Micah Saul: This project is built on a hypoth­e­sis. There are moments in his­to­ry when the sta­tus quo fails. Political sys­tems prove insuf­fi­cient, reli­gious ideas unsat­is­fac­to­ry, social struc­tures intol­er­a­ble. These are moments of crisis. 

Aengus Anderson: During some of these moments, great minds have entered into con­ver­sa­tion and torn apart inher­it­ed ideas, dethron­ing truths, com­bin­ing old thoughts, and cre­at­ing new ideas. They’ve shaped the norms of future generations.

Saul: Every era has its issues, but do ours war­rant The Conversation? If they do, is it happening?

Anderson: We’ll be explor­ing these sorts of ques­tions through con­ver­sa­tions with a cross-section of American thinkers, peo­ple who are cri­tiquing some aspect of nor­mal­i­ty and offer­ing an alter­na­tive vision of the future. People who might be hav­ing The Conversation.

Saul: Like a real con­ver­sa­tion, this project is going to be sub­jec­tive. It will fre­quent­ly change direc­tions, con­nect unex­pect­ed ideas, and wan­der between the tan­gi­ble and the abstract. It will leave us with far more ques­tions than answers because after all, nobody has a monop­oly on dream­ing about the future.

Anderson: I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul. And you’re lis­ten­ing to The Conversation.


Micah Saul: Hey, long time no talk.

Aengus Anderson: Yeah, I know. It’s been…at least five to ten minutes.

Saul: I know, crazy. I smoked an entire cig­a­rette and had two glass­es of water.

Anderson: This is real­ly excit­ing. So. Tomorrow I get on my motor­cy­cle and I ride to Santa Cruz.

Saul: Yes.

Anderson: And I meet up with Jan Lundberg

Saul: This was one of the first inter­views we locked down. It was actu­al­ly num­ber two, I believe, wasn’t it?

Anderson: It was pret­ty soon. I’d read an inter­view with him and I was real­ly impressed. If you’re look­ing for some­one who’s will­ing to sort of ques­tion your fun­da­men­tal truths, Jan is a man who will do that. And I mean he will ask you to rip up the pave­ment on your block and rethink how you live your life.

Saul: So what are the themes that we want to be car­ry­ing for­ward here?

Anderson: Well, maybe one that we can car­ry from our con­ver­sa­tion with Andrew Keen would be the idea of is this unique his­tor­i­cal moment.

Saul: Oh, absolutely.

Anderson: And I think he can give us some inter­est­ing thoughts on peak oil. I think he’s will­ing to spec­u­late on the idea of change and what it takes to trig­ger change in the same way that Reverend Fife was in the first episode.

Saul: I’d be inter­est­ed, actu­al­ly going along those lines also from from Reverend Fife, talk­ing about the the notion of the empire. How do you gov­ern this sort of thing with­out becom­ing totalitarian?

Anderson: Right. The ten­sion between the envi­ron­ment and sort of [crosstalk] per­son­al freedom.

Saul: Individual freedom. 

Anderson: Yeah. That is a huge issue that I think we haven’t got­ten into yet, and this is a good place to sort of embark on that.

Saul: To start there. Yeah.

Anderson: Absolutely.

Saul: Also the anthro­pocen­tric ver­sus bio­cen­tric view.

Anderson: Yea. I think anoth­er thing that I would real­ly like to get to is, because Jan’s posi­tion is so dif­fer­ent, I mean it is tru­ly like…the idea of depaving in this soci­ety is about as heretical—

Saul: It’s anathema.

Anderson: Yeah, as you can get. And so I want to talk to him in the same way that we talked to Peter [Warren] about sort of struc­tural­ly how do you have the conversation.

Saul: Yes.

Anderson: His views are so out there com­pared to the main­stream. How could he engage the main­stream? How can he make a dif­fer­ence, and how can he jus­ti­fy his opin­ions as being good?

Saul: I think that’s prob­a­bly the place to fin­ish, to go back to our com­mon lan­guage. Why is this future good?


Jan Lundberg: I left UCLA to join the fam­i­ly busi­ness for a lit­tle while in 1972. I end­ed up stay­ing for four­teen years to get some kind of an appren­tice­ship or grad­u­ate school-type edu­ca­tion, and learned about the oil industry.

