On Saturday, May 14, author Michael T. Klare delivered an urgent message to the 200 attendees of Seattle's "Beyond Oil" conference:  --  American society is now entering into a "permanent crisis."  --  There have been earlier, temporary energy crises, but this one will last until the end of the petroleum era and a new paradigm is established.  --  No one knows when that will be, or what it will look like.  --  What follows is a 1,500-word synopsis of what the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum (Metropolitan Books, 2004) had to say in his prepared address, and a summary of what was said in the Q&A session that followed....

By Mark Jensen

United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
May 15, 2005

--On Saturday, May 14, 2005, about 200 people attended an all-day conference entitled Beyond Oil: Challenges and Opportunities for Peace, Jobs, Justice, and Sustainability at Seattle Unity Church. Sponsored by 14 groups, including Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War (SNOW), the conference was "a rare opportunity to come together around common concerns for the environmental, labor, and peace movements -- three movements that often don't even see each other, much less talk together," said Washington State Jobs With Justice co-chair Paul Bigman in his introduction. -- The highlight of the conference was an hour-long address by Michael T. Klare, Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. -- Klare is the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum [Metropolitan Books, 2004], a book that's essential reading in this area. What follows is a synopsis of Michael Klare's address, as well as of the question-and-answer period that followed. --M.J.

Congratulations to the organizers of this conference, which may be the first of what will be many such conferences, responding to a looming crisis to civilization.

What I'd like to do this morning is set the foundation, to paint in broad strokes a picture of the crisis facing American civilization.

I've been on the West Coast for a week, flying up and down, and have seen from the air what American society is like -- Seattle, I must say, is very different. But in general you see freeways and developments stretching in every direction. This is how our society is organized, and it's a society that is now in crisis. And this is a permanent crisis. There have been earlier, temporary crises like it, but this is a permanent crisis that we are entering into, one that will last until the end of the petroleum era and the establishment of a new paradigm. We do not know when this will be, or what that paradigm will look like.

There are six dimensions to this crisis that I'd like to discuss: (1) the dependency dilemma; (2) the supply-and-demand dilemma; (3) the economic dilemma; (4) the environmental dilemma; (5) the foreign policy dilemma; and (6) the moral-ethical dilemma.


We have become addicted to a chemical substance -- a substance that is, moreover, an imported chemical. Since the turn of the last century our economy has been fueled by oil. The United States has dominated the world oil system, which gave rise to the first giant corporation, John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil.

We now consume one quarter of the world's oil -- 20 million barrels a day out of 80 mb/day total. Oil energy supplies 40% of our energy needs. If you add natural gas to this, together oil and gas supply two thirds of our energy. Ninety-seven percent of our transportation energy is provided by petroleum.

Cheap oil has made possible our malls and our suburbs. In our addiction we have recreated society itself, so that we now live in a petro-society. We have created it in such a way that it will be very difficult to extricate ourselves from it. Also, our agriculture is dependent upon petroleum. The food we eat comes from, on average, about 1,500 miles away, from fields treated with petro-chemicals. Our military is a petro-military, dependent on petroleum. The U.S. military is the world's largest consumer of petroleum, using as much as a mid-sized country.

When this petro-society developed, we were producing most of the oil we used, but U.S. domestic production peaked in 1970 and is now in irreversible decline. Our society is now dependent on imports for almost 60% of its petroleum, and the percentage is rising steadily. By 2025 this dependency is predicted to approach 70%.


Since the beginning of the oil era we have acted as though oil will be always be available in ever-increasing quantities. But this may no longer be possible. The world now consumes about 80 million barrels a day (U.S. 20 mb/day). If present trends continue, this will rise to 120 million barrels a day by 2025 (U.S. 28 mb/day, Europe 20-22 mb/day, Asia 30 mb/day -- up from 15mb/day at present). But every year, existing fields decline by about 5%. This means that huge new supplies are needed. But I have severe doubts that they are forthcoming.

