AN INTERVIEW WITH MATT SAVINAR, AUTHOR OF “THE OIL AGE IS OVER”

MediaAn Interview with Matt Savinar, author of "The Oil Age is Over"

Dave Room: This is David Room interviewing Matt Savinar of lifeaftertheoilcrash.net on May 12th, 2005. Hi, Matt, how are you doing?

Matt Savinar: I’m good, how are you?

DR: Great. I wanted to ask you, how does it feel to be mentioned in the special order speech by Roscoe Bartlett?

MS: I guess it felt pretty good, and I was a little bit surprised, but hey it’s great.

DR: Had you been in touch with Bartlett’s office?

MS: I’ve never spoken to him before or ever since that.

DR: Apparently he’s a reader of your site.

MS: Yeah, apparently.

DR: You want to give your site URL for folks?

MS: Oh, it’s lifeaftertheoilcrash.net… you can also get to it by going to oiltruth.com.

DR: So it is true that your site is one of the most popular peak oil sites on the net?

MS: Yeah, it’s at the top of Google and there are a couple others that get a lot of traffic also. I don’t know exactly the amount of traffic but recently like last month or so it’s been getting five to seven thousand a day, of visits per day…you know, it’s pretty decent.

DR: Is that ramping up?

MS: It tends to go almost in lockstep with the price of oil. If there’s a spike in oil prices, of course there’s more stories on oil and people Google and try to figure out what’s going on whenever something happens in the markets and I tend to get more visits. And then there will be other times like when I went on Coast to Coast, for instance, that’s a very popular show. Of course I got a ton of traffic. And then every once and a while it’ll get mentioned in an article somewhere. It got mentioned, I think, in the Toronto Star or maybe the Toronto Sun and that drove a lot of traffic. But it’s not like a general ramping. It kind of goes up and down and up and down.

DR: Have any other notables contacted you or mentioned your site in the media?

MS: No, not that I know of.

DR: Well, tell me a little bit about how you started with this site and how it has evolved?

MS: Well, I was waiting for my bar results about a year and a half ago. And I was doing some research on the drug war and I came across fromthewilderness.com, Michael Ruppert’s site. And I already knew a pretty good deal about the drug war; that was my area of interest. So that I knew that he knew what he was talking about with regards to that. And I saw these articles on his site about oil. And I thought, you know, if he’s as ‘on the money’ about oil as he is about drugs, we’re in a lot of trouble. And like most people what I did is…you know you read one or two articles and you think, “ok this sounds pretty scary but what about solar?…and what about can’t we switch to solar depolymerization?…and what if we all drove hydrogen powered cars?” — all that type of stuff. And you do more and more research and it does take that long before you realize, oh, my God, none of those things are going to do much if anything to soften up the crisis. And so finally one day it really hit me, I got that gut feeling of, oh, my God, we’re in really deep ‘you-know-what’ and I thought, well, I don’t know anybody else who is concerned about this so if I put up a website that explains the situation I’ll meet some other people who are concerned about it. Maybe I can use that to get a job in alternative energy. Or actually I was thinking maybe I could be a lobbyist for alternative energy industry. Not because alternative energy is going to save our butts, but I figured it will survive the initial stages of the collapse better than say the legal profession. As oil prices go up people are going to flock to whatever limited alternatives that we have. Solar, for instance, has grown seventy percent in the last year. Because everybody knows we’ve got energy problems and solar is not going to save us but if people can kind of see the general trends and then they go and invest more in these industries. So that was my thinking initially. And that was January of last year and then the next thing that I know it’s getting up to ten thousand visits a day and I was getting invited to all these shows and it took on a life of its own.

DR: I’d like to understand better why you think that there’s not much of a future for the legal industry.

MS: As anybody who comes to Global Public Media knows…I’m guessing they are versed in the basics of peak oil and the economic ramifications and everything. And there is less activity less economic activity there is the less there is to sue. The less people drive the less car accidents there are, the less personal injuries. The less revenue the government takes in, they are going to hire fewer and fewer prosecutors, fewer and fewer public defenders, so on and so forth. Really the only thing that would be a growth industry in the legal profession would be bankruptcy law. So I thought, well the best I could do here is maybe practice for a year or two while I figure out a more comprehensive plan for my life after cheap oil runs out.

DR: Life after the oil crash, right?

MS: Yeah, exactly.

DR: Now, was that a difficult decision for you to make to let go of this profession?

