A discussion with Michael T. Klare - Blood & Oil..



(this discussion was conducted over the phone, as he's in Massachussets and we're over in the UK)

Hi its Creel Commission here...

MK A pleasure to talk to you ....

JL Very good of you to let us talk to you, just for your information we have about 5 of us over here in the room, John (myself), Jamie, Tom, James and Ed.... We have a bunch crazy questions for you about oil. What we are trying to do is less of an interview and more of a discussion, we're trying to talk to a lot of great minds from around the world about the kinds of things that don't get talked about much in the press... Jamie found your book and thought it was pretty good... so Jamie why don't you take it away....

JPC - Hi Michale, I'm Jamie the best good looking in the room... Could you comment on President Bush's state of the Union Address where he said he would cut imported oil by 75% by 2050...

MK - there's been a lot of discussion about this, I think that Bush is responding to a growing public uneasiness about this, the public is worried about high prices, hearing about peak oil, there worried about terrorism and worried that the govt isn't doing enough about all this, so Bush is being something of an opportunist here responding to the genuine public concern about the issue, the media hasn't really caught on.



As everyone who has looked at his proposals has said, there really isn't enough meat there to achieve anything in the time that he states. He's not calling for the type of initiatives that could make a difference to America's consumptive behaviour. Unless you can compel Americans to drive less, and use less gasoline, every other measure is trivial in comparison... if you keep driving SUV'x with huge tanks of gas nothing else is really going to make a difference, and he didn't call for any conservation measures like raising the minimum fuel emissions from cars. And secondly you cannot distinguish when the refinery sends out refined gasoline, where that gasoline has come from, whether the Middle East, US, Canada Latin America it all gets mixed up- you can't just state you are going to cut out the parts from the Middle East - that's just ridiculous. none of this amounts to anything but the impression that the President is paying attention to people's concerns about this.

JL So in short look at his actions rather than his words...

MK Exactly, this is more of the same, that is to say more subsidies to Big Oil and Coal to go on doing what they were doing before. So nothing will come of it.

TG I think it was the Chicago Roadshow this year, they ask consumers what is the one thing they really want in a car, up until this year it was performance but this year it fuel economy. I just wondered if you felt the message was getting through to American car drivers and whether it was changing the way they bought cars?

MK Yes - Americans have started getting nervous, bear in mind that gasoline was unbelievably cheap in America for the past 25 years in America, so much cheaper than in Europe... a year ago it was $1.50 per gallon, so it really didn't cost much to fill up a big SUV tank - it was a trivial purchase for most people. Americans tend to live far from their place of work or even from shopping, on average they drive hundreds of miles to get to work every week, so the price of gasoline is a big factor in the day to day budget of the average American. Essentially the price of oil has doubled and has reached the point where it bites into people's budget and wellbeing... They are going to start getting really worried about this.

JamesL on that note its interesting that some of the celebrities are helping to endorse this idea of being environmentally friendly... George Clooney with Syriana coming out was driving an electric car but at the same time flies private jets around, do these guys actually help your ideas?

MK its useful when actors and rock stars show up at the Oscars in a hybrid car or whatever, like di Caprio and others have done, it sends a good message. When magazines like Rolling Stone feature these big macho SUV's marketed to young people it sends a message that its ok...

EC America has such a big bling bling culture, especially from black and hip hop music and all the white copycats, I guess it has to become 'cool' to drive hybrid vehicles and so on, how likely do you think that is to happen in your opinion?

MK It's hard to say with young people... gender matters here, women are far more inclined to buy a fuel efficient car, it's young men who are attracted to trucks and macho cars...

EC over here women like to drive big Range Rovers in London... for some reason I don't know why...

JL personally i feel that even hybrid cars and so on, although better than a gas guzzler, is a marginal thing, it's a whim and indulgence of the minority, the global pattern of consumption we can't ignore, there's 6 billion of us. if we look at it realistically, pretty much every human society has consumed every resource in it's grasp and then has self combusted... do you think we are going to do the same?