There is no need to discuss in detail Peak Oil and Hubbert's peak, as this will be the subject of workshops this afternoon. Estimates of when Peak Oil will arrive vary. Kenneth Deffeyes predicts 2005 -- this year. I'm willing to be more conservative: say, 2010 or 2015. The peak will be about 90 million barrels a day, I think; and then there will be a permanent oil crisis, since there is no substitute on the horizon. No substitute is available at this time.

One consequence will be higher prices. But there will also be geopolitical consequences, since states are desperate to obtain supplies and will use military means to do so. Transportation will become more expensive. Recently Wal-Mart reported disappointing sales. (Applause.) Don't applaud! This is not good news! The decline is probably an effect of higher oil prices. Other sectors will suffer as well -- for example, General Motors and Ford, because the gas-guzzlers they manufacture are less attractive, and this will impact workers.


The whole economy will be weakened, because the money to pay for the petroleum we import will go abroad. Fortunately, China and other Asian nations are willing to buy our debt, but for how long will they be willing to subsidize this? It's not clear. When they are unwilling to do so any longer, a deep recession or depression will result.


It's our consumption of petroleum that is the leading contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, fueling global warming. And our consumption is increasing -- by a projected 40% by 2025. No reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is possible if we continue on the path we are on.


The three factors I'd like to focus on are our dependence on imports, the growing competition for oil, and an historical shift in oil production, which began in the U.S. and then expanded to Canada and Europe, the 'global north.' As recently as 1950, two thirds of oil production came from the 'global north.' As a result, this is the first area on earth to face declining production, and now over two thirds of oil production comes from the 'global south.'

An ever-increasing share will come from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America -- in other words, the third world. We're talking about a very few countries here -- about fifteen or so. Our foreign policy is increasingly dominated by these countries. All are unstable. All harbor ethnic disputes or anti-American elements, and are governed by dictators, monarchs, or juntas. This is no accident.

These countries were, as a rule, created by Western powers. Take Iraq as an example. Iraq did not exist as a country before World War I. It was created by the British. Its creation was based on a strategy of oil extraction. The three groups in Iraq, the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds, were forced together into a state that was only effectively fused by Saddam Hussein. Now we have fractured that state. The election of January 30 was not a victory of democracy -- it was an expression of a will to separate, which has resulted in governmental fractiousness.

Similar things hold in other countries, all of which are the products of imperialism. Ruling elites are essentially mafias whose rule is based on exclusive control of oil, and they use military forces to maintain power. They are, in other words, repressive petro-elites.

This is a recipe for perpetual violence. What is al Qaeda? Al Qaeda is an expression of discontent with the profligate lifestyles of the ruling elites. The U.S. government, like the British government before it, has chosen to make the decision to ally itself with the petro-elites -- a devil's bargain, that in the case of Saudi Arabia goes back to the meeting of King Ibn Saud with Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 14, 1945. We have a relationship not with Saudi Arabia, but with the male heirs of the Saudi ruling family. We have a preference for alliances with dictators, monarchs, and juntas, because they are best able to maintain a stable flow of oil. September 11 was an attempt to smash this unholy U.S.-Saudi marriage.

Thus the U.S. is opposed to all popular forces trying to overthrow these repressive regimes. Since the Abdul Aziz [i.e. Ibn Saud]-Roosevelt meeting, U.S. doctrine has considered oil supplies an essential national interest: the Carter Doctrine declared this in 1980, but it was already U.S. policy. After the Gulf War, Iraq was not occupied because an anti-imperial resistance was predicted. I think the current war is an extension of the Gulf War.

What's different now is that the Carter Doctrine is being globalized, extended to the Caspian Sea area, to Africa, and to Latin America. There are now bases ringing the Caspian basin, and we're looking for bases in Africa. One added dimension is increasing competition from China -- the dangers of this competition are immense.


I hope we approach the general public by appealing to this dimension. We are putting young Americans' lives at risk to protect vastly fuel-inefficient vehicles -- that is immoral. The photo of Bush embracing Crown Prince Abdullah should be made the image of this obscene un-American policy. Then there's the matter of environmental destruction. Our public policy subsidizes the maintenance of a way of life that is ruinous and doomed. The problem needs to be addressed now; to postpone addressing it is unethical. For it is the young people who will pay.