Anderson: And what was the fam­i­ly business?

Lundberg: Lundberg Survey, which is quot­ed on major media regard­ing oil and gaso­line prices and sup­ply issues. We pre­dict­ed the sec­ond oil shock in 1979. This is sort of the high water mark of our pres­tige. And I left in 1986 after my father died. And I sub­se­quent­ly decid­ed that I real­ly didn’t want to be doing work where I paid peo­ple to do things that I myself found very unpleas­ant, like dri­ving around to gas sta­tions all day and col­lect­ing data. So I decid­ed to get back into what I was doing in school before going into the fam­i­ly busi­ness, and that was envi­ron­men­tal activism.

So I thought well if Lester Brown can start Worldwatch Institute and do some­thing mean­ing­ful there, I’d bet­ter try to do some­thing to use my knowl­edge to help the earth. And in all this time it seemed that there had to be alter­na­tives to oil and the dom­i­nant car and truck trans­porta­tion, that could be fixed by pol­i­cy and some non­prof­it lob­by­ing grass­roots orga­niz­ing activism as we knew it.

But as it turned out, so much of the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment was already technofix-oriented that the world that I came, from the 60s and 70s was already passé, and for the envi­ron­men­tal­ists, if you want­ed a the respect of gov­ern­ment agen­cies you were try­ing to influ­ence or to get press atten­tion, you had to be able to sit down at the table and be respect­ed by your oppo­si­tion and look like them with your suit and tie, and have your lawyers, and par­tic­i­pate in com­pro­mise. But the first thing that I start­ed think­ing about after found­ing this group that I sort of pat­terned after Worldwatch was, why isn’t the US con­serv­ing ener­gy, and how might the US begin to real­ly con­serve ener­gy? And the answers did not lie in more lob­by­ing or elect­ing a bet­ter President. And it’s fun­ny how when you leave an indus­try you can real­ly get some per­spec­tive on it after that. One of the first things I learned is that there’s some­thing called peak oil.

Anderson: Can you just define peak oil for me very quick­ly, for folks who don’t know?

Lundberg: It is the max­i­mum of oil extrac­tion for either a field or a nation or the world. The world hit max­i­mum glob­al oil extrac­tion around 2005, and the impli­ca­tions of that include eco­nom­ic growth is over, pop­u­la­tion growth can­not be sus­tained infi­nite­ly. Apart from our trash­ing ecosys­tem which ough­ta be fac­tored into, how sus­tain­able things are.

Anderson: So even from a pure­ly anthro­pocen­tric stand­point, with no con­cern for the ecosys­tem, we are still in trou­ble because we have passed the point of real­ly great returns on our oil extraction.

Lundberg: Exactly.

Anderson: Okay. So when you have high oil prices, which trans­lates into high food prices, when you have ter­ri­ble droughts or mixed-up weath­er, all this is going to hit over­pop­u­lat­ed areas and poor pop­u­la­tions very hard. It has already begun, it is only going to accel­er­ate. It takes decades for cli­mate change built up in the pipeline to have a vis­i­ble effect.

Anderson: To man­i­fest in sort of…the actu­al atmos­phere, or—

Lundberg: To actu­al­ly bite us in the ass. 

Anderson: Right. So with­in the fore­see­able future, then, you see us hav­ing less and less ener­gy yield per amount that we’re putting into extract­ing oil?

Lundberg: Oh, that that has been going on for some time. There is no renew­able ener­gy sub­sti­tute for oil, on the scale. So what does that imply? That all the solar pan­els that you could pos­si­bly put up aren’t going to take care of the rust­ing and at-risk oil infrastructure. 

Everything you see around you is a cheap oil infra­struc­ture that was built when there was a huge advan­tage to pro­duc­ing oil. The net ener­gy yield was as high as 100:1.

Anderson So, oil was essen­tial­ly so plentiful—

Lundberg: Right. And easy to pro­duce. For the amount of ener­gy you put into some­thing, there is a giv­en ener­gy back. If you don’t get a lot more back, there is no point in doing it. Now, you can sub­si­dize it, as has been done with ethanol. There are many many sub­si­dies now to oil that are need­ed to keep this going.

