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#317 Rob Gourdie is Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech. He is also Director of the Center for Heart and Reparative Medicine Research at the same university. He writes under the pen name of Tom Therramus.  In his “day job,” he works on the repeating waves of electrical signals that drive the heart beat. Over the last decade he has developed an interest in another repeating pattern – waves of price volatility in oil – that he speculates are a Peak Oil-related phenomenon. His writings as Tom Therramus on oil market instability, and its impacts on economics, politics and climate change, have been posted at OilPrice.net, Greentechmedia.com, Resilience.com, RealClearEnergy.org, Nouriel Roubini’s Economonitor.com, and EuanMearns.com Energy Matters. His LinkedIn page (https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-therramus-602b3721/)  lists his SKILLS as including “Asperger’s”, “Mild Numeracy”, “Vague Literacy” and “Being Kiwi.”

Links to articles on oil price volatility
1. 18 Feb 2019 – Waking into our new volatile age of oil price – http://www.oil-price.net/en/articles/waking-into-volatile-oil-prices.php
2. 19 Feb 2018 – Is Volatility in Oil Price on the Way, Again ? http://www.oil-price.net/en/articles/volatility-in-oil-price-on-the-way-again.php
3. 3 January 2016 – How oil price volatility explains these uncertain times http://oil-price.net/en/articles/how-oil-price-volatility-explains-uncertain-times.php
4. 14 January 2014 – Will Collapse in Oil Price Cause a Stock Market Crash? http://oil-price.net/en/articles/will-collapse-in-oil-price-cause-stock-market-crash.php
5. 10 July 2013 – Oil Price Volatility on the Way? http://www.oil-price.net/en/articles/oil-price-volatility-on-the-way.php
6. 21 November 2011 – Is Oil Fueling the Rise in Political Partisanship? http://oil-price.net/en/articles/is-oil-fueling-rise-in-political-partisanship.php
7. 20 January 2010 – Oil Caused Recession, Not Wall Street http://oil-price.net/en/articles/oil-caused-recession-not-wallstreet.php

Links to research on electrical activation of the heart
https://elifesciences.org/articles/37610 – scientific paper on how the heart electrically drives the heartbeat
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180827091745.htm – a news article on the heart scientific paper

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Please send questions and comments to jhkunstler@mac.com

About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

8 Responses to “Chatting with Rob Gourdie about Oil Price Waves and peak Oil”

  1. Cu Chulainn June 19, 2019 at 12:17 am #

    I’ll now have to go to starschmucks just to order Frackaccinos

  2. uncletommy June 19, 2019 at 4:08 pm #

    I find this discussion somewhat moot. As with heart disease, arrhythmia s are reactions to stresses placed on this essential organ. Tracking these changes and interpreting the causes is an exercise in futility, because we end up, ultimately, with the conclusion, “I told you, so”. Unless society can come up with a societal “pacemaker” for the oil market, we should expect more volatility and the resulting “infarcts” common of human activity. I have found a number of my “weekend warrior” friends that have developed Atrial Fib after years of pushing their bodies beyond common sense levels of exercise to achieve a certain level of fitness. Maybe going “medieval” would slow the society down to a level where we could re-experience the benefits of the “four horsemen”. The speed of our modern society and the quest to emulate our “posh” experience will just be a blip in the human experience, so enjoy the ride. As for me, I’ll join you in the garden growing vegetables, Rob.

  3. thenuttyneutron June 23, 2019 at 12:30 pm #

    Kunstler is almost getting to the root of the energy problem at about the 34 minute mark. He is wrong about the scientists. We have had the technical solution/answer to our energy problems for over 50 years.

    In order to fully understand the problem of energy and how we use it, you have to have a firm grasp on how energy flows through a system to generate work. This understanding requires that close attention is paid to the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

    Is oil an energy source or a storage of energy? I can argue both answers. It is an energy source if you considered the extremely small mass changes that the electrons undergo when breaking and forming new chemical bonds. Breaking the carbon to hydrogen bonds will temporarily raise the mass of the electrons in those bonds. You then lower the mass of the electrons as you form new bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen (H2O) and carbon to oxygen (CO2). The mass of the electrons in these new bonds are slightly less than they were at the start.

    I consider oil to be more of an energy storage medium than an energy source. The energy is stored in the chemical bonds that make up the fossil fuel. This energy is easy to release simply by burning it. The 2nd Law of thermodynamics however forbids ever breaking even with the energy extracted compared to the energy inputs used to make the fossil fuel.

    The guest came very close to nailing it when he expressed that we humans have usually progressed to more and more concentrated forms of energy rather than use less concentrated forms of energy. What he is really referring to is the entropy of the energy cycles.

    Wind and solar are all high entropy energy sources. The ability to extract work out of them is extremely inefficient. Renewables are nothing more than intellectual masturbation for people that don’t understand physics. It feels good but it will never be a viable solution.