Question: This is a political question. Do you see any hope from the Democrats or the Republicans, or do we need a third party?

Answer: Federal politics is mostly a wasteland. Meaningful politics is all at the local level at this time, I'm afraid.

Question: What is the relation of fundamentalism and the theology of rapture to these issues?

Answer: The religious community is not monolithic. Some conservative Christians are embracing an ethic of stewardship, and ecumenical movements are growing. The big oil companies are worried, as is shown by the appearance of a "What would Jesus drive?" picture in the business press.

Question: There's a two-year wait to buy a Prius [This is not correct. --M.J.] and I can't find one to rent either. Why is it so hard to find one?

Answer: It's easy to explain. The political culture of the big car companies explains it. There are larger profit margins in SUVs. As trends go, these companies are not going to be competitive.

Question: What do you think of statements that an attack on Iran is planned for June?

Answer: I've just written an article on this for the Tom Dispatch web site, called Oil, Geopolitics, and the Coming War on Iran. We know that Bush decided on war on Iraq in 2001-2002. I think we're now at a similar point with Iran. I'm sure there's active planning for war on Iran; various scenarios are being planned. I have no doubt. I don't think a decision to go to war has been made yet, or that a choice of plans has been made. Only when China and Russia have vetoed sanctions against Iran will an attack be launched.

Question: How much oil does the U.S. military use?

Answer: I don't know -- I'm working on finding an answer to that, but I haven't yet succeeded.

Question: I'm a student at Nova High School -- what ideas do you have for reducing our school's carbon emissions?

Answer: Doing an audit is the first step.

Question: Just how does the U.S. citizen's energy use divide up?

Answer: Two thirds of it goes into ground transportation. Home heating is also important, especially in the Northeast.

Question: What about the geopolitical situation in Latin America, where there's Hugo Chavez, and an apparent trend toward more socialism? How will this impact the U.S.'s ability to exploit the global south?

Answer: That's an important question. A lot of this has to do with the diversification policy -- the desire to have many sources, because of supply volatility. This was already initiated by the Clinton administration. Everyone should read chapter 8 of the National Energy Policy of May 2001. This shows that there is a global energy strategy that places a heavy emphasis on Latin America. Hugo Chavez is a slap in the face to that strategy, and he is trying to form a union of Latin American nations to improve their bargaining position. I have no doubt that plans are being developed to get rid of Hugo Chavez. The Colombian government is aligned with the U.S. government.

Question: We're living in an unsustainable society. What level of civilization could we have without oil, and how large a population will we have? (Applause.)

Answer: I'm not sure this is a question that I would applaud for. Richard Heinberg in The Party's Over says the world could support 2 billion people. This means that 7 billion people will die from the impending crisis. And these will not be rich North Americans. They will be poor people. This is an ethical question that we face: Can we imagine a way for the additional three billion people that are coming, not to die? In my mind, the problem is how more equitably to distribute the world's wealth. The uninhabitability of the global south is the greatest source of potential violence that there is. There isn't enough on the planet for everyone to have the American middle-class lifestyle. This is the most important question facing humanity.

Question: Where can we go to get talking points to engage people who deny Peak Oil?

Answer: Actually, more and more people agree that Peak Oil is coming, and it's the consensus in the industry. I subscribe to Oil and Gas Journal -- they say there is more oil available than is said, that peak oil can be postponed -- but it is not denied. SEC reports, which must be truthful or criminal penalties apply, show that the oil companies are not finding new oil.

Question: What percentage of senators and representatives have a grasp of this situation? Have congressional staffs come to you for advice?

Answer: The decision makers are well aware of everything I've said. All of this is common knowledge. My main sources for all of this are the Wall Street Journal and the Oil and Gas Journal. Decision makers have to have the facts. They know all this, but they've made a conscious decision to perpetuate this way of life because it's economically advantageous to their supporters. But this attitude is starting to change, because the big companies are saying that this crisis is undermining the vitality of American capitalism. The CEO of General Electric called this week for the government to move toward accepting the Kyoto protocol.

(Applause, standing ovation)