When it comes to the world, we’re not going to be get­ting more oil from Mars to keep up Earth’s oil extrac­tion. So there may not be a gen­tle downs­lope mir­ror­ing the ups­lope. What is being extract­ed is hard­er to extract, a low­er ener­gy yield, it’s dirt­i­er stuff, more haz­ards like drilling very deep or in arc­tic con­di­tions. And so there’s an impos­si­bil­i­ty of con­tin­u­a­tion of a large con­sumer pop­u­la­tion for oil and all it brings.

When you con­sid­er geopo­lit­i­cal events impact­ing the oil sup­ply, this is going to throw a mon­key wrench into the dis­trib­u­tive sys­tem. So it won’t mat­ter how much is in the ground when it’s what’s in the oil mar­ket that’ll be the only thing that matters. 

Anderson: It seems like you’re think­ing about sort of holis­tic ener­gy sys­tems, and sort of the geopo­lit­i­cal con­se­quences of what they’re doing, where­as I tend to think of like, if there’s oil there it will prob­a­bly just be dis­trib­uted and every­thing will be hunky dory, right?

Lundberg: Okay. Here’s why that is very unlike­ly. When I speak of geopo­lit­i­cal events, I’m talk­ing about some­thing like the Persian Gulf being bot­tled up long enough to put a crimp in the oil sup­ply sys­tem so that when there is a cut-off of enough oil, say 10% (and for the sec­ond oil shock it was 9%)— When that hap­pens again, and enough peo­ple can’t dri­ve to their jobs, trucks not pulling into Safeway and Walmart, how long do you think peo­ple will just sit and wait for the gov­ern­ment to come to the res­cue, which hasn’t put in a rationing plan yet for gaso­line? We’re not prepar­ing what­so­ev­er. This kind of geopo­lit­i­cal event can cause a final oil crisis.

One of the prob­lems is that when a refin­ery doesn’t get enough through­put, it ceas­es to func­tion well. It needs to have a cer­tain lev­el of capac­i­ty uti­lized. There are also oth­er parts of the oil indus­try that are all relat­ed and have to func­tion togeth­er. So this table is made of plas­tic, we’re buy­ing fuels, agri­cul­ture is heav­i­ly depen­dent on the petro­le­um indus­try. All these areas leave us very vul­ner­a­ble. And it’s not as if there will be a 10% drop in the reserves ulti­mate­ly refined. The inter­rup­tion in sup­ply of refined prod­uct on the mar­ket, or crude oil about to go into the sys­tem: this is our vulnerability. 

Anderson: So it’s not even real­ly root­ed in the real­i­ty of what’s phys­i­cal­ly there, it’s the distribution.

Lundberg: Well, it is in the sense that peak oil has brought about pres­sures involv­ing high­er prices, harder-to-get oil. Discoveries have peaked. So the over­all trend is down. The pub­lic gets con­fused about some news of some big oil find. The aver­age per­son thinks him or her­self to be an oil expert because they hap­pen to buy gaso­line, and they fig­ure they know what’s going on around the world that involves oil. But ana­lyz­ing sup­ply inter­rup­tion and the impli­ca­tions of that and why there is no tech­nofix wait­ing in the wings… These are sub­jects that require a lot of study and also tak­ing one’s per­son­al pref­er­ences out of the mix.

But if we are look­ing at what oil real­ly pro­vides to soci­ety, and what keeps us going for essen­tial ser­vices and goods, then our life sup­port sys­tem is in jeop­ardy. We are not prepar­ing for peak oil. We are not reor­ga­niz­ing our­selves for a degrad­ed ecosys­tem. So we are head­ing head­long into col­lapse, and this is some­thing that is not being dis­cussed. It is taboo to imag­ine that the whole growth scheme some­how comes to an end or that there is some­thing like peak oil that doesn’t trans­late into some tran­si­tion of renew­able ener­gy to make pos­si­ble a green con­sumer soci­ety with this lev­el of population.

Anderson: So it seems like there is a fun­da­men­tal issue in the eco­nom­ic mod­el, which depends on con­stant growth to be seen as healthy. Is that fair?

