all of the accessories of our car dependent lifestyle going.
MITCHELL: I was on CNBC this morning with an old corporate Cornucopian that is coming out with a book in the next few months that effectively argues that oil is actually renewable and is being baked inside the Earth as we speak.
KUNSTLER: Yeah….that’s a group of people who think the earth has a creamy nougat center.
MITCHELL: You know the guy actually believed it.
KUNSTLER: Well you know I think you can say that the delusional thinking in this country is already pretty high and is probably going to increase as the stress on our society grows and the stress will grow as our society is challenged to find a way to adapt to an energy scarce reality. You know Dick Chenney was famous for saying that the American way of life is non-negotiable. I think the truth is that reality is going to negotiate it for us if we refuse to join in on the negotiations.
MITCHEL: If you want to talk with us we're at 800-933-5372 or also at GMS@kera.org. Jim Kunstler’s book is called The Long Emergency Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century.
With us by phone is Matthew Simmons. His book Twilight in the Desert, the Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. They both are going to be at the SMU tonight or actually at Highland Park United Methodist Church for a seminar program called the Unfolding Energy Crisis at its Impact on Development Patterns. There will be a book signing at 6:00 and then the talk starts at 7:00. If you want more information about that you can call 214-768-2743. But if you have a question for us right now…800-933-5372 or GMS@kera.org. Matthew, how much Saudi production is politically dictated?
SIMMONS: I’m not sure what you mean by politically dictated.
MITCHELL: In other words who says how much they pump everyday?
SIMMONS: Oh I think basically they pump all the oil they can.
MITCHELL: Oh okay.
SIMMONS: There is no evidence anymore. Now four years ago they were carefully shutting in some of their supply. But even during the time they were shutting stuff in, it had a lot more to do with worries they had about their fields than actually trying to keep oil off the market. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and required the world to pull all stops to actually embargo Iraq and Kuwait’s oil, in a ninety day period of time Saudi Arabia took their oil production back from 5 million barrels a day where it had been resting during the 80s to 8 million barrels a day and they have been flat out every day ever since then.
MITCHELL: Jim, in your book you describe this as being a darker time than the eve of World War II. That was pretty dark. Why is this darker?
KUNSTLER: Yes. Well because in a way the challenges we face are much more intractable. World War II was in some ways a fairly simple struggle between good and evil between fatuous authoritarian government and democracy. Between particular tyrannical figures like Adolph Hitler who had declared his ambitions. So it was a clear-cut struggle. This is going to be a tremendous challenge to the United States in particular because we have developed a way of living that is a tremendous liability for us. We have this living arrangement called suburban sprawl which we have invested all of our post-war wealth in and which we now believe we are entitled to live in forever and keep on expanding and moreover to have an economy that is mainly based on the increasing production of more suburban sprawl which is to say “a living arrangement with no future.” And this presents tremendous psychological and economic problems for us. For example…think of suburbia as being the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world, because it is a living arrangement that really doesn’t have a future. Okay. Well, you put so much of your own wealth and your own spirit and your collective resources into this infrastructure for living that you can’t imagine letting go of it. And so what we’ll see is I believe a tremendous battle to maintain the entitlements of a way of life that really has no future. And it is going to be a tremendous act of futility. It’s going to take all of the effort that we should be putting into a much more intelligent response to this permanent energy crisis. All of the effort we could be putting into that is being diverted into a defence of suburbia and it’s going to be a very unfortunate and tragic thing.
MITCHELL: If we assume that there is no creamy nougat center in the Earth Matthew, when will the oil run out?
SIMMONS: The oil will actually never run out. One of the reasons that too many people scoff about the notion of peak oil is that they immediately think that we are running out of oil. The problem isn’t running out, the problem is peaking. And the problem of peaking wouldn’t be a big deal if we created a world where demand was also peaking. The problem is - and while Jim is talking about the United States I worry a lot more about the whole world - we have created a world that’s on a road map to needing at least 120 million barrels a day of oil to be daily consumed by 2020, which is only 15 years away. We could easily by then have a world where the supply has dropped from 82 million/83 million barrels a day now down to 70 or 60. At 60 million barrels a day we haven’t run out of oil. We just have an enormous gap between what we needed and what we can use.