MS: Well, not really, see everything happed, it all happened really rapidly for me. Because I was looking for a job and going on job interviews and the site was getting all this traffic and then I started getting invited on all these shows and everybody who goes on these shows has a book. So, well, I guess I’ll put a book together too. And I did that and then it all sort of took on a life of its own. And it kind of left me bewildered for a while. So it’s hard to say it was a tough decision because I don’t ever remember sitting down and making a conscious decision. I was just trying to keep up with everything that was going on because everything was unfolding so rapidly.

DR: What is your advice to people that are interested in these issues, I mean how to prepare, et cetera?

MS: Well, I’ll tell you what I am doing. Just trying to acquire as many skills as possible that will be useful as this collapse gets underway. For instance I got myself enrolled in a class on gardening. I got a bunch of books on what is called ‘square foot gardening’. I’m going to learn how to do that. Now, how much of my own food can I grow on my own ten by ten plot out in the front of my apartment? Well, not very much but I can learn how to do it and we’ve got three to five years of social cohesion left which I don’t know that we’ve necessarily do, but that I hope that we do. Maybe I can get three to five growing seasons under my belt and then as the collapse gets underway I can teach other people in the neighborhood how to do that and barter or get some income or what not through that. I’m also learning acupressure, which is like acupuncture but without needles because we have an aging population. The healthcare system is already falling apart. It’s very expensive and it’s entirely dependent on petrochemicals. And so folks are going to need some type of medical care. They may not be able to go to the doctor to get a pill for their migraine or for whatever it is. They are going to look to other methods. So that’s another skill. I’d like to learn bicycle repair, though I’ve got so much on my plate that’s going to have to wait. That’s really all you can do. If you’ve got the money and you know where to go to buy land and what not and learn to grow your own food and get totally self-sufficient that’s great but that’s not really something that the average person who’s living month to month can just get up and go do. So you take stock of where your personal situation is and your own financial resources are and do your best and pray you catch a break along the way.

DR: You mentioned ‘square book’ gardening?

MS: No, square foot gardening. What that is, you can just go on their site. I just got these books a couple weeks ago. The traditional way we do agriculture is you do them in rows. Ok? Now, this works out great if you’ve got a tractor and trailers to tend your crops. If all you’ve got is a plot out in front of your house, this square foot gardening technique you get a lot more food grown in a much smaller place. And you use a lot less water and a lot less of everything. So it works out much better for small-scale folks, you know, like myself.

DR: Is that similar to John Jeavon’s grow biointensive method?

MS: I think so; I just ordered one of his books. So I don’t know enough about his stuff in particular. But when that gets here in a few of days I can let you know.

DR: All right. You did an experiment with the lights in your home at one point, didn’t you?

MS: Yeah, I basically tried to just learn to live with as little electricity as possible. But unfortunately you can only cut back so much. And I work from home. So that experiment didn’t last all that long unfortunately. It’s so hard not to have that light on and you just tend to turn it on. I don’t own or operate a vehicle so I’ve cut back a lot there. I don’t do that necessarily…people a lot of times will conserve because they feel it is the right thing to do morally or ethically. I would agree it’s probably the right thing to do morally or ethically. That’s not my motivation. My motivation is more just for financial survival. Typically in America, once someone can afford a car they go buy one. Now I’m at the point now I can afford to buy a used one. But it doesn’t make any sense financially since I learned to live without one. If it’s out there in the driveway, it’s so convenient I would end up using it. I’d end up spending more money on gas, the registration and insurance, all that type of stuff. By the time it’s all said and done, it just doesn’t give me financially a net gain. So it just doesn’t make sense. I can take the money I’d spend on that and roll it into something that will actually provide me with a net gain over time.

DR: How long did you do the experiment with the lights off?

MS: Oh God, well I didn’t turn them off. What I’d do is, I’d have one that was extremely dim, maybe some candles or what not. And I don’t know, I probably did it on and off for a couple of months and then…it’s like a diet almost. If you’re going to go on a diet and try to loose weight you start off pretty good about it. And then if you don’t have to loose weight, if it’s not something like an athletic event or a wedding or your doctor tells you you’ve got to loose weight or you’re going to die, you know, if you’re just doing it for the heck of it, you kind of fall off the wagon after a while. So that’s kind of what happened with me trying to live with the minimal amount of electricity.

DR: Well, I’m going to ask you your opinions on a couple of things. To what extent do you think Peak Oil should be a driving force in US public policy?