Lundberg: You can express it that way. The eco­nom­ic mod­el is an expres­sion of our cul­ture. So the rea­son we’re called Culture Change is that we don’t believe that you can fix the eco­nom­ic mod­el or that you can fix the pol­i­tics. Because if the cul­ture is very much tol­er­ant of greed and of paving over the best farm­land, dri­ving species extinct… This only gives rise to very fool­ish poli­cies, an econ­o­my that may grow in the short term, and that may have some peo­ple at the top ben­e­fit­ing fab­u­lous­ly, but has no future. There are blan­ket asser­tions about progress and American inge­nu­ity. But some things come to an end. And just because the Roman Empire took cen­turies to fall doesn’t mean it will take a long time for us to have the same expe­ri­ence. Because there’s nev­er been a time like this where we have this huge pop­u­la­tion with that one sub­stance being basi­cal­ly key to our survival.

Anderson: In some of the oth­er con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had, I’ve spo­ken to peo­ple who are kind of a more futur­is­tic bent, but I think a real sub­text of what they’re inter­est­ed in is the idea that tech­nol­o­gy can get us out of some binds that we’re in cur­rent­ly. And for a lot of peo­ple who I think think about oil, there’s the notion that well, we’ll get to this point, we’ll have a short­age, and the econ­o­my will make it so lucra­tive for an inven­tor to fig­ure out some­thing that sort of solves this for us, be it frack­ing or some­thing else entire­ly that we haven’t dreamt up yes, we’ll get out of this okay. What do you think the like­li­hood is that we have that sort of unex­pect­ed solution?

Lundberg: Nil. And these peo­ple are indulging in mag­i­cal think­ing. They’re get­ting their own inse­cu­ri­ties and hopes and dreams mixed up with an objec­tive analy­sis with what is going on. It’s as if they pay no mind to the fact that the web of life is being slashed apart as we speak. Are we not part of it? 

So when these con­cerns are brushed aside, one wish­es that there will be an answer to peak oil and cli­mate change, and that with pos­i­tive attempts and projects and hap­py think­ing we will man­i­fest a con­scious­ness shift that will some­how solve these scary issues so there won’t be resource prob­lems. This is a very com­mon strain in think­ing of edu­cat­ed peo­ple who mean very well. And I don’t like to put down the poten­tial of pos­i­tive think­ing. Because after all, our thoughts are real and have an impact. But look­ing objec­tive­ly at what is hap­pen­ing to resources hit­ting their lim­its, we’re going to hit some real­ly rough spots in the road and have to lift our­selves up from the rub­ble once the dust clears, to cre­ate a tru­ly sus­tain­able cul­ture. It will be pos­si­ble it will be a suc­cess­ful new phase in humanity’s time on earth. And the rea­son I’m so opti­mistic is that if I’m wrong there won’t be any­body around to say.

[Angus laughs.]

Lundberg: We have we have to get our­selves together.

Anderson: Because there’s no option?

Lundberg: That’s right.

Anderson: I think that’s the per­fect tran­si­tion point to… Here’s a moment where we’ve dis­cussed the present and a cri­sis that we’re fac­ing. What do we want the future to look like?

Lundberg: In our own his­to­ry and expe­ri­ence, we have the alter­na­tive at hand. The vic­to­ry gar­dens in World War II were about depaving and about food not lawns. If you want to real­ly sim­pli­fy where we have to get to and how we deal with the present sys­tem as long as it is still dom­i­nant, it might be to sim­ply boy­cott petro­le­um, eman­ci­pate our­selves from exter­nal com­plex sys­tems as much as pos­si­ble. And that means mak­ing our food sup­ply local. It means improv­ing our skills that are basic for sur­vival instead of rely­ing on dis­tant experts or peo­ple who are so spe­cial­ized they know noth­ing about any­thing else.

Anderson: Is this a mod­el that scal­able to the pop­u­la­tion we cur­rent­ly have?

Lundberg: It’s been going on since time immemo­r­i­al. Basically, trib­al soci­eties that took care of each oth­er, and they hap­pen to revere nature and take of—

Anderson: Right. I’m just think­ing, because those times on the plan­et, the plan­et was car­ry­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly few­er peo­ple. Is that some­thing we can still do with this num­ber of people?