KUNSTLER: You know the further implication of that is that it will generate enormous competition. Enormous contests to get control of the remaining oil in the world, and you know all bets are off about how that’s going to play out. Does it mean that the Chinese are going to try to control the oil in Central Asia? They have less oil than we do, the Chinese. They are madly running around the world now making contracts for oil with Venezuela, with the Canadians for the Alberta tar sands. What are we going to do if we cannot maintain our police station in Iraq in the Middle East which we set out by the way in order to modify and influence the behavior of those nations in the Middle East so we could continue buying their oil.
Well that’s a project that is not working out very well for us and we cannot be confident about our ability to control the terrain or the populations of these unfriendly nations. What happens when we have to leave that part of the world? Will we retain access to the 2/3 of the remaining oil that’s there? And how soon may that happen? You know these are all tremendous questions that we are not even beginning to ask ourselves.
SIMMONS: Yes sir.
MITCHELL: What about India and China? When they start really using oil?
SIMMONS: Well the China’s use is doubled in the last 7 to 8 years. But what is astonishing is if you take the total amount of growth in China it is less than the growth in the last five years from the United States. And China today on a per capita basis still uses less than 2 barrels of oil per person. India still only uses about 1 barrel per person. If India and China both some day grew with no population increase, which is unrealistic, to the level of Mexico today, which is about 6 ½ barrels per person, you would have to add 44 ½ million barrels a day of additional oil. It’s impossible.
MITCHELL: If you want to talk to us we’re at 800-933-5372. We’re also at GMS@kera.org. Jim Kunstler and Matthew Simmons my guests. Let’s get a call from Stephen in Dallas. Hi.
MITCHELL: Hi there.
CALLER: Hey. I just about a month ago I read a commentary by or an article by the Governor of Montana who suggested that Montana possesses a third of the coal in the United States and the Nazis seem to have done pretty well by taking coal and turning it into oil, natural gas and gasoline. I’m not suggesting that the energy crisis can be averted because of this but what I’m suggesting is that the United States actually did have a coal to liquids project - a number of plants were built…I’m just guessing 80 years ago. And we essentially possess 33% of the world’s resources in terms of the potential of using coal.
MITCHELL: Okay. Let’s get a response first. Matthew, what do you think?
SIMMONS: Well it’s interesting. There is a pilot project that the Department of Energy in Patel Institute where they’re actually working up the numbers on right now that we start out at 25,000 barrels a day and ultimately ramp up to 75,000 barrels a day which we would call a teapot refinery. I was asked last week whether our firm would kind of scrub out the numbers when they were done. I said, "sure, what’s your estimated costs?" - "We don’t have any idea. It’s going to be really expensive." So I think the important thing to remember is that when South Africa worked on coal to liquids and when Germany worked on coal to liquids, we were using tiny amounts of oil then. So I think that coal to liquids can work but I think it’s going to be very difficult to actually scale up and actually even make a dent on a world that basically needs to grow by 2 to 3 million barrels a day per year.
KUNSTLER: We are going to use every alternative fuel that we can. There is no question about it. But the bottom line is that no combination of alternative fuels, whether they are synthesized coal liquids or wind power, solar power, hydrogen or anything else, no combination of these things will allow us to run the Interstate highway system, Wal-Mart and Walt Disney World the way we are accustomed to running them. We are going to have to make other arrangements and that’s what the people in this country don’t get.
MITCHELL: I suppose this is an obvious question Matthew. But you do raise it in your book. In what sense is oil not just another commodity?
