Transcript for “Chris Answers Your Questions” Podcast (Part 1)

Transcript for the podcast: Chris Answers Your Questions (Part 1)

Chris Martenson:  Welcome to another podcast. I am your host, of course, Chris Martenson. And today we have an unorthodox podcast guest: me. We thought it would be appreciated and maybe kind of fun to let you, our readers, interview me and ask any questions that have been burning in your mind. So a few weeks ago we invited you to post your questions on the site. And, boy, you have not disappointed. We have so many questions. We will get through them as best we can. And if we don’t get to them all and if folks enjoy this format, we will address the rest, plus whatever other ones might come up in the meantime in a future similar podcast. Your questions are going to be posed to me by Adam Taggart. Many of you know Adam, of course, from the site. He’s my business partner and General Manager of Adam, if you’re ready, fire away, but be gentle.

Adam Taggart:  I will, Chris. The bigger question is: Are you ready?

Chris Martenson:  I am. I am ready today.

Adam Taggart:  All right. Well, we received a whole bunch of questions, I think, as you mentioned. All in all we received over forty submissions, and many of those had multiple questions in them. So we’ve gone through and tried to distill them down to a little more manageable number. We distilled the questions down as well, but tried to keep the spirit as best we could, too. And what we will do, as you mentioned, is we will just power through as many as we can, and if we don’t get to all of them, apologies to the folks whose questions we did not get to. But we will, as you mentioned, address them at a future podcast. So why don’t we start with question number one, which comes to us from user JAG. He asks: “How in the world do you write about the same subject matter month after month, year after year, and still make it an interesting read? How do you motivate yourself to write?”

Chris Martenson:  This is a good question, and there’s no easy answer to it except to say that what keeps me going in this business is that every time I am writing, I am writing something brand new. What you get from me is: I am looking across the landscape, I am trying to find dots and connections, things that line up that help to illuminate where we are in this story. And it turns out that at the higher level we are seeing a very consistent theme here, which is,  it sounds like we are writing about the same thing over and over again, but, boy, are the details ever shifting and changing and there is always a new configuration.

So what you get from me is I put my brain into gear and I think as hard as I can to come up with something that looks like a unique offering, a new way of looking at the data, a better way of presenting it, a clarification I can make, something I can add to the conversation. And there are days where I wake up wishing that I had one of those services where I update the same charts and tell you a couple of words about it. That is not what we do. That is not what I do. So the good news is there are plenty of interesting things to write about, and the slight downside to that for me is I have to wait until I find something really compelling and interesting before I really want to write about it. And then when I do, it is easy.

A great question. The motivation comes from that my mission in life is to present information in a way that can help anybody see what is going on and take actions that will hopefully give them a better future.

Adam Taggart:  Good. All right, well, we are off to a good start here. Now, JAG being JAG, our resident demagogue on the site, he did also in his question to you pose a brain teaser. I want to let JAG know that we did get the brain teaser; we actually have the answer to it. I am going to post it online in the Comments section. But if anybody here listening to this podcast wants to go there, you can read JAG’s question and then at the end of the Comments section you can see our answer. And, JAG, you can tell us if we got it right or not.

All right, Question Number Two comes from user TimesAwasting. “How do you process all this never-ending stream of gloomy, frustrating news week after week without getting burned out?” And we have a similar question which user ScubaRoo asks: “Dealing with all this, how do you uplug and switch off from it all? And do you have any plans to come to the UK anytime soon?”

Chris Martenson:  I can start with the last part easiest. No, no plans to come to the UK anytime soon, although I would be wide open to a return visit. I had a great time the last time I was there. You know, it does appear to be a never-ending stream of gloomy, frustrating news. It is not, though. These all represent enormous opportunities to change our lives, to figure out how we want to position ourselves. This is really actually a very exciting period of time.

That said, it is – sometimes I remark that I wish I was in the business of selling Pet Rocks or something fun that people would really enjoy and thank me. “Thank you. The best Pet Rock I ever had.” Because I am in the business of telling people about things that can be perceived as or received as gloomy or in some way frustrating or those other descriptors.

And so what I do is I do this year, 2011, and starting in 2012, was a big period of adjustment for me because I spent five or six years just glued to what I was doing. I ended up getting a little overweight and not really taking good care of myself. So 2011 marked a turning point for me where this was important to keep me from burning out just because of the pace of what I was doing, not necessarily the gloominess of it. I really had to start taking care of myself better and getting back into physical shape. I am so glad I have done that. I have a lot more energy, I have lost pretty close to forty pounds, I am in a pants size that was last seen sometime in high school. I feel a lot better.