Lundberg: No. There are too many peo­ple to go back to the land. So, to look at the unpleas­ant aspects of what we have to deal with, there will be a decrease in population.

Anderson: Are you opti­mistic about human nature, in that do you think if a cri­sis like that hap­pened… I mean, when I think about this it seems like it could go two ways, right? We could pull togeth­er, or we can break apart.

Lundber: Well, break­ing apart can be good if it’s polit­i­cal, and we have biore­gion­al economies, plur­al, using their own ecosys­tems and being linked by sale trans­port. Now, that’s a break­ing apart that can be healthy. 

Now, what we don’t want to break apart is what’s left of com­mu­ni­ty, or the ecosys­tem to break apart any further.

Anderson: And that’s more what I was think­ing of, some sort of cri­sis caus­ing peo­ple to basi­cal­ly not work togeth­er when they need to work together.

Lundber: Well, there there will be both impuls­es. There will be the sur­vival of, How much water do I have? Oh, there’s no water com­ing out of the tap. What do I do?” Maybe I’ll take it by force, com­mit violence.

Anderson: Right.

Lundberg: There will be oth­er peo­ple out there more des­per­ate. Some have guns, some do not.

Anderson: It’s very Hobbesian.

Lundberg: Well, that’s an aspect of it, but to lim­it our human­i­ty with that kind of short-term sce­nario I think is unnec­es­sary. Because peo­ple will have to come togeth­er, espe­cial­ly those who have sur­vived A culling of the mass of the sur­plus human­i­ty. You can say that some­one is a doom and gloomer who brings up these issues, who does not see a lot of hope for being able to min­i­mize all the pain. 

I am opti­mistic about the long term. There are impor­tant rea­sons to empha­size the pos­i­tive and show peo­ple alter­na­tives. So if you have the mod­els of sus­tain­abil­i­ty, the tools of sus­tain­abil­i­ty in place, and infor­ma­tion is avail­able for peo­ple to imple­ment this, that may be the best this so-called move­ment can accom­plish before the cri­sis real­ly hits its height. 

Anderson: That sort of think­ing is is fright­en­ing to con­front, espe­cial­ly if you feel like you might be one of those sur­plus peo­ple who’s going to get culled in the cri­sis. It’s hard to find long-term solace in the notion that things will even­tu­al­ly equalize. 

Lundberg: Right, but our time as earth­lings is brief. To dis­cuss mor­tal­i­ty and to dis­cuss lim­its is very unpleas­ant or scary for people. 

Anderson: So, it seems like a big theme that we’re talk­ing about here, that kind of under­lies a lot of our con­ver­sa­tion, is a shift from sort of an indi­vid­u­al­is­tic world to one that is focused a lit­tle bit on the community.

Lundberg: Very much so. And that is our big sal­va­tion. The answer to almost all our prob­lems, indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly, is hav­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Look at Manhattan, look at Wall Street. There are twenty-five mil­lion peo­ple in that met­ro­pol­i­tan area. Where are they get­ting their food from? When the super­mar­ket shelves are stripped after a few days of sig­nif­i­cant oil sup­ply short­fall, what are peo­ple going to do to share and to get local food pro­duc­tion going? How fast can a depaving happen?

So how do we get to the point where we are hap­pi­ly oper­at­ing on a com­mu­ni­ty basis, and the cul­ture is inte­grat­ed for co-survival and mutu­al aid?

Anderson: Can a soci­ety that leans towards the indi­vid­u­al­ist makes deci­sions that would avert a cri­sis like this? In a way, I mean this is sort of the eco­nom­ics mod­el. Can enough peo­ple come to the deci­sion that, Oh, we need to do these things or we’ll face a cri­sis,” or is that some­thing that we have to actu­al­ly restruc­ture soci­ety to work in a dif­fer­ent way that thinks more collectively?

Lundberg: The lat­ter. We will have to go through the pain of see­ing the fail­ure of this mod­el. It’s too late for chang­ing the oil infra­struc­ture. This was con­firmed by a peak oil study done for the US Energy Department known as The Hirsch Report. It found that with­out ade­quate prepa­ra­tion of decades before peak oil hits, you have a prob­lem that will escape the abil­i­ty of gov­ern­ment and indus­try to prop­er­ly plan for it.

