collapse, peak oil and the dark future of michael ruppert- a film review

by anekdotales

collapse, by robert smith, is an hour and a half interview with former lapd narcotics officer, and investigative journalist, michael ruppert.  the documentary, shot in the basement of a former meatpacking factory in los angeles, is essentially a man, a dark room, chain smoking, and some pretty ominous revelations about the fragility of our modern world.  ruppert begins the interview by walking the audience through his experience as a los angeles police officer in the 1970’s and his eventual disillusionment with justice institutions.  in 1977 ruppert alleges he was recruited by the cia to help in agency drug smuggling operations, an offer he denies accepting.  however today with the wealth of information available about covert cia drug operations like mk-ultra, later the iran-contra affair, and finally the crack cocaine boom of the 80’s and 90’s, i’d argue there’s a certain plausibility in michael ruppert’s claims. originally a “change it from the inside” kind of guy, ruppert tells the audience he’d hoped he could out the cia through public letters to lapd department heads and state senators, “getting on the record” as he puts it.  in retrospect ruppert recognizes these ineffective attempts to confront the state as naive. but understands the process he’d gone through to realize this naivete, as the base for his future career as an investigative journalist.  this career would eventually lead ruppert to write, edit and publish from the wilderness a newsletter read by more than 20,000 subscribers in 40 countries including 40 members of the US Congress. ruppert explains to the audience this career lead him to break various national scandals like the sub-prime mortgage scandal, which he’d written about nearly three years before the 2008 crisis. however since 2001 ruppert has become increasingly focused on energy, and more specifically peak oil.  peak oil backers like ruppert argue the hydrocarbon energy source is finite and that both oil discovery and use mapped on a graph, create a bell curve.  and more importantly that we are or have already passed the climax of this curve.  so what does that mean? this is where the documentary gets interesting.

“there is nothing, anywhere or in any combination that can replace the edifice built by fossil fuels.” states ruppert six minutes into the film.

ruppert explains how modern civilization is built upon petroleum, whether it be toothbrushes or toothpastes, cars or paints, plastics or medicines, oil is everywhere in our society.  and our dependency continues to grow.  ruppert, and others,  argue that the economic explosion in growth that occurred with the discovery and development of oil production was paralleled by a similar boom in the world’s population.  and with the economic and population so grew our dependency on oil, and vice versa.  until we reached the point where we are today.  china and india, the world’s two largest populations, have recently bust into the modern industrial global economy, throwing millions of potential consumers into a feeding frenzy for merchandizing and western lifestyle.  unfortunately for the chinese and the indians, according to ruppert, they arrived too late for the party.  the oil’s running out and almost everyone is addicted.  how do we know its running out? as ruppert sees it we can tell because we’ve begun looking for oil in extremely hard to reach locations- off-shore drilling, arctic ice shelf, canadian tar flats; and all of these methods/places require extremely energy expensive means to extract the available petroleum.  essentially, we keep spending more to get oil out of the ground and as ruppert argues now we’re spending more than what we’re getting- common sense says this can’t be good.  ruppert uses the case of saudi arabia to illustrate that we’ve reached this point. saudi arabia, home to the world’s largest oil field, has invested heavily in off shore oil drilling. a signal that the kingdom recognizes that their oil field is depleting, or soon to begin so.  it stands to reason that if the world’s largest oil producer is in depletion than the world’s production potentials can’t be far behind.

so what happens now that we’re here, in a world fucked by a bad case of oil withdrawal? “we live in an infinite growth paradigm,” says ruppert. “the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. the second law, energy only converts in one direction- from usable to unusable. that’s called the law of entropy, and in every energy transaction some energy’s lost.” ruppert wants the audience to understand modern civilization’s current situation through the laws of nature.  he sees our civilization  reaching the point in history where our ‘infinite growth paradigm’ clashes directly with the laws of nature.  in short for ruppert the future is grim.  the rule of those that have controlled the world’s political and economic structures, is under threat.  ruppert signals the wars in iraq and afghanistan as perhaps the first of future wars aimed specifically at the control of remaining oil supplies. the economic collapse of the sub-prime mortgage scandal as the first of many extreme examples of insolvency yet to come. he argues the disappearance of oil and our unwillingness to adapt means that our oil dependent economies will become so costly that almost all normal economic activity will stop.  our transportation and utilities infrastructure will collapse because of lack of maintenance and redevelopment. our extremely energy intensive food industry will slam to a halt leaving thousands of acres of nutrient-less wasteland no longer capable sustaining growth.  our monetary systems will no longer be of relevance as inflation, used to plug the holes of our sinking economies, will leave even the most secure international currencies valueless. conflicts over water, and food will surpass old conflicts of political hegemony as the bloodletting of the future.  but perhaps most damning is ruppert’s vision of mass global starvation, as the world’s population struggles to regain its natural balance.

