512: Checking In with Petrocollapse

COVER_ART_512The C-Realm podcast used to be ABOUT peak oil. Now, it's a topic to be checked in with from time to time, and this is one of those times. KMO talks with author and self-described heretic, Liam Scheff about the prospects for life after the oil crash. This is a continuation of a conversation that began on C-Realm Radio 032.

9 thoughts on “512: Checking In with Petrocollapse


  1. One of the most intelligent, well read, and well spoken guests you ever had on your podcast or radio show. Even more respect to the man for being able to express himself so well given his current medical condition. Felt the need to comment, having read the three comments you referred to and the one here. Guess your listeners just “can’t handle the truth.” Here’s hoping they’re a minority.


  2. I really enjoyed this episode. It is good to finally hear somebody investigate the connection between cheap oil energy and human rights/progress. It has been my contention for a long time now that much of the progressive agenda that has happened over the modern era has to do with high EROI cheap energy. The energy “slaves” that even the poorest people have at their command in the 1st world easily would rival the so-called 1% of any other era, and I think consequently we could afford “progress” and equality. Only a society at the pinnacle of wealth could afford so much freedom in social constructs. In fact the only comparable society from antiquity is the Roman Empire which had similar (though lesser) things. I also think that your guest was right in saying John Michael Greer is incorrect about the future. He is one of the most brilliant writers on these topics, but he draws the (what I feel) incorrect conclusion about the future – that it will not be an apocalyptic collapse and that the millenarian tendencies of societies in decline always exaggerate the pending doom to accentuate their so-called greatness. Well I think this time IS different than every other collapse. It is a fact that no humans have ever existed in such a carbon infused climate in the past – completely uncharted and unpredictable. There has never been a time where every human civilization on the planet was facing a Roman Empire-like collapse simultaneously – again unprecedented and uncharted. No human society at any time in history has ever had the ability to destroy the entire planet through nuclear weapons – again unprecedented and uncharted. Finally there are 450 operating nuclear power plants with 60 under construction that require PERFECT backup electric power supplies without disruption 100% of the time during their entire life operations and for all the cooling ponds of spent fuel duration. This is unprecedented and any significant disruption to the modern civilization transmission of power whether by war, climate chaos, or magnetic storms, has the potential to irradiate most of the planet with significant catastrophic amounts of radiation a la Fukushima and Chernobyl, but unlike these two disasters all of the other problems will also be present in a much less resilient world. The one disaster was barely contained and the other disaster is spewing radiation 24 hours per day 365 days per year into the Pacific ocean. With all due respect to JMG there can be no way to extrapolate from past human experience about this, because there is no past human experience with any of these. We are the only humans to have ever faced these challenges and I believe the least capable in all of human history (at least those in modern industrial societies) to face any kind of global challenge. I think this also is the reason for the collective insanity you have referred to about the past presidential election. I agree with you that the progressive left has done more to consolidate Mr. Trump’s power than his own supporters. I fear that you are correct that it will be 8 years however I have an even greater fear that it won’t be just 8 years. On that pessimistic note please keep up the great work. It is always fascinating.


  3. Provoking discussion of matters that can not be ignored. Whether it will go down in the apocalyptic fashion Mr. Scheff suggests or not. On a bad day -maybe after a survey of social media, his vision seems almost a certainty to me.

    Like KMO and many others in this particular bubble, I’ve been down the “doomer” road. I’ve seen the numbers, the history, the inescapable likelihoods. I live most of the time in Appalachia, where collapse seems to be moving a tad faster than a lot of other places in the US.

    I’ve personally dealt with debilitating chronic illness. On top of the uncertainty of everything else it can put demoralization over the top. I found myself shaking my head in empathy at Mr. Scheff’s situation. More than once, I had to consider very pragmatically what steps I would have to take if I showed no improvement. I wish the best of outcomes for him.

    Being a “doomer” is exhausting to me. I know barring some plastic fantastic tech solution that likely will not come, we are in for a long bumpy decline. I do hope some of those bumps find us in long plateaus of adjustment that result in a more gentle descent. What can one do besides reasonably “plan for the worst and hope for the best”?