Anderson: It seems like in order to address these, in order to have that sort of col­lec­tive think­ing, there has to be a sac­ri­fice of cer­tain ele­ments of indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty. Is there a ten­sion there?

Lundberg: When you speak of lib­er­ty, is this the free­dom to go shop­ping to sat­is­fy every­thing we want?

Anderson: Absolutely

Lundberg: Okay. [Both laugh] There are some of us in this lit­tle world apart from the main­stream that takes pride in sim­ple living…

Anderson: I’m just think­ing in a soci­ety where you have all sorts of dif­fer­ent peo­ple, and a lot of peo­ple have extreme indi­vid­u­al­ism as a val­ue, where they feel that they should be able to do any­thing as long as it doesn’t have direct neg­a­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions on some­one else—

Lundberg: These peo­ple are going to have a rude awak­en­ing. What we’ve seen so far in terms of cri­sis and insol­u­ble prob­lems, this is the calm before the storm. There is so far for us to fall as a cul­ture and civ­i­liza­tion that has depend­ed on expan­sion, unlim­it­ed resources, pop­u­la­tion growth as a way to keep up a cheap labor sup­ply… You can only go so far with this mod­el. And the trou­ble we have in pub­lic dis­course is, is there anoth­er answer wait­ing out there to make all the prob­lems go away and deliv­er us from any unpleas­ant lifestyle change?

We don’t real­ly have an ener­gy cri­sis, we have a cul­ture cri­sis. Very lit­tle will change while there is ample petro­le­um and cash. You can have orga­ni­za­tions, move­ments, excel­lent polit­i­cal can­di­dates. But until peo­ple have to work togeth­er for their com­mon sur­vival, they will con­tin­ue to dream of their cas­tle in the sky, or own­ing an island and not hav­ing to be respon­si­ble to every­body else, includ­ing all oth­er species.

Anderson: If we dive beneath the con­ver­sa­tion we’ve been hav­ing here and we talk about the under­ly­ing sense of good, for some peo­ple I’ve spo­ken to, the idea of the good has been per­son­al free­dom. The more choic­es you have, that is good. Everyone is essen­tial­ly ful­fill­ing them­selves through their own indi­vid­ual agency. What’s the sense of good that under­lies the con­ver­sa­tion we’ve been having?

Lundberg: A lib­er­a­tion from mate­ri­al­ism. Things are prob­a­bly at the root of what you described as this free­dom to do one’s own thing and be an indi­vid­ual. Take away the mate­r­i­al things, how free are those peo­ple? They’re real­ly not. They bought into a slave sys­tem where they have to work work work to buy stuff. If you are are doing what you real­ly believe in and are free to do it and your time is your own, those are big ifs. So the aver­age work­er or suc­cess­ful per­son or very wealthy per­son real­ly doesn’t have that kind of free­dom. They don’t have com­mu­ni­ty. Oops. They don’t have a clean ecosys­tem. Oops. They’re vul­ner­a­ble to petro­col­lapse. Ooh.

Anderson: So we have inhab­it a world of all these dif­fer­ent peo­ple with all these dif­fer­ent ideas. We have a future that we’re all going to be liv­ing and togeth­er. Are we talk­ing about that now?

Lundberg: Very few peo­ple are talk­ing about that. It’s polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect to bring up neg­a­tive stuff like pop­u­la­tion growth, cli­mate change… None of this is being ques­tioned or dis­cussed by the main­stream. On the oth­er hand, more and more peo­ple have a basic dis­trust of the sys­tem that was sup­posed to take care of them and allow them to have the American Dream. I guess the the con­ver­sa­tion to me is it boils down to, do peo­ple want to talk about real stuff?

Anderson: How do we bring these dif­fer­ent peo­ple togeth­er? Are we doomed to have these different—like the tech­nofix peo­ple talk­ing to each oth­er, and envi­ron­men­tal activists talk­ing to each oth­er, or can we have a big­ger con­ver­sa­tion where we get lots of dif­fer­ent par­ties around the table to talk about the future?