MK I worry about it, 1/4 of all the oil devoured each day is devoured in the United States... thats 300 million people using a quarter, while the other 6 billion use the other three quarters, there are some other countries, Canada etc. who have a high rate of gasoline use, so it does make a difference to focus on the countries like the US that are so consumptive of gasoline and most of it goes into cars and trucks. But 70% of our gas consumption is in transportation and a large part of that goes in individual vehicles. So in terms of the global problem if you can get Americans to drive less its going to have a disproportionate impact than anything else you might be able to do, so even though its true that the populations growing, but in terms of consumption its not equitably distributed, some people consume far more than others. Now something that troubles me, the rising middle classes in China, Asia, Mexico and Brazil are trying to copy the American way of life, buying cars with suburban homes, 10 years ago nobody there had a car but now you have to have a car to be cool. Now if every middle class person in India and China had a car the impact on the world would be catastrophic.. not that they should have any less right than Americans to have cars...

JL well if you extrapolate that, it essentially goes to the heart of the profound flaws in the capitalist model... terrifying dont you think?

MK Yes it is, but I emphasise this because they are just beginning this, so if somehow it were possible through culture to convince people in the developing world that they shouldn't go down the same wasteful disastrous route like people in the United States you could still make a difference at this stage... it's early enough..

JamesL on that you mention Brazil, they seem to be doing pretty well by using Alcohol as fuel... will that threaten our alcohol supply in the future?!

MK that's a good point, you know that's what we have to do, convince India and China to go down that route rather than petroleum. I just read in the WSJ that China is becoming conscious that its environmental behaviour will destroy all of its economic gains if they don't do something about this. I was going to say something else earlier, you were talking about what's cool, and one thing that could be made to look cool is bicycle riding...

EC they do that in the Netherlands, in the Netherlands they have public bicycle racks...

MK yeah, in NYC the bicycle driver messaging boys are kind of a faddish image, but that kind of cool could be an alternative.

TG I've worked in advertising VW's and trying to make them cool. Could a solution be to ban some advertising or adding public health warnings in the way that they do with cigarettes...

MK What an interesting thought, I do compare the campaign against gas guzzling to the campaign against tobacco, i'd never thought of it in the advertising sense, that's an interesting idea.

JL But gas guzzling is so much more entrenched than tobacco in the Western way of life. I wanted to ask whether you had been attacked as a liberal or a left winger, it seems that in America anyone who dares question the assumptions that you should guzzle oil gets ridiculed...

MK Well that's no longer the case, it was true up to a year ago, but there has been a change in public opinion, there are several reasons to this, George Clooneys film speaks of this... I think more and more Americans are aware in their gut that our dependence on petroleum means we are dependent on the Saudi Royal Family and they are in bed with Al Quaeda and Osama BL, so our fuel dependence kind of fuels terrorism and is unhealthy to the US. So public opinion has shifted which is precisely what Bush's speech has reflected. The other surprising thing is Hurricane Katrina, the fact that some people were able to drive away but others couldnt upset a lot of people too. What i'm saying is that its created a space to criticize fuel consumption without arousing the kind of hostility and derision that would have been true a year or so ago.

JamesL on that have you found yourself ever threatened in any way by any corporations?

MK Oh no never in any way. I have two areas of research interest, the other is the global arms trade and I have been attacked by the National Rifle Association, nasty guys believe me, but I haven't been challenged on this issue you see because there is an undercurrent of anxiety about our oil addiction, that the oil companies are nervous about confronting head on, they are addressing it sideways like Bush did.

JL That concerns us, the levels of double speak... on the one hand they talk the talk and spend $50m on alternative energy, but on the other hand they spend $100m per day in Iraq, the same is true of the oil companies who are all pretending to be much greener.

MK Oh yes, but my sense is that there is now political space to challenge that on talk radio and in opinion articles.

TG do you think you are getting through to Americans? It worries us how aware the average American is of the outside world.

MK Yeah, not me alone by any means. Have you seen the movie End of Suburbia yet? Its a movie made in Canada and is being shown constantly all over the US, its kind of an underground movement, people are watching it and having discussion groups about it.