MS: Well I already think it is a driving force. I mean, we are not being told it is a driving force but I think that is what’s driving the current administration. Energy drives everything. So you have people who are concerned with things like dissolution of our civil liberties and they focus on that. And that’s a very important topic. But that’s a symptom of entropy. The financial system is coming apart at the seams. And people say we have to become financially solvent. Well, that’s a symptom of entropy. Create more and more wars. These are all symptoms of the energy situation. It’s kind of like people back in the medieval ages; they could identify the symptoms of a disease. They didn’t know that germs caused diseases though. So they’d go about trying to deal with the symptoms. And they’d have all sorts of theories about what causes these illnesses. Well, now we know that it was germs. All the social problems that we are having are a result of entropy. Energy is the driving force for all life.

DR: Can you explain for our audience what entropy is?

MS: Energy can only flow in one way, that’s from being usable to being unusable. This is also known as the second law of thermodynamics. As it flows from being usable to being unusable you begin to get sort of chaos. I think I got this example from James Kunstler’s book. He uses an example of a coffee pot. If you have a source of energy you can keep that coffee hot. If you take that source of energy away the coffee pot begins to cool down. Now that’s not a product of a political situation, or of a particular religion, or particular policy. That’s just entropy taking over and the coffee is now becoming cooler. So you can look at our energy situation. We had all this excess energy. It ramps up. Now that energy is becoming more and more scarce. And our society, the backside of the Hubert’s Peak, sort of like if you were to chart the temperature of a pot of coffee the temperature will go up, then it will reach a certain point. Then if you take away the energy then the temperature will gradually decline.

DR: And that’s what we are looking at when you say ‘collapse’?

MS: Right, if you take away the energy source, typically what causes civilizations to collapse. Now previously, prior to the advent of fossil fuels civilization, it would be the loss of topsoil. If you loose topsoil you can’t produce food. Or you can produce less and progressively less food. Well, food is energy. So that people would begin getting in wars over access to food supply essentially. So again, energy or the lack thereof is the driving force of everything else in life.

DR: I’ve heard a number of people say that collapse in this context can be thought of as simplification or less and less complexity. What do you think about that?

MS: I’d say that sounds about right.

DR: You’ve been monitoring media on this issue for at least a year. What have you seen? What’s changing?

MS: Well, the new stories related to oil and Peak Oil, they come much, much quicker than they did even just a year ago. A year ago, if there was an article that mentioned Peak Oil every two weeks, I was like, oh wow that’s a big deal. Now, I’ll sometimes go four or five days in a row and there will be an article in a mainstream news publication about Peak Oil. Now, a day won’t go by where there isn’t a mention. They may not mention Peak Oil specifically but they will be talking about an energy crisis in general. So that was rare even just a year ago. The speed is just really picked up.

DR: What about the character of those articles? Are you seeing a lot more questioning of whether Peak Oil is happening or…?

MS: No, now it’s mostly just … every once in a while there will be somebody who writes an article that says oh, this is…there’s not really anything to worry about. But the idea that this either not going to happen or the idea that there’s nothing to worry about … that, I don’t really see that too often. I see more and more articles that say wow, we are in a lot of deep trouble even if you believe the more optimistic outlooks, we are really in for a tough time. And you can also just look at the number of books that have been published in the last year. God, there are at least six or seven that I can think of just off the top of my head.

DR: You mentioned Kunstler’s book. Is that The Long Emergency?

MS: Yes.

DR: And you’ve read it?

MS: Yes, I have.

DR: Would you care to comment at all?

MS: Oh, I think it is really good. You know, once you know the basics of Peak Oil bell-shaped curve, no alternatives that can scale, you know, all that stuff most of your readers already know … Kunstler has a way of putting things that is very lucid. So, for instance, there is somewhere in there I think he talks about the demise of the tanning hut manager in the context of the hallucinatory economy. Now when you think about it that makes perfect sense. We have huge portions of our economy that are about doing nothing. They don’t produce anything of useful value. Like the tanning hut uses up a lot of electricity and what does it do? It gives you skin cancer. And you can go out in the sun and get a similar effect, ok? So it’s like a big hallucination. This is all fake. There’s no like food or energy, or nothing that you or I would consider truly valuable is being produced. The term the ‘hallucinatory economy’ that really … you know, he has a way of putting things that I think really illustrate the delusional nature of our situation.

DR: Yeah, I really liked when he was talking about the ‘consensus trance’ in End of Suburbia.

MS: Yeah.

DR: Let me ask you this. Why do you think the large green NGO’s are largely silent on oil peak?