Lundberg: Usually there will be a cry­ing need for that to be sat­is­fied. I don’t think this con­ver­sa­tion is going to hap­pen with all par­ties being equal­ly rep­re­sent­ed. We can com­pro­mise to a point, we can work with­in this sys­tem as long as it is func­tion­ing, but when the sys­tem itself is lethal and its days are num­bered why should we put a lot of stock in a bad com­pro­mise? Not that either side is all right or all wrong. But whatever’s work­able and has a long term future ought to be the priority.

Anderson: I real­ly won­der how many peo­ple will be at the table. How many peo­ple will nev­er want to have that con­ver­sa­tion? And at the end of the day if they voli­tion­al­ly choose to pur­sue a lifestyle up to the very end, to what extent is that some­thing we should respect, as a cul­tur­al difference?

Lundberg: Their right to do that, you mean?

Anderson: Yeah.

Lundberg: Well. You have to draw the line to say that no, free­dom does not include dri­ving oth­er species extinct. Sorry. What is the only mod­el we have of sus­tain­abil­i­ty? It is the thou­sands and thou­sands of years of indige­nous tra­di­tion­al ways. If that isn’t being con­sid­ered, we’re miss­ing some­thing and that we may not make it as a species. 

Anderson: Is this a type of envi­ron­men­tal fundamentalism?

Lundberg: Oh, you can call that fun­da­men­tal­ism, you can call it a lim­it­ed spir­i­tu­al moral posi­tion. But if Mother Earth is all we have, it is valid to revere the Earth. And some peo­ple don’t want to hear no.” A child does not want to hear, No, you can’t.” But some­times that’s the real sit­u­a­tion. No, the child can’t run into the free­way and play. There are some things that the adult has to say, Sorry, that’s it.”

So for the num­bers of indi­vid­u­al­is­tic humans out there who want to have no restric­tion on their enjoy­ment of our home, then they are socio­path­ic and they are cut­ting their own throat if they are indeed part of this ecosys­tem, and may need to know their neigh­bors tomor­row. Without that basic human togeth­er­ness that has allowed us to get here in the first place, if we don’t uphold that and strength­en those con­nec­tions, then the indi­vid­ual has no future.


Micah Saul: Damn.

Aengus Anderson: Yeah, how about that? So, we got a lot of heavy stuff head on. What struck you?

Saul: First and fore­most, one of the things I was real­ly hop­ing to get from him from the sec­ond that we first added him to our list was, we’re going to have a lot of doom­say­ers in this project, I think. Jan Lundberg had the num­bers, had the stats, had run the models.

Anderson: Yeah.

Micah Saul: He was able to point at the sys­tems and say, Hey look at this. We’re jacked.”

Aengus Anderson: That impressed me. He had such a holis­tic under­stand­ing, and I think he did a very good job of tying them all togeth­er in a way that’s com­pelling. I think was also inter­est­ing that he sees activism as so…not that effec­tive, until we hit a cri­sis point.

Saul: So, actu­al­ly that just made me think of some­thing else. He didn’t talk about, we’re going to hit peak oil. Lundberg was the first per­son I have ever heard say, Oh yeah. No no. We’ve hit peak oil.”

Anderson: His asser­tions are very strong. I think…you know, we’ve we’ve already talked to some inter­vie­wees pre­vi­ous­ly who have a lot of faith that tech­nol­o­gy or the mar­kets or inno­va­tion will solve things, and that tech­nol­o­gy doesn’t exist yet or those resources haven’t been dis­cov­ered yet or we don’t know that they’re valu­able yet—

Micah Saul: Oh, and Lundberg was so dis­mis­sive of that very notion.

Aengus Anderson: Yeah, and it seems like those are real­ly inter­est­ing because that’s some­thing that I don’t think you can nec­es­sar­i­ly empir­i­cal­ly prove. That’ll have a lot to—

Saul: It’s faith.

Anderson: Yeah. And there’s a sense of human nature, and a sense of his­to­ry that goes into it, but at the end of the day no one has any idea what the prob­a­bil­i­ty is for us to devel­op that sil­ver bul­let that solves this problem.

Micah Saul: Right.

Aengus Anderson: And yet, Lundberg isn’t a pessimist.