SIMMONS: Whoever made that statement up ought to be shot or have their throat cut out. (LAUGH). Oil turns out not even to be a commonality term. The difference between light sweet oil which comes out of the ground at fast rates and heavy sour oil is the difference between having a Rolls Royce and having a jalopy. And then you get into unconventional oil, which people casually toss around today -say, oh don’t worry there are the tar sands of Canada. The tar sands of Canada are effectively a first cousin of coal - very energy intensive to convert into usable oil. So each of the grades of oil are so totally different that we should have never lumped them all together like calling all vehicles cars. So that’s the first mistake. The second mistake is that it’s the best energy source the world’s ever known about that could actually be stored and used as transportation fuel. So, while we might have misused the oil in the last few years in the belief that it would last forever, if we hadn’t had it we would be a very, very different world today. So the idea that we call it just another commodity I think led a lot of the economists in to thinking that it would last forever.
MITCHELL: Alright let’s get some calls. We have full board of callers and we’ll start with Michael in Garland. Good afternoon.
CALLER: Hi, good afternoon. I’m so glad to hear you addressing this problem head-on and directly rather than beating about the bush because I believe you…it is a serious problem. For the last 100 years of an oil age what kind of legacy do we have? We can’t breathe our air. We’re coddling dictators around the world. We’re starting wars to protect or to police sources of oil like you mentioned and political corruption. I don’t have all the answers but I would like to hear your opinion on one answer that I’m researching. Automobiles today based on internal combustion can be swapped out with electric. Electric technology with motors has advanced to a point where they can be recharged on the run. The project I’m working with however is working with Chinese engineers. We don’t have either the interest or the education here in this country to solve this problem on our own.
MITCHELL: Alright, what about electric cars?
KUNSTLER: Well I think that we are putting too much of our effort and attention into trying to increase the mileage of our vehicles and the efficiency of our vehicles and make our cars run better and trying to keep the whole car dependent system going. You know the trouble here is not that we are using the wrong kind of cars. The trouble is that we have created this tremendous infrastructure for car dependency. And you know we have to spend more of our effort on other things. Let me give you an example. We have a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. There isn’t one project that we could do that would be more meaningful than to restore the American railroad system. It would have a tremendous impact on our oil consumption plus it would have many other benefits like enabling people who cannot drive to get around. Just having a multi-model system for transportation would be a tremendous thing. And the fact that we are not even beginning to talk about this shows how unserious we are. And how abstracted from our sense of reality we are.
SIMMONS: The other thing that’s very important. I agree with Jim, other than saying that after we rebuild the rails we need to basically restore and make as efficient as possible our port system, because actually getting goods off rails on to boats gives another rash of big improvement energy efficient. But the problem of the electric car turns out to be a very insidious even worse problem. We are in a natural gas crisis worse than we are in an oil crisis. And since we have turned to natural gas as our incremental source of electricity, we cannot basically start creating new markets for electricity that are not current markets because we are going to have to learn how to live with less electricity too.
MITCHELL: Let’s get a call next from Mike in Dallas. Hi.
CALLER: Yeah. Hi, how you doing? One of the things that’s most aggravating is it shows that people aren’t wrapping their heads around this problem is people sitting in the winter or the summer running their engines in the cars when they are parked just to keep their heater or their air conditioning going. Anyone who knows a little bit of history knows that Japan started a war with the United States over oil and I was just wondering if we don’t get our heads around this - we don’t have a Manhattan style project to solve this problem - are we going to eventually run in to a Chinese super state that is not going to let us grab all the oil anymore?
SIMMONS: You know all you have to do is go back and think about the behavior that kids demonstrated in musical chairs. When you get down to the last few kids and fewer chairs you start getting apparent human behaviors, so the question is if we don’t address this, yeah, we are going to have fistfights with everybody.
SIMMONS: But I also think that we actually can wake up in time and actually address the issue in a remarkably short period of time - change our society so that we actually are driving less and shipping goods by rail and shipping goods over water. We can liberate organizations whether they are companies or universities that all operate today under an obsolete concept - that if you are a large group you need to be under one roof because we have to communicate.
