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Vail Valley Voices: We should have listened

Bill Sepmeier
valleyvoices@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

In the summer of 1974 I was working my way through college as a master control technician at the public television station in Pensacola, Fla. This was a long, long time ago in TV years, back when it took two people to run a master control room at a small-town TV outlet. One technician had to load and “pre-roll” the 2-inch-wide videotapes that held the promotional material (spots) between network programs (we didn’t even have remote start buttons at that place). The other tech (me) directed the actual video switching and audio mixing, inserted the voice-overs and such, switched in the local station promotional and identification slides (and they were 35-millimeter slides, projected into a special camera, which required its own setup and contrast adjustments for each one), ran the cartridge audio tape announcements and then generally switched the airchain back to the network feed, or another video tape player, loaded with a 30-pound roll of 2-inch wide tape, to join the next 28:50 long public TV program.

It wasn’t hard work. It did require a brief period of concentration, especially since the various videotape segments within it all had to be rolled 10 seconds before they were aired and the “technical director” (the person doing the source video switching) was simultaneously mixing the sound, inserting audio tags and voice overs while watching the video monitors to make sure the picture finally became stable before switching the next segment to air.

Switching station breaks was a bit like tennis – a lot of concentration, some fast action to get in position and then a slower, carefully placed swing, right back into fast again. Repeat.



While I was beginning a station break one afternoon, I felt a change in my lighting and knew someone was standing behind me, really close behind me, watching my every move. Absorbed in the timing of the switching and other requirements, I didn’t look around, but drilled into the routine of calling the tape rolls, watching the monitors and the clock, running the voice-overs and switching the video and audio sources as I plowed through the two-minute local station break. I knew I had a live TV audience and I didn’t want to blow up a break in front of a live witness as well. (It’s obvious to the TV viewers, of course, but they are intangible.)

I made it through the station ID and hit the network spot on, took a breath and turned around to see who was in my bubble.



Standing directly behind me was a short man with a good haircut with a gentle, amiable expression of genuine interest in what he’d just observed on his face. Frank, my tape operator on duty, had been watching him the whole time with a half smile on his face. The fellow looked well kept; he was wearing a very nicely cut dark blue suit with a starched white shirt and a red “power tie.” His shoes were shined, but not new. He seemed comfortable in them.

Before I could say a word, he thrust out his right hand and said, “Hi. My name’s Jimmy Carter ,and I’m running for president.”

I took his hand and replied, “That’s great. Of what, exactly?”



Frank, who had recognized the governor of Georgia when he’d wandered into the control room, snorted a laugh and turned on his heel, walking away to cover his amusement.

Well, it was two years before the election, didn’t really start two years in advance back in those days.

As we chatted, I learned that Gov. Carter had arrived early for an interview, alone, and being an engineer who’d never been in a television station unchaperoned, had decided to see what went on within one. He’d wandered past our receptionist unannounced, walked down the hall and into the master control room to become my shadow for a couple of minutes. He was genuinely interested in how it all worked and spent about 10 minutes with Frank and me as we explained the videotape, film chain system, the master switcher, and the basics of television transmission.

He wanted to see the production control room and Studio A, where he was to do his interview segment. We still had 15 minutes before the next break and were chatting and drinking some coffee when his two Georgia State Patrol guards and our producer tracked us down and hurried him off the the scripted part of his visit, but he impressed me as an honest, straight-up guy with a good brain; someone I’d vote for.

When President Carter put on his cardigan sweater five years later in 1979 and told the nation on network TV that we should declare a moral equivalent of war against further imported oil, that we had 30 years to prepare for the global peak in oil production, a peak that would be followed by an inexorable and permanent decline in the foundation of our civilization’s energy economy, he was the same bright, honest fellow who’d slipped his handlers just to see for himself what happened in a TV station, the guy I’d had a coffee with. I believed him. I started my first renewable energy business the same year.

This past year marked 31 years since Carter’s “moral declaration of war” against imported oil energy. Coincidentally, it also marked the year both the EIA and IEA publicly confirmed Shell geophysicist M.K. Hubbert’s and Carter’s oil peak timelines. Global production of conventional oil has plateaued since 2005-06. Peak Oil has arrived. Take off the tin foil hats, boys and girls, it’s really here, right on time, just as calculated back in 1974.

Sadly, the 31 years between Carter’s sweater speech and the peak of conventional oil production were entirely squandered; spent not as Carter had hoped they would be developing lifestyles which could cope with a lowered and far more expensive baseline transportation energy input but, instead, in the last great blast of denial, fueled by the last supergiant oil fields ever discovered, the North Sea and North Slope and the other usual suspects – greed, avarice and short-term accounting.

Ironically, a former CEO of M. King Hubbert’s employer when he calculated the dates for peak oil production, Shell Oil, was on TV this very week, stating that we “will be paying $5.00 per gallon by 2012” due to the growing imbalance in oil supply and demand.

As Giordano Bruno wrote recently, “the nearly $150 a barrel plateau we witnessed in July 2008 will seem like a quaint memory not long from now, primarily because the factors involved in today’s petrol valuation are much more systemic and violent than simple supply and demand; rooted in a snowballing devaluation of Western currencies that go beyond of the traditional influences of supply, demand, or even speculation.

“The recent comments of Kuwait’s oil minister that ‘the global economy can withstand $100 oil’ are, of course, also disingenuous on a couple levels. First, the global economy is in dire straits and riding the wave of a convoluted “recovery” built on fiat and fantasy. $100 oil will only bring the illusion crashing down as the public realizes the true effects of long-term inflation in prices, and the sales of goods begin to falter even further than they already have. Second, oil will not stay at $100 for very long, so the suggestion that we can “withstand” such a price is rather irrelevant.

“Essentially, OPEC is losing its ability to rein in or stabilize gas at a reasonable cost due to the crumbling dollar, and so, they have decided to raise rates to offset dollar devaluation while attempting to change the definition of what ‘reasonable cost’ is. They admitted as much back in October.”

$5 per gallon unleaded will choke the American economy – again.

$100-plus oil will cripple commercial aviation and trans-ocean shipping – again.

The just-in-time delivery construct that requires cheap diesel when your warehouse is rolling down a highway at seven miles per gallon is on its way into the history book – a construct that didn’t last 30 years but one that has gutted regional and local warehousing of basic foodstocks and materials. We’ll regret this.

There will be no recovery in 2011, folks, other than the sham recovery for the rich, fueled by government transfers of wealth from your future into the investment banks that captured government a decade ago.

We did not spend the past 30 years re-inventing what it means to live with an exponential decline in oil energy supplies for the first time in history, when so-called “alternative energy sources” don’t come close to oil in energy density, capability or cost. There is no time to do it now at the scales required.

U.S. energy policy has been simple – lie your ass off while looting the till, use the troops to “secure” the remaining oil in other countries for those who can afford it, eliminate any voices that have a problem with that, while borrowing the money to pay for it all from the new underclass – the gutted taxpayers still lucky enough to have jobs but no real futures.

There’s no reason to think anything will change in 2011. Frankly, the powers that be know it’s far too late. Carter was the last politician who had the nerve to tell people the truth; to try to do anything about this. Remember him as you “Shell” out $100 per fill-up this coming summer, as your house loses another 30 percent in “value,” as the oil-fired “American Century” begins its end after only 10 years. He said he’d never lie to us, and he didn’t. We just didn’t listen to the truth.

Bill Sepmeier lives off the electrical grid on Sweetwater Creek.


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