    We live mostly off-grid at present in the middle of a hardwood forest. We garden what arable land we have. We’re getting into chickens this year. We are isolated in a way that is not ideal in a collapse scenario.

    KMO’s endnotes very much resonated with my experiences with social media. I have it found to be a poor surrogate for actual human interaction. But living in the boonies, it is an easy trap to step in. The “doomer” bubble is particularly vicious to one’s peace of mind. As are the various rabid ideology loops. We are in prime “flyover” territory here, so you can imagine the sort of stuff that folks around hereabouts are having reinforced. Neither are pretty. And it’s damaging to my psyche to look any of it regularly.

    I’m considering giving Facebook, Reddit and the rest a miss for a good long time. I do value a few communities and friends I stay in contact with through these media.

    I participated in NanoWriMo in December working on a nonfiction project. That period of concentration felt great. No time for this other BS. I took KMO’s example and signed up for a Livejournal account. I’m more likely to find greater focus in spending more time refining and challenging my thoughts on matters I find important than having existing opinions reinforced by FB echo chambers.

    Thanks to both KMO and guest!


  4. Thanks KMO for continuing to put-out the C-Realm Podcast. As usual, I learned from, or at least thought about something differently after hearing, your conversation. I’m thinking here of Liam Scheff’s assertion that woman got the vote because of fossil fuel and the idea that food abundance has a lot to do with sexual mores in any given culture.

    It seems I have a lot in common with Liam. Recently it’s occurred to me that my own doomer tendencies, and the fact that I go looking for the realities of things like peak oil and climate change, probably has a lot to do with the losses of I’ve suffered. I too lost my wife to an aneurism and later a daughter who died suddenly as well. Both losses changed who I am. In my case though, I have to admit that I had already started down a path of withdrawal from the greater culture by simply questioning my beliefs in religion, government and my role in the way the world works. Free thought that leads to greater awareness, in a reality such as ours, is a lot like grief. Of course that’s a popular theme in the doomer world, but for me it does ring true. I don’t know how much this ties into the idea that doomers are simply looking for an escape from their own personally dissatisfying (or worse) situations. Maybe it’s just a heightened sense of how quickly bad things can happen that lead us Thestral-seers to the worth possibilities.

    Questioning your beliefs does open you up to all kinds of nasty possible realities and the more I learn about the motivations for fake news: money, power or even entertainment (as discussed in your interview with the guy in the group called the Badgers,) the more I question what I know or even what can be known. (You could say it’s episting me off!) Consequently, I think Liam Scheff and I are both susceptible to buying into more than is real or true. I read a few of the ideas from his book that he has on his website and frankly I doubt he’s batting 1000.

    I liked KMO’s definition of a doomer: one who believe the die is cast. With respect to peak oil and climate change, the only thing that keeps me from doom is a technology I’ve follow for close to twenty years. It’s the work of Randell Mills of Brilliant Light Power. His SunCell sounds very close to the research Liam touched on in that it is a plasma formed by a resonate transfer of hydrogen to a new form Mills calls a hydrino, which has a higher bonding energy and gives off energy in the form of plasma in the transition. Liam questioned how a plasma could be harnessed, in the case of the SunCell the plasma is contained in a graphite sphere that absorbs the energy and glows like concentrated sunlight which in turn is captured with an outer geodesic sphere of concentrator photo voltaic panels.


  5. With all due respect to the contributors here and coming from someone who considers herself progressive (though that term means less and less these days) I’m noticing that you’re completely overlooking the very real and rather successful indigenous cultures who DID/DO have a high quality of life where wonen and children ARE respected and cherished and which have been sustainable over many more millenia than so-called ‘civilized’ cultures. The blind assumption that the human species is entirely incapable of creating complex, intelligent, healthy, fair and just communities in harmony with the planet and its ecosystems is flat out wrong. I recommend starting with Derrick Jensen’s book Human Supremacy’ to start.