KUNSTLER: We are going to have to significantly downscale, rescale, resize and reorganize all of the major activities of American life. We are going to have to do agriculture in a different way. We are going to have to grow a lot more of our food locally. We are going to have to rescale and reorganize trade and commerce. The big box model for commerce is very shortly going to come to an end. That’s Wal-Mart and Target and all of that. We are going to have to rebuild local interdependent networks of economic activity of a kind that were systematically and methodically destroyed by large corporations. And we are going to have to get on that job soon. And when we do we are going to find that our communities will restore themselves. We are going to probably have to say goodbye to the gigantic centralized school districts with their yellow fleets of school buses that run an average of 100,000 miles a year. All of these things are going to have to be changed. And you know this tremendous inertia in our culture we have all these investments we have made in the infrastructure for running things they way we run them. And we are not going to change them easily. There is going to be a titanic struggle to maintain the entitlements to these things whether they can be maintained or not. But you know what? Circumstances are going to compel us to change whether we like it or not. There has been a big argument over suburbia for the last fifteen years, and some of the apologists for it like David Brooks of the New York Times have made the argument repeatedly that suburbia must be great because people like it. And by the way that’s a foolish argument just to begin with, but the fact of the matter is whether people like it or not it’s coming off the menu. We are not going to be able to do it anymore whether we like it or not. And that’s…you know, life is tragic. This is not a Bruce Willis movie where we are going to be rescued at the last moment by some miracle. Life is tragic. History is remorseless and history doesn’t care whether we pound our culture down a rat hole. And that’s what we are in the process of doing. By not paying attention.
MITCHELL: So what are we headed for, some sort of Jeffersonian agricultural democracy?
KUNSTLER: Well I wouldn’t put it that way. I would say in the interim we’re headed for what I call the long emergency and that’s why I entitled my book that way. We’re headed for a period of hardship and turbulence in which a lot of people are not going to want to change, in which there is going to be a lot of friction and conflict between nations and classes within nations. And a tremendous amount of tumultuous economic loss of value of property, of jobs that will never come back and incomes that will be lost forever. Tremendous turbulence in the financial markets, because remember when you have industrial economies that are powered by oil and oil becomes increasingly a scarce resource, you’re not going to have normal economic growth in industrial societies. And when you don’t have that, all of the paper markers that represent the expectation and hope that growth will continue - like stocks and bonds and currencies and derivatives and all kinds of financial instruments - people are going to lose their faith in those. And faith is the only thing that sustains their value. So, we’re headed into a tremendous period of hardship and difficulty and we have to start immediately in addressing the changes that we have to make.
MITCHELL: If you have a question 800-933-5372. We’re also at GMS@kera.org. Let’s get a call from Fletcher in Dallas. Hi.
CALLER: Hi. I had two questions. The first is probably a very, very easy question and I’m the only one who doesn’t know the answer to it. I wanted to know basically where is our oil going? Cars and buildings. What percentage…..
KUNSTLER: That’s a simple question to answer. 70% of the oil barrel in the United States and the world is used for transportation and about 98% of our transportation energy comes from oil. So that’s basically passenger cars and buses and trains and trucks. It turns out the big semi-trucks are the single biggest energy hog we have in the world today, getting 3 to 6 miles per gallon. So the SUV, actually, if you get 6 people in it, is actually a pretty good product to have.
MITCHELL: Kind of a mini-bus?
KUNSTLER: Yes. We just have to use them as mini-buses.
MITCHELL: What was your second question?
CALLER: The other one is probably a lot more difficult and that is what do you guys think is the best way to get out of this mess?
SIMMONS: Well I’ll take a stab at that. I think we need to reform energy data ASAP and have a global mandated standard of field by field production reports quarterly and the number of well bores. It sounds technical but that data would prove technically how close we are to be peak oil. Right now we just have a theological debate - a bunch of people saying I believe it’s a problem and a bunch of people saying I believe it’s not a problem. Once we prove it’s a problem then we have a global energy summit and we approach it the same way we created the United Nations. Hopefully a more productive organization. And we work out a new way to systematically redo how we use oil so that we don’t have wars and so forth. I actually think if we get a global standard in place it actually could end more peacefully than I think Jim is probably is afraid of, and I think if we don’t understand this Jim could prove to be an optimist.