Saul: And he believes that after the scari­ness, things will return to some sort of equilibrium.

Anderson: The prob­lem I have with that is that we look to the past as a mod­el, but we can’t quite go back. Well, for one because so lit­tle is actu­al­ly known about that sort of deep, unrecord­ed past. We don’t know if those mod­els were sus­tain­able. There are things in archae­ol­o­gy which would indi­cate that peo­ple hunt­ed ani­mals to extinc­tion in very prim­i­tive states. I’m not sure I buy the idea that going back gives us a mod­el of sus­tain­abil­i­ty per se. Or maybe I shouldn’t say going back, but going for­ward into a way that is much more mate­ri­al­ly stripped-down and is also…well, stripped down in terms of population.

Micah Saul: Oh. Yeah.

Aengus Anderson: And that’s actu­al­ly some­thing I think we should address.

Saul: Yeah. The culling.

Anderson: Yeah. It’s hard to go through this and not hear that phrase. What does that mean? Does it mean we have six bil­lion peo­ple die off, and is that some­thing that hap­pens through peo­ple not repro­duc­ing? Is it some­thing that hap­pens through social strife. Does it hap­pen through dis­ease. Does it hap­pen through war?

Saul: Doesn’t hap­pen through…yeah.

Anderson: I’m not com­fort­able feel­ing good about that because, why do I have the feel­ing that I’ll be one of the ones culled?

Saul: Uh…well…um…

Anderson: So I don’t real­ly like that model.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: I want to have a shot at some­thing, because I’m not a good sur­vival­ist. And I think it would be inter­est­ing to put Lundberg and Fife in a room togeth­er. Can you talk about the idea of culling of pop­u­la­tion so com­fort­ably if you believe that there’s a sanc­ti­ty to human life, that life is made in God’s image, right?

Saul: Right. Along those lines, he’s one of our first that we can real­ly say this is a bio­cen­tric view as opposed to anthro­pocen­tric view, right. We are mere­ly a part of the larg­er system. 

Anderson: Can anthro­pocen­trists, say some­one like Dr. More, have a con­ver­sa­tion with bio­cen­trists like Jan Lundberg?

Saul: They’d have plen­ty to talk about. I don’t get the feel­ing they’d be able to talk about it. There’s a cer­tain sure­ty that most envi­ron­men­tal­ists have and that most futur­ists have that would get in the way of being able to make any sort of compromises.

Anderson: It seems like Jan would feel that you can­not have ways of being that ulti­mate­ly come at the expense of oth­er life forms. Is that fun­da­men­tal­ism? When many oth­er peo­ple dis­agree with your every under­ly­ing assumption?

Saul: You under­stand why I’m hav­ing such a hard time answer­ing that, because it’s hard to describe your own per­son­al beliefs as a fun­da­men­tal­ist belief.

Anderson: Yeah. Though Dr. More said in his case he felt a lot of peo­ple who were fun­da­men­tal­ists nev­er came under that name.

Saul: Yeah. Of course. He also seemed very against the idea that any­thing he was say­ing could pos­si­bly be con­sid­ered a fundamentalism.

Anderson: What if the bio­cen­tric peo­ple are right? What if com­pro­mis­ing a lit­tle and let­ting indi­vid­u­al­ism trump the col­lec­tive leads to collapse?

Saul: Then here comes col­lapse. We talked ear­li­er on about what to what to call the project, and I pro­posed The Cassandra Project.

Anderson: Can we change the name mid-project?

Saul: No, I mean I think hon­est­ly that’s a scary thought.

Anderson: Well, let’s leave it there.

Saul: Alright.

Anderson: On that cheery note…

Saul: Hopefully we’ll talk to you next time.

Anderson: But if the cri­sis hits, I want to know where you’re stor­ing your canned foods.

That was Jan Lundberg record­ed May 18, 2012 in Santa Cruz, California.

Saul: This is The Conversation. You can find us on Twitter at @aengusanderson and on the web at find​the​con​ver​sa​tion​.com

Anderson: So thanks for lis­ten­ing. I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul.

Further Reference

This interview at the Conversation web site, with project notes, comments, and taxonomic organization specific to The Conversation.


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