MS: I just read a book, a chapter in Dr. Phil’s book. And Dr. Phil used to be on Oprah and now he has his own talk show. And he has a chapter in there that applied to Peak Oil, our situation, so directly. It’s about what’s called perceptual defense, how the mind works when it encounters something that threatens identity. So one of the examples he uses in the book is a group of old church ladies, very conservative, proper. They did this experiment on them where they showed them some slides and interspersed in these slides were bad words, references to sexual intercourse or what not. Now, they measured the women’s blood pressure when these words were flashed before their eyes. And their blood pressure and their pulse and everything else shot up. So on a subconscious level they perceived those words. Now when they asked them did you see anything unusual or odd in these slides none of them saw it. And the reason is in order for them to acknowledge that they had seen a bad word they would have to say that bad word and their identity is tied up on being very proper. Ok, so they can’t even see the bad word because then they’d have to acknowledge it. That would shatter their identity basically. With Peak Oil, you try and tell somebody … the people know that this means ‘game over’ for pretty much whatever we are doing. So a lot of the Green NGO’s and a lot of Progressives in general, they’re as dependent on the continuing functioning of the petroleum economy as somebody who doesn’t care about the environment or doesn’t care about any of this stuff. And they perceive that on some level I think. And that’s why they don’t want to address it.

DR: But they’ve got hybrids!

MS: Well hybrids…that’s like putting a filter on a cigarette!

DR: Let me ask you this. Since transportation seems like it’s going to be getting a lot more expensive especially for air and road, what do you think about rebuilding our local economies so that we make much more of our basic needs locally?

MS: Well, we are going to have to, we won’t really have a choice, so I’m all for it.

DR: So it sounds like something we need to get started with because it’s not really happening at the moment.

MS: Yeah, exactly.

DR: Right now it doesn’t seem like people are acting very urgently with respect to this issue. Congress isn’t acting urgently, individuals aren’t, our municipal leaders aren’t. How much more time do you think we have to just kind of idly sit back and wait for things to happen?

MS: Oh God, that’s a whole question of well, when do you think all this stuff is going to hit the fan. I don’t know, I think it already is hitting the fan. And you got GM and Ford being downgraded to junk status. GM supposedly has $300 billion in debt. You know, the war in Iraq is just getting worse and worse and worse. We’re talking about invading Iran. I just read that there’s a battle that touched on the Syrian border. North Korea … we hear more and more about that. So things seem like they are already coming apart at the seams. So I don’t know how much more time of general normalcy that we have. To be honest, that’s something I try not to think about too much because if I start to think about how little time we probably have, that just gets me completely anxiety ridden. You can’t get anything done when you’re a nervous wreck. So I just put that out of my mind.

DR: What are your future plans and how can the walking worried support you in getting the word out?

MS: Well, my plans are basically what I mentioned earlier. I’m going to keep operating my site. I generate income from that. I use that income to finance my own preparation, finish paying off my student debt, get books on the type of skills that we need. Basically whatever money I have left over at the end of the week that goes to my own preparations as basic and small as they may be at this point. And I don’t think too far out because this type of situation pretty much eliminates your ability to plan long term. We may not have a socially cohesive society in a year. We don’t know. There is a book coming out about the Saudi Doomsday Plan. They are overthrown by Al Qaeda, supposedly is what this book by Gerald Posner says. They set off these dirty bombs. That’s it for 25% of the world’s oil. So we’ve got all sorts of x-factors like that that basically make it impossible for me to plan and more than short to medium term future. So I don’t really have a long-term plan.

DR: What kind of responses are you getting from people that come to your website?

MS: For the most part they are pretty good. Yeah, every once and a while there will be somebody who says you’re crazy, fusion’s going to save us, solar or hydrogen from solar is going to negate this. And then I get all sorts of interesting emails from people who have been contacted by Martians and they’ve got the new source of energy but the government is suppressing it. And I get emails of … the really entertaining ones are the ones where they accuse me of working on behalf of Big Oil to artificially raise the price. And I get that one about once a week and it’s always pretty funny.

DR: So you’re not working for Exxon?

MS: No. (laugh) No, I wish I was, but…you know, I’d have my little eco-bunker somewhere. But that one still … you know, I look around … I live in a very modest apartment and ... do you think I’m on the payroll of Big Oil?

DR: So the average response you are getting is someone saying, hey thanks for opening my eyes to this?

MS: Yeah, I’d say the majority are generally positive. They are either “thanks for opening my eyes,” or like “hey, I just read your site and what about, you know, there’s a certain alternative you didn’t mention and do you think that’s going to help?” Or, you know, things where they can clearly see it’s a serious issue they might still be in that stage that we all go through where you are researching about it to see if it really is as bad as this person is saying it is. Oh, I get people who want to … they have a solution and they need me to post it on my site because they need ten million dollars of funding and once they get that we are all saved. (laugh)

DR: Well, thanks a lot Matt, I really appreciate it and we admire your work.

MediaAn Interview with Matt Savinar, author of "The Oil Age is Over"