JL this is a slight diversion, did you ever see the film Oil Storm, it was made by a friend of ours called James Erskine, it was commissioned by FX channel of the Fox Group, the story was of a hurricane hitting New Orleans and taking out the Oil supply, it went to the top of the Fox Channel to the top commissioner who said why the hell are we making this liberal shit, and they put it out without any publicity and without screeners to the press... but it was 2 months before Katrina!

MK I didnt know about it no, but this movie the End of Suburbia has had great widespread exposure.

TG I saw Syriana last week but I couldn't really follow it, it was too complicated and I think the message needs to be put across more simply, how is it best to do that?

MK This sort of gut instinct that our oil dependence is putting us in trouble in the Middle East, but I don't think this movie does that...

EC, Could we talk a bit about the coming impact of China? I think everyone's consciousness is changing over here, but there are billions of Indians and Chinese coming onto full industrialisation and the impacts are going to be vast. Are all of these things we are talking about regarding us lowering our dependence, is that really going to make a difference in the long run over the next 20 or 30 years?

MK I truly believe these pressures are going to impact everyone; I have no doubt we will be forced to change our ways. THe price of oil will rise, we will be forced to change not as an act of morality, and that will be the same for China, the pain of it will be increasingly felt... I worry that this is going to lead to increased conflict... it's just going to get harder and harder to satisfy aspirations... people won't be able to pay higher prices...

EC - do you think we should all join the army?!

JC - you mention Orwell in Blood and Oil , and talk of vast conflicts in Eurasia vying for Oil, do you see that turning in to a Cold War or nuclear situation?

MK we are already! Since I wrote my book the slide has accelerated at speed. Last summer the Chinese backed a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that met in Pakistan in July, and they called for the US to pull their military bases out of central Asia which made the US very upset and Don Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice flew out to bully them to not call for the US to abandon its base in Turkistan, but 6 of them did tell the US to close its base, now the Department of Defence has taken on a definite Anti-Chinese Stance and he talks about oil as the basis for future US competition with China. It hasn't acquired full force yet...



JC you published your book in 2004... you were predicting that Iran would be the next focal point, and you also said that China was backing them quite heavily with arms... what's going to happen there?
MK well I think that US is going to bomb Iran before 2006 is over: I don't think that China or Russia will intervene as they are too weak, they will use every diplomatic plan they can to hobble the US, but I am convinced Bush will bomb Iran before the year is out.

JL I read that Iran would fight back exceptionally strongly, and that with the help of the Chinese they have dug deep anti air defences, it sounds like it could get really messy...

MK Well I think that the US has been planning to attack Iran for over a year now. Seymour Hersch wrote about the Green Beret conducting raids into Iran to pinpoint Nuclear facilities. There's a lot of effort underway to prepare for this, but Bush isn't going to back down on this. His legacy is at stake. They will say its not for oil; that they are building nuclear weapons for terrorists and therefore they have to be stopped and the truth is a lot of Americans will accept that argument unfortunately which is partly why I think Bush is willing to do this.

TG How many casualties do you think the American population will tolerate before they move against the political authority?

MK That's impossible to say.

TG we know what the casualty rate was in Vietnam how bad can it get?

MK Well I think its already reaching a point where the war in Iraq is a political liability for the Republicans coming into the next election and they are very nervous. What's different between Iraq and Vietnam is that, we rely to a great degree on what we call the National Guard which are citizen part time soldiers, these people sign up, train once a month but to a great extent they are being used in Iraq and suffering casualties and creating a lot of hardship for the families. It's families of servicemen who are becoming increasingly distressed by the war in Iraq, they tend to vote Republican so the fact that that particular slice of the population are turning against the war is something the Republicans should be worried about.

JC Just going on about Iran, what do you think the Chinese reaction would be to a US or Israeli bombing of Iran in 2006?

MK I think they will object strenuously but I don't think they will do anything militarily to obstruct the US as they are too weak and vulnerable. This is a big issue for China - they get most of their oil from the Persian Gulf and it goes through the Strait of Hormuz and past American military bases, Their energy lifeline is totally exposed to US Military power and they're very very nervous as the US could cut off the flow of oil to China at any moment. the Chinese are building pipelines to Kazakhstan and Russia to have alternative lifelines for their oil as they are so vulnerable.