KUNSTLER: Yeah I tend not to be idealistic about this. I tend to think we’re not going to have international tax and treaties and understandings that are going to make this easy for us. I think it will probably be an international scramble and contest. Although ultimately as this occurs I think the bigger nations will exhaust themselves as we are in the process of doing in Iraq - exhausting ourselves militarily and financially in running that war. We will probably withdraw into our own regions of the globe and the world will become a bigger place - the problems that we struggle with will be problems that we struggle with in our own regions and countries.
MITCHELL: Let’s get a call next from Andrea in Dallas. Hi.
CALLER: Hi. My question is you know how can I as an individual do something to either reduce my consumption or I mean I just kind of feel like a tiny little raindrop in a big giant ocean and I mean what can I do to help make….?
KUNSTLER: I mean you are not going to save the world Andrea. You know there are things that you can do and you would probably be better off thinking about the things that relate to your life, for example. People are going to have to make some better choices about where they are going to live in this country. Parts of the United States are not going to make it. You know Phoenix is not going to make it. It’s going to be substantially depopulated. In Las Vegas the excitement will be over. I happen to think that the Sunbelt as a whole is going to suffer in direct proportion to the amount that it benefited from the cheap oil fiesta of the last 40 years and may not be a great place to be. I think that the upper Midwest and the northeastern America will probably be somewhat more successful. Although all of America I think is going to be in trouble.
CALLER: How will Dallas fair?
KUNSTLER: Well I think Dallas has some liabilities. The Dallas Metroplex is at an extraordinarily overgrown hypertrophy. It’s going to be a tremendous liability because most of it will not be suited for retrofitting. A lot of it is simply going to lose its value and it’s usefulness. You also have a climate here which is a little bit tough to take in the hot part of the year and people actually have more trouble when it’s too hot than they do when it’s too cold. That’s the reason there were no really substantial cities in the southern United States until after World War II.
And so the kind of choice you have to start thinking about is what kind of vocation or profession can I choose that really has a future. You know….don’t choose public relations and marketing. Don’t choose some kind of abstract kind of job that depends on parasitizing some other activity.
CALLER: You mean like interior design? That’s what I do.
KUNSTLER: Exactly. I'm sorry. We’re probably going to have to follow much more hands on kinds of occupations and you know they are probably self-evident.
MITCHELL: Carpentry, for example.
KUNSTLER: Well we can't all be carpenters, but you know we can be carpenters. We can be paramedics. A lot of people are going to be working in agriculture. Agriculture is going to come back to the center of American life in a way that we couldn't imagine.
SIMMONS: One of our great role models of what we needed today is a Texas company - agriculture as whole foods. Their secret is they have a string of organic farms, Mom and Pop farming within thirty (30) miles of every store and they have avoided all of this food that comes from continents in a way that doesn't taste good.
MITCHELL: I like the fact that both of you think that trains should make a comeback.
SIMMONS: Well they have to. I think that would be a wonderful thing.
KUNSTLER: It is so amazing that we are not talking about this and it tells me - a registered Democrat - it tells me a lot about the cluelessness and brainlessness of the Democratic Party right now.
SIMMONS: You know unfortunately the green movement jumped on the idea of an 80 mile per gallon car that basically was probably impossible to actually create and would take thirty years, but that's their solution when what they should have been championing for is the return of trains and ports.
KUNSTER: And walkable communities.
SIMMONS: And walkable communities.
KUNSTLER: You know Matt, it even goes further than that because you know the unintended, tragic consequence of that project of creating the hyper car is that it only promotes the idea that we can continue to be a car dependent society. It's absolutely crazy.
SIMMONS: I'm a so anti CAFE standards, because I think once we past them a lot of people said well we've solved the problem. And unless we demolish the 220 million vehicles we have on the road today it hasn't even started to address the problems.