so what the hell do we do? let me say that watching ruppert its really easy to be cynical, and pessimistic, and say “fuck it, we’re all gonna die.” the interview doesn’t really develop ruppert’s vision of where we go now, understanding the predicament he’s laid out before us.  this is because for ruppert there is no solution.   the alternative fuels pushed by the energy industry are greatly insufficient to fill the void left by oil.  for ruppert it’s taken us too long to recognize our addiction and now there’s no time to change, the collapse is already upon us. everything will become local, that is the only insight ruppert gives us as to a possible escape from this rat hole we’ve dug ourselves.  now while i agree with ruppert that we’ve reached the point where our ‘infinite growth paradigm’ and the laws of nature collide, and subsequently our reality as we know it is already beginning to implode, i can’t help but think- won’t this all play out along the same lines of class as always?  maybe more international classes, defined simply as the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, but class none the less.  ruppert’s vision of our future is fairly homogenic in terms of how he sees humanity affected by this predicament.   however i’d argue that the logic developed through colonialism, imperialism, and now globalization is only re-buttressing itself to have a stranglehold on all natural resources, protecting them with the most potent and destructive weapons available.  the military industrial complex is perhaps the only industry that continues to grow even as we enter this collapse.  i worry that the future is not just one of great calamity, but heightened disparity between the global rich and poor.   so while oil will be so expensive that there will be no food on our grocery store shelves, you’ll still find some jackass driving around in his hummer, showing off his rims at 5 miles/gallon.   as for ruppert’s quick reference to the local, i wish he’d been able to develop this idea more.  for me this is where there is a small kernel of hope.  perhaps the most marginalized social-political movements of the last decade have been those advocating for a radical rethinking of the basic principles of modern civilization- capitalism and individualism.  the challenges presented by the end of oil are perhaps the opportunity for the creation of another world.  not in the hippie, “lets get together and build another world” kind of way, because i recognize there’s going to be way too much chaos, strive, and suffering, to start talking about love and peace.  rather i’m trying to say that there is already another world that exists.  across europe there are intentional collective living spaces- squats- recreating norms of living by choosing to live collectively in groups as opposed to in single family homes. in argentina, there are still some worker controlled factories remaining since the economic collapse of 2000, economic decisions made by the totality of participants continue to challenge argentinian societal norms.  indigenous communities across the world struggle to remain beyond the shadow of international economic interests, in another example of this other world.  all over the planet more and more people are finding economic sustenance in the informal economy.  the collapse both ruppert and i can agree on, i see as the moment where this other world springs to life, fighting to survive all the way but finding the space to construct because the options will be few.   or we all descend into the apocalyptic reality whose arrival the collapse signals, or we build off what we have at the local level.  we will be forced to return to a more modest reality not dominated by consumerism and ego, but by sustainability and community.   i’m not willing to throw in the towel.  because on a personal level it would either mean suicide or selling out to an eventually self-destructive ignorance.

director robert smith breaks the interview up into sections: oil, transportation, electricity, food, from the wilderness, money, and collapse. smith guides us through the interview and ruppert’s character, with cuts to news headlines, and footage. through the angle changes and fades smith reminds us of errol morris’ famous work, “fog of war”- the interview with robert mcnamara.  yet in collapse, ruppert is allowed to talk more fluidly, even at points reaching tears. smith’s questions fall short of the microphone’s reach, such leaving ruppert almost alone in front of the viewer, responding to questions yet at the same point telling a story, his story.  we see a man crushed by the mission he cannot give up, the crusade against a system constructed to do just what he sees it doing.  growing and growing and growing, until there is nothing left.  and when smith is done giving the interview we are left feeling a certain affinity for michael ruppert.  he is a modern tragic hero, his anger and frustration sympathetic in it’s sincerity and poignancy.  this documentary is well worth watching.  and if it doesn’t leave you atleast examining your life then you’re probably part of the third group ruppert describes in his analogy of the passengers on the sinking titanic, or atleast the second.

 

another documentary on peak oil- focused on canadian tar sands

dirty oil

 

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