JC Do you think for the American hawkish long term planners - you talk about Wolfowitz' document of the late 90's - do you think that disrupting China's economic development might be a subplot concerning the bombing of Iran?

MK Thats a very interesting question, the elite's are divided on China more than anything else, there are corporate interests that want to do business in China and view it as the biggest future market they don't want to lose ties with China, but there is this hawkish element who think China is our next big enemy and who prepare to go to War with China and that we should damage their economic position, and I would say that the Bush administration hasn't made up its mind.

JamesL Would you have Rumsfeld shot if you could?!

MK Well I don't believe in violence...

JC sorry Michael!

MK he should be dismissed as a threat to interests... what do you think about Cheney he really should be dismissed!

EC If you take a Catastrophic outlook on the future with more war for resources...do you think that it might stand against us that we don't like soldiers to die even though they are soldiers, do you think our culture is a bit soft we can't take casualties in war and things?!

MK It's true that my outlook is bleak and maybe thats not healthy... we can't go on consuming without reaching some limits and it may come back to haunt us, and that may be through warfare or just as easily through environmental catastrophe that will be so severe that people will be too busy to get involved in wars... with Katrina people don't quite appreciate how significant it represents as a warning, that could happen to New york if the sea level rises as people are suggesting... we could be too busy building dykes to fund armies...

EC That's what James lovelock said to us regarding the same thing happening to London...

JL ... well he thinks it's too late already...

JC Lovelock is very bleak about the future, we interviewed him, and his recent book 'The Revenge of Gaia' which just came out last month he foresees a future of powerful warlords ruling over a very untemperate environment and he is very unambiguous about how bad its going to get. We met him and he's not a catastrophist, he's a very charming, benevolent man...



MK I'm benevolent too...

JC but something we are concerned about is that all the sages we have been seeking out - of whom you are one - are very bleak about the environment their grandchildren are going to inherit so my question is what do you see the world being like in 2084 as opposed to 1984?

MK Well I have my bleak vision... I teach college students, 18,19, and 20 year olds and I've come to understand that if I'm bleak all the time it's very distressing so I try to think about the positive side of things... there are positive signs, compared to a year ago environmental consciousness about global warming and oil consumption is a hundred times greater than what it was and I see that in a million different ways, there really is a change... there is a struggle within Nasa and that we're not going to keep our mouths shut... that's front page stories... we should emphasise the positives, I did want to say about 2084, that movie Mad Max.... essentially I think that people by 2084 will have suffered terrible catastrophies and be beginnieng to remake society by then, that's certainly possible...

JamesL... last one for positives, do you think with the melting of the ice caps we will have a whole load more oil fields up for grabs?!

MK yeah but no one is going to have money

EC yeah but they can always print money can't they... the US is quite good at that!

JL In Blood & Oil the one thing you don't talk about, and talking to my friends in the money markets over here, obviously just before Iraq was invaded Saddam switched Iraq's oil exports to be denominated in Euro's and Iran is now talking of trading oil in Euros, and you don't really talk about how oil is denominated in dollars and effectively the total bankruptcy of the US economy, and exporting of US debt...

MK Yeah I hear about this all the time, people are really focused on the issue of Dollars and Euros, but everytime I ask really smart people who work within the money world they all say its not an issue partly because all the money that China and Japan have, they are buying up American debt, so they are rich with dollars and they are paying for oil and gas in dollars, so the world's oil is still traded overwhelmingly in dollars, so even if Iran switches to Euros its not going to make a big difference. What willl make a difference is if China stops buying US debt and the whole stack of cards collapses...

JC Well Michael, you have been very very kind giving your time with this...
MK Well I've enjoyed the conversation... I look forward to your future exploits, keep me informed... JC Well we've really enjoyed this conversation its been really illuminating, also like to say we are doing every thing we can to get these ideas out and hope you can see that this is a creative and useful exercise for you as well....

MK Well I'm delighted in your interest and look forward to getting your CDs when they come out please send them...

JL I think at a very minimum with this interview we will publish it on our website at a very minimum and we are trying to work out how to do a podcast which you do on computers which are all made from oil, so god knows! Anyway thank you very very much for your time...

MC
Bye....

Interview added 21-02-2006