    We need 2 separate technologies to solve our oil shortages. One technology was developed by Germany in 1925 by Fischer and Tropsch. They used coal to make synthetic oil. This process is used today to make oils for lubrication and fuel. The Fischer Tropsch process requires a lot of energy.

    The other technology needed to solve our oil problems is advanced nuclear reactors. The current light water reactor designs are not good enough because they are only 33% efficient and the working fluid for them is not hot enough to make copious amounts of H2 from water. What we need are reactors that operate using working fluids at very high temperatures.

    You could also simply make H2 with nuclear power and use a fuel cell to turn the H2 into useful energy.

    The reason why nukes are the best option to solve our energy needs because of the incredible amount of energy stored in the nuclei of heavy elements (anything with an atomic number higher than 26, iron). The energy stored in these heavy elements all came from an ancient stellar event that was most likely a collision between two neutron stars or a hypernova.

    The elements that we need to fuel a fission reactor are thorium and uranium. Both are fissile and fertile. Fissile simply means that it can be split if you hit it with a high energy neutron. Fertile means if can be transmuted into a fissionable isotope by neutron capture. Fissionable means that the binding energy required to make the isotope fission is less than the binding energy of the neutron capture.

    All fissionable isotopes are fissile but not all fissile isotopes are fissionable. (this is important to understand)

    Thorium 232 is fissile, fertile, and has a very long half life (14.05 billion years). Most of the original Th232 from the stellar event still exists. Uranium 235 is fissionable and has a half life of 700 million years. Most of the U235 has decayed away. Uranium 238 is both fissile and fertile but not fissionable. U238’s half life is 4.5 billion years. Slightly more than half of the original U238 has decayed away. U233 is a fissionable isotope with a with a half life of 160,000 years. Pu239 is fissionable with a half life of 24,100 years.

    There is a lot of U238 and Th232 but they are not nuclear fuel in the current nuclear plants. They both however can be transmuted into a fissionable fuel by neutron capture that can be used as a nuclear fuel. Th232 can absorb a neutron and then decay into U233. U238 can transmute and decay into Plutonium 239.

    We have the ability and knowledge on how to build advance reactors using better fuel cycles. The technology that I find most promising are molten salt reactors (MSR) that was developed by the US government at Oak Ridge in the 1950s to 1960s.

    I have offered up a solution to our energy problems that conforms to the laws of thermodynamics that use already developed technologies. This solution is not theoretical because we have already demonstrated them on large scales. I think nuclear energy can be used to power the entire energy needs of a modern world.

    The only other energy solution that I see working would require us to kick a lot of people off of the planet so that the remaining oil is spread over a smaller population. I doubt that we will find volunteers to leave the Earth.

  4. johnmathew June 27, 2019 at 12:58 am #

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  5. K-Dog July 8, 2019 at 10:26 am #

    So what is the forcing function?

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    • gourdier July 9, 2019 at 12:32 pm #

      Tx for the question. If you’re interested in deriving the equation I’d be happy to send the raw data for you have to a crack it. If you’re curious about the broader question of the nature of the mechanism forcing the system, giving rise to the observed oscillating behavior in oil price volatility since year 2000, then I’d welcome suggestions. My initial hypothesis was that it resulted from some type of cycle driven by a back and forth between supply and demand that I imagined may be occurring at the crest of the oil resource depletion curve. As mentioned in the discussion, Ugo Bardi has published some data on Whale hunting in the 19th century that may provide an analogy. This may still be the case – though I have become less sure of this as the prime cause of late. I’ve been recently wondering about the mechanics of the production side as a source of the driving input. The aside in my chat with Jim on the need to “frack” your Frappachino when you get to the icey part of the drink was only meant half in jest.

      • Fraser October 31, 2019 at 7:43 am #

        Being a mathematician from just across the “ditch” – greetings – but I find your arguments unconvincing. “Price” as we know has two components: [1] the unit of good (or service) being priced, and [2] the unit of account (currency). My point is that your “volatility waves” since 2000 could be caused by either (or both) [1] supply and demand for oil, and [2] volatility in the USD. AND since most other commodities exhibit similar behaviour, I suspect your effect is mainly due to USD currency fluctuations.

        Particularly when looking at prices outside the USA (like Venezuela), you cannot assume that the currency and it’s liquidity are stable. And (in fact) your result is probably just what you would expect, namely – [1] in good economic times, when USD are freely available, we see higher oil prices, but [2] as USD liquidity dries up we see volatility and economic contraction and a drop in oil prices.

  6. gourdier November 14, 2019 at 9:12 pm #

    Hi Fraser,
    Nice to hear from you – and many thanks for responding. I spent a number of years in the UK as a post-doc and had great time there. You make some fair points – but as I mention to Jim, while my analysis has identified the volatility waves as a unique and repeating phenomenon, I do not know what causes them. I hypothesize that they are related to “Peak oil”, but whether they are or are not, what I’m not clear on is the mechanism that drives them. You mention some potential ideas related to currency/USC liquidity -so thanks, these seem worthy of consideration.

    best wishes,