MITCHELL: Email from Paul who says "What will it take to get Americans to change their oil dependent lifestyle? Serious writers such as yourselves have been addressing this issue for decades yet very little has been or is being done."
KUNSTLER: I don't think that we have been addressing it for decades at all.
SIMMONS: Nor do I.
KUNSTLER: It's only really been in the last ten years since a group of eminent elder statesman geologists retired from the industry and started to speak their minds, once they were established in their pensions. And started to essentially tell the truth about the world oil supply situation. And you know oddly enough even while that conversation has been going on for ten years most of the American people don't want to believe it and our leaders do not want to believe it. You know there is a question about why our leadership is so bad. My own opinion about it is that the dirty secret of the American economy is that it's mostly about the creation of suburban sprawl. We don't have that much of a manufacturing economy anymore. And if you subtract all the suburban sprawl activities like the housing bubble, the real estate industry, the mortgage mills, all of the accessories of the housing bubble like the strip mall building and all that stuff. If you subtract that from our economy there is not a lot left besides fried chicken and open-heart surgery. And you know neither John Kerry or George Bush or any people at the highest level want get up and say Americans we cannot have a suburban sprawl economy anymore because all it represents is an investment in stuff that we are not going to be able to use in 5 or 10 years.
SIMMONS: I think it's probably even more insidious than that because for 50 years we've had a concept that the Middle East had unlimited amounts of oil. We actually worry more about if we can keep them from flooding the world with oil and destroying the rest of the world's oil industry because it's so cheap. Then we occasionally worried a little bit about geopolitics and we created an illusion that free and cheap energy would last forever. And so once you have that illusion - you know it wasn't quite as sinister as I think maybe Jim's comment would suggest - it was stupidity, and then compounding that are too many people who call themselves energy experts. I encounter these people all the time that basically talk about ingenuity and hard work and technology and creativity and how they will basically make energy usable forever at cheap prices.
KUNSTLER: Matt, this is Jim and I really am compelled to ask you this because people have asked me this repeatedly. Matt Simmons has on many occasions has consorted with and talked to the leaders and business and politics in America. You have advised George Bush at various times over the last 5 years and we really are puzzled about whether these guys get it or not.
SIMMONS: You know ironically I think they are starting to. I think part of the problem is that, yeah, that I speak out loudly when I'm in Washington and I speak out loudly when someone calls me, but so do lots of other people lobby to say we have no problems and I'm expert…..trust me we have no problems. It's very interesting though. There is a Congressman from Western Maryland Roscoe Bartlett, who was elected to Congress 14 years ago, who, from our website, got very concerned about peak oil. Congressman Bartlett - when he was elected to Congress 14 years ago was 66 years old - has his Ph.D. in Science. And he has basically spent a better part of an hour in the Oval Office with President Bush discussing peak oil. President Bush has asked the National Petroleum Council to gear up, roll up their sleeves and do a very serious analysis about how real is this issue. We are going to have to battle a lot of entrenched people that basically just…they don't believe it's an issue. And I don't think they have any axe to grind. They just basically don't think it's an issue because Adam Smith rules the oil business.
KUNSTLER: Well what you're saying you know is that the delusional thinking in our society is so broad and so wide and so deep that it runs into absolutely every level. And one of the ideas that you just expressed I think is at the center of it - the notion that we can replace our energy with technology. And you know I have to tell you I saw this live and in person when I went to the Google Headquarters in San Francisco. You know the greatest new tech company of the Internet era, right. And when an author comes to town they snatch the author and take them down to their headquarters to give a talk. They did that to me, so I went down and talked to them and I gave them my point of view that we were facing a big problem with energy, and one after another these guys got up and said "Dude we've got technology."
SIMMONS: I keep asking these guys "what technology?"
KUNSTLER: Well the deal is that they think that because they have been successful in moving pixels around screens that they can do anything. And what this really relates to Matt, is that we have developed an incredible sense of grandiosity about what our powers are and what we are able to do and that is tremendously dangerous for us.