So I am out there. I am rock climbing again pretty regularly in a gym. Don’t worry – very safe. And gardening, orcharding – just getting out, biking, whatever. I found that really attending to my physical body was the most important thing I needed to do. It was a great way of working out a little frustration, if I have any. But overall it is also necessary, I think, given what I see coming, to be in the best shape I can be in. So that was my strategy so far, and I am sticking with it, and it feels good.

Adam Taggart:  Chris, we’ve been working together now for a little bit over a year and a half. As someone who has watched you go through that transformation in that time, I can definitely comment on how noticeable the change is. It is really quite impressive – not just the weight you’ve lost, but the level of fitness that you have attained. And one of the things I know a lot of the folks on the site appreciate — but certainly I do as somebody who works really closely with you — is when you’re talking about transformation at the personal level, you are walking your talk.

Chris Martenson:  I can’t do it any other way. If I haven’t done it, bought it, tasted it, I can’t recommend it or talk about it. It is a question of integrity for me. So this was something I had to do, I had to do it for myself, and I felt like I had to do it as well as a matter of integrity if I am going to talk about how important it is to do.

Adam Taggart:  All right. Next question comes from user R. His or her question is: “How would you revise the Crash Course in light of recent developments in the extraction of natural gas in North America and elsewhere? Is it possible that in the years ahead we will see a transition from an oil-based to a natural-gas-based energy economy?” We received a couple of other similar questions around this, some of them dealing with shale oil deposit discoveries as well. So why don’t we start with that one?

Chris Martenson:  Okay. Well, the short answer is it would change a lot in my timing of what is going to transpire if I saw that we were engaged in North America in a credible program to actually utilize that natural gas. This comes up a lot because it is all over the newspapers about how much there is. It is all over the airwaves. And we have just got these tremendous shale gas reserves and the flow rates have now exceeded demand to the point that we have driven natural gas down to about 250 per therm. So it seems like all the data says there is a lot of natural gas. And it is important to put that in context.

The amount of natural gas that we compress and then use to transport things from Point A to Point B, that is how we use 70% of all the oil that comes out of the ground. It goes straight into gas tanks or diesel tanks – well, it goes through a refiner first. But, I mean, that is going from ground to gas tanks, fuel tanks, and then being used to transport things. We do not use natural gas to transport all that much. If and when we get serious about this, you will know it because we will be building pipelines so that we can transport the natural gas from the fields to all corners of the country, particularly the East Coast, which is really poorly served by natural gas lines at this point. And then from there into filling stations, which have all been retrofitted so that the average bloke on Monday morning can safely use a compressed natural gas filling device without blowing up the whole neighborhood.

Adam Taggart:  That’s important.

Chris Martenson:  Yeah, that’s important. And we will have cars and trucks that actually run on compressed natural gas. There are a few, but it is token. Not even a percent at this point. When we are up to 10%, when we are at 20%, when 50% or 50% of the fleet is operated on natural gas, we will discover – prediction time here – that we do not have nearly as much [natural gas] as we thought. And it is simply that we have an incredible amount of natural gas – asterisk – read the asterisk at the bottom of the page – at current rates of consumption. When we dial consumption up, we will discover we have slightly less than we thought.

Can natural gas, should natural gas be an important bridge fuel? Absolutely. No question about it. Over the long timeframe – 100 years, 1,000 years – I can just go with 100, 50 even – over 50 years does natural gas appreciably change the story in terms of its direction? The answer is no. It is a non-renewable natural resource. You pull it out of the ground, you burn it once and it is gone. My position would be we are going to use it and we should use it and we should use it as carefully as we possibly can as the bridge fuel that helps us transition away from a peak in oil to – question mark – whatever that new future, energy future, happens to be.

And I don’t care what that is. We can say that is alternative energies like solar, wind, or maybe this low-energy nuclear reaction thing pans out, or there is some other thing that we don’t know about that comes along. But it takes so long to transition from one type of energy to another that I do not yet see that we have an investment and a resource dedication approach in this country yet that says we are being serious about using it that way.

Adam Taggart:  Great. A related question is the Crash Course was written and initially put online in 2008. Is there going to be an updated version of the Crash Course getting published anytime soon? I do want to give folks a little bit of a nod that we are spending a lot of time right now, in addition to our site redesign that we have let everybody know about, that we are creating a fair amount of new video content this year. Do you want to give just a quick 30 seconds about that?

Chris Martenson:  Yeah. Updating the Crash Course is definitely on a very long list of things we want to do. And when we look at it, it is not right at the top at this moment. There is some other video material and other content that is a little bit more urgent given where we are in this story. The core of the Crash Course itself – the main thesis around how money or the economy, energy, and the environment are all coalescing — that doesn’t need any updating at all. The 20% that does is getting the charts back up to speed with current data in there going beyond 2008, now into 2012. There are some pieces in there we think we could leave out without affecting the story so we could type it up. There are some new pieces we would like to put in as well.