    • Thanks for listening, FreeGoddess. And welcome. I’m guessing that you are not a regular listener. I often make the point that anatomically “modern” humans have inhabited the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, and we didn’t become the “ecocidal ape” until fairly recently. Clearly, we are capable of forming sustainable communities. That does NOT mean that there is any prospect for applying the lessons of paleontology to our current situation and adapting a global civilization of 8 billion people, most of whom have no practical life skills outside of the context of techno-industrial civilization, to living in the manner you describe. I’ve interviewed Derrick Jensen a couple of times, and I’m pretty sure he agrees that our current civilization will not survive much longer and that a dramatic die-back of the human species is in the offing.


  6. Hey, KMO. I hope I haven’t really become one of the C-Realm’s detractors. I’m an argumentative person, I know, so my comments are probably too often on some point of contention (or on some facet of the discussion that I think has been distorted or overlooked). But I think I largely agree with your perspective on many things. Clearly, I should find the time to comment more on points of agreement.

    Though obviously I have a bit more occasion to clash with your or your guests’ views recently, given some of the recent dips into factional politics that has a particular focus on Millennial political subcultures. I think I am (or at least that I try to be) reasonably rational and self-aware, but I am a Millenial (certainly by the “born 1982-2000” definition), and I know which of those factions are “my people” and which of those labels are tarred me-wards by those wielding the proverbial large brush.

    I think you’re right about Facebook making people crazy. I’ve linked you to this essay before, right? That’s not about Facebook specifically, but I think that Facebook is really effective at amplifying rage-producing polarizing memes. (And that Facebook has made some really terrible UI design decisions facilitating that, including adding “angry” to the palette of Facebook reactions.)

    (It’s also effective for other things that have the opposite properties (e.g. sharing adorable baby pictures), but the one isn’t really an antidote for the other.)

    It certainly doesn’t provide the best context for taking a calm approach to anything, but most especially the sting of a political loss. Especially given that the loss was narrow and unexpected. And especially given that the conflict between “status quo” and “not” and the victory of “not”, while by no means certain, seems surprisingly credible. Gives a bit more oomph to the paranoid question, “Who knows what will happen?” That doesn’t mean the left won’t pull it together enough somehow. Bit early to be despairing about 2020 (or even 2018).

    At any rate, it was good to hear an episode about the peak oil topic again. While I was probably never truly in the doomer camp, I certainly was more alarmist in the past (e.g. ~2006-2010) than I am now. Now I think The Long Descent has the right of it, but still wouldn’t be surprised if the “new normal” ends up having some surprising high-tech elements. I don’t know the answer to “singularity or collapse?” but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised by “both”. (Well, I wouldn’t be surprised about that being the general answer. I’d probably be surprised by the specifics.)


  7. Hey KMO,
    I have been listening to your podcast for 10 yrs and it has been a major contribution to my perspective of the world. I like you have spent a while away from the peakoil narrative and focused more on living life concentrating on getting ahead on my little self-sufficiency projects here in Australia.
    How ever lately i dipped my toes back into the water and have been startled to find where things are rapidly heading the climate change and peakoil areanas.
    Liam spoke to you about two very important sources of informaton. The Hill’s group and their work on the Energy Total Production Model (ETP) which uses tried and true thermodynamics analysis of the oil industry and the energy flows. The results and the predictions of the model which are playing out in real time are frightening. The other is the analysis of the oil industry majors financial situation by Steve StAngelo at the SRSRocco report.
    Additionally Liam mentions JMG is getting darker of late and it may be that he is aware of the ETP model.
    With regards to CC the condition of sea ice in the poles is outright alarming. A new book Farewell to Ice by Peter Wadhams sums up that the changes are far worse than any model predicted.
    Needless to say that I am shaken from my daydreaming and hope that I have enough time to get far more concrete preparations in place for my home, family and community. I do not say this lightly as I thought that my doomer days were over.
    Thank you for your fantastic work.
    JT


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