SIMMONS: A growing number of people are finally starting to listen and get concerned and dig into the figures. It's why I'm so passionate about data reform, because if we have a globally mandated standard of data reform - and that can happen this year because all the major companies have the data we need - then you could take this argument out of a Church. Get it away from the theology of I believe this or I believe that and look at facts. And the facts are what I think scare people enough to basically do something before everything unravels.
MITCHELL: Here is a question from Gregory who is listening online in Memphis. This goes to your question about figuring out how much oil there is. He says "could you explain the water fraction of Saudi oil as an indicator of oil field exhaustion?"
SIMMONS: Yeah, what Saudi Arabia did when it was actually run by the Aramco companies was to prevent reservoir pressures from collapsing as oil was produced. They started a technique of injecting water while reservoir pressures were high in order to basically keep pressing the water up and keeping the pressures high. And today to pump about 8 million barrels a day of oil you would have to inject between 15 and 18 million barrels a day of water. So the water cut finally starts rising and as the water cut rises and the well water crowds of the oil. That's what finally causes depletion. So that's simply what it's all about.
MITCHELL: Let's get a call next from Gerald in Wichita Falls. Hi.
CALLER: Hi. I had a two-part question. First of all as I've passed by these refineries I have not passed one yet that didn't have a flair going up. If the price of natural gas is so high why don't they reuse that gas rather than just burn it off?
SIMMONS: I think what that's all about is basically pressure problems with the refineries - it's an emergency escape valve to keep a bigger problem from happening. They are not intentionally flaring the gas because they don't know what to do with it. So this way you don't always see flares. They are not a good sign, but it's not some sort of a casual plan. Now 60 years ago, ironically, you could fly over Texas in a plane and all of Texas was alive at night. We were flaring natural gas all over. First time I flew over the Middle East at night was in the early 70s, and you know when we got close to Bahrain where the plane was stopping, there looked like there was a large city - no it was just the gas flaring off the giant oil fields.
CALLER: Okay and the second part of my question, I remember back in the early 70s, it was about 1973. There were two gentlemen that were driving around the country that were explaining to people how they could get their cars to run about 200 per miles per gallon of gasoline and since then I've heard of several other people who had simple developments that could do that but yet they all seem to disappear. I've heard several that have died under mysterious circumstances and I was wondering is there anything really to that?
KUNSTER: I certainly get a lot of letters from people I regard as cranks saying that these things….but what it comes down to really is first of all it's sort of paranoid conspiracy theory and I'm allergic to conspiracy theories. It's another gloss on the old perpetual motion idea.
MITCHELL: Let's go to Ron in Dallas. Hi.
CALLER: Hi guys. I appreciate your time. Real quick question and then a follow-up. Number 1 - assuming that we put together all of the UN concept where the world's going to decide what it needs to do about oil, how to distribute it, how to handle it, how we all are going to get along together and everything just works beautifully, still ultimately some day it's going to come when we have no oil and I'm wondering what happens? Has anybody predicted….? What happens after that?
SIMMONS: Once we start weaning ourselves in a more efficient use we certainly buy ourselves time to try to figure out where the problems will be. Whether we can create some effective additional transportation and fuels. Natural gas is a lot harder to figure out and that's actually a worse problem in my opinion than oil. But I think that we don't have time to basically invent a lot of new things now. We have to attack significantly the consumption size. Another idea we have talked about is the railroads. Liberate organizations so as not to force people to all to come to work and work under one roof. Why do you have 1,000 people under one roof? So we can communicate. How many people even know each other? We have the tools today to allow people to work wherever they want, close to home or at home and be paid on productivity standards versus showing up from 9 to 5.
KUNSTLER: I would add something to that coming from a somewhat different angle. I think the 21st Century is going to be much more about staying where you are. And not so much about constant, ceaseless, incessant mobility which we have become accustomed to, and you know which we now assume is the norm. I would advise anybody thinking about the global oil predicament and it's ramifications to check all of their assumptions at the door about what life is going to be like in the future.
SIMMONS: But ironically, I don't think it has to come to an end. I think in fact if we make these changes it would be a better life and we would be more productive and have more free time. Ironically, we might look back…I think Tom Freeman's book The World is Flat is a fabulously interesting book to read but the world actually wasn't flat. It actually needed to get back round and get back to villages.
KUNSTLER: Yeah and I happen to think that Tom Freeman's thesis is quite incorrect. The idea that globalism is a permanent circumstance…
SIMMONS: Embedded in the concept was free, cheap…energy forever.
KUNSTLER: Yes and what he seemed to miss was the fact that globalism was a product of a very special set of circumstances at a very special time of….
SIMMONS: Globalism was actually sort of ironically the squaring of suburbia.
KUNSTLER: Uh-huh. I'm going to have to reflect on that.
MITCHELL: You guys can carry that on tonight. Let's get a call from April in Commerce. Hi.
CALLER: Hi. I was calling because someone referenced about electric cars and natural gas and how we’re short on natural gas and my call isn't in particular to electric cars so much as why haven’t we explored the option of more solar power and more electric like wind-power.
MITCHELL: Okay, we’ll ask, thanks. Matt, go ahead.
SIMMONS: Wind actually works. It’s commercial. For a long time it didn’t because gas prices were so cheap, but wind works fine now. Solar works, but it is just not very commercial. But the problem is neither one of them creates sustainable energy unless the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. So they’re just kind of emergency generators if you want to take home from that way. It turns out the environmentalists are out to hate wind just as much as they hated everything else. It was great when it was a concept.
KUNSTLER: But as you say the sun has to shine and wind doesn’t always blow.
SIMMONS: And all they create is electricity, and not very much of it.
KUNSTLER: Yeah you can’t run commercial airliners on solar or wind and you know there are a lot of problems associated with that. We certainly are going to use solar and wind. My guess is that we’re going to use them at a very local, perhaps a household level. It’s all a matter of scale. The other question associated with these things is, can you even have the hardware for solar and wind without an underlying oil economy? And I’m not sure that we can because they are complicated to manufacture and fabricate. They require exotic metals and energy and all sorts of questions like that.
MITCHELL: Let’s get a call from Jim in Dallas. Hi.
CALLER: Yes. I just had a quick comment that if people are really interested in learning how to live a self-sustaining life, they really should go back and look at how the hippies lived and look at the Whole Earth catalog and various sources like that on creatively living within your means and self-sustaining life, rather than second and third hand existence where other people are constantly doing for you.
SIMMONS: Well as a child of the 60s and as sort of a crypto hippy or ex-hippy it was sort of a good start but it wasn’t quite as simple as that you know. Hippies love their Volkswagens buses and hippies love their electric guitars. In fact, you know the whole phenomenon of powerful electronic music in a strange way is a perfect illustration of, you know, how we expressed ourselves at the very high point of the cheap oil fiesta. And I think that’s a good argument for going back and learning acoustic instruments.
MITCHELL: Well if want to get more of this tonight, the presentation is at 7:00 tonight at Highland Park United Methodist Church. It’s called the Unfolding Energy Crisis and its’ Impact on Development Patterns. There is a book signing at 6:00 p.m. followed by the program at 7:00 p.m. If you want more information about that you can call 214-768-2743 or go to our website. All the information is there. Jim Kunstler’s book is called The Long Emergency, Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century. Matthew Simmons’ book is Twilight in the Desert, the Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. Matthew, thank you very much.
SIMMONS: Thank you for having the program.
MITCHELL: Jim thanks.
KUNSTLER: A pleasure to be here.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
UPDATE (27 Aug): At last! We have the edited transcript. "Tar zans" has now been corrected to be "tar sands"
UPDATE (26 Aug) - fixed several spots in the transcriptions. Reader SP points out that the (inaudible) spots in the first caller's question about coal-to-gas are probably "Fischer-Tropsch" process. Reader DM points out that "nugget" should be "nougat."