But the pieces we really want to bring forward to you are what we would consider to be Chapters 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26. We’ve got additional material that builds on and augments the Crash Course. And when we ask ourselves or when we ask other people which we should really be working on, fixing Chapters 1 through 20 or coming out with 21 through 26, it is unequivocally, “Please, can we have 21 through 26.” So that is where we are going to put our first efforts.

But along the way, we definitely have our eye on where, when, and how we can update the Crash Course  Thankfully a lot of sharp eyes have been out there in the comment section in the forums of each of each of the chapters. There have been excellent comments on how to improve, minor errata have been discovered, other things that really need attending to. So we have got all of that captured, and it is just a project awaiting some resources to get it done.

Adam Taggart:  Great. All right. Now from user thatchmo, “If you were suddenly magically made President of the United States, what would you do or could you do, practically, within the powers of the office — whichaccording to the recent office holders, they claim are pretty much are unlimited — to steer us to as soft a landing as possible in our predicament?”

Chris Martenson:  Well, the first thing is related to the natural gas question. I would wave my magic policy wand and we would be starting to build out our ability to utilize natural gas in terms of transportation and also to build out our next energy infrastructure. We would stop burning hydrocarbons for anything that was non-essential. And one of the things that I care most about is we can use the sun to heat water. We should not be heating water in electric gas water heaters, natural gas-fired hot water heaters, or oil-based hot water heaters if we don’t have to. And for most cases we don’t have to.

So there are a number of things we could do to simply slow down our burning of energy in a way that really is only eliminating the wasteful burning of energy. And at the same time we are creating domestic industries. There is the manufacturing industry of the solar thermal panels, if we were going to do that, or the development of the natural gas pipelines and filling stations – all of that. Those are all devices that need to be manufactured. There are people who need to install them. There are people who need to maintain them. There are actually quite a number of jobs around that, and good jobs.

The other thing would be around our use of food, particularly soil and soil building. I would put as much money as I could towards the type of farming that Joel Salatin is doing or the wonderful people I know who are involved in permaculture. These are desperately under-supported areas right now in terms of funding and resources. It might as well be zero for all practical purposes. It ought to be a lot higher than that.

And there are a number of things that I would additionally do around – one of the things that is really incredible about the United States is we have got just an outrageous amount of inventiveness and creativity. I would start a national program with like – let’s put a meaningful number in there – a billion dollars. What is that? About three hours of Fed printing at this point? Let’s take a billion dollars and structure it out as a prize for whoever, whatever company, whatever individual can solve some aspect of battery storage to create a higher density. There are VC firms that looking at that prize, looking at a suite of potential battery technologies out there, would commit more capital and give it to the right people, I am convinced, to chase after a prize after that. Because look what happened with the X Prize – ten million dollars – that is all it took to incentivize about 100 million dollars of investment to get us privately into Outer Space. That is a fraction of what NASA got us there for, and now it is actually a viable industry of sorts. Small – but they are talking about space tourism flights, and that was sort of the power of the prize.

These are the kinds of things a President could do just with a bully pulpit and bending a few arms. Those are within the possible. The thing that really needs doing is the predicament needs to be outlined clearly, lucidly, in an adult-sized way, by a leader with vision who can say, “Here is where we are. We might wish we were otherwise, but here we are. And here is where we need to go. So here is my plan for getting from Point A to Point B.” And the office of the President needs to operate like a CEO. That is, they should be out there with a vision and holding that vision and helping us get there. More often than not, the President has recently become the COO in my mind. They come out with tactics and strategies, and here is a program, and here is a list of this, and some of that, a few of these. And like – uh – no, I think if I was President of the United States, if I was POTUS, I would be outlining very clearly where we are, where we need to go, and I would be asking the country to figure out how to get there. That is the right position for the President, I think.

Adam Taggart:  Ok, ok. Well, you know, there still is time before the November elections to have a new person throw their hat in the ring. Any announcements you want to make for the listeners?

Chris Martenson:  I believe thatchmo is up for this role. The person who asked the question.

Adam Taggart:  All right, so the ball is in your court, Steve. All right, Nickbert asks: “Are there any key go-to information sources that you tend to check for signs of imminent problems each day or especially when you are out traveling?

Chris Martenson:  Yes, absolutely. I am constantly checking the price of gold, oil, stock markets, Treasurys, credit default swap spreads. I am looking at corporate debt, junk debt. So I have just got a variety of sites that I use. Some are public; some are through the brokerage houses I use. So I am constantly looking for those. If I see a huge jump in any one of those markets, I am then going to fish around for information. One of the first places I go is one of the wire feeds through Dow Jones maybe, which comes, again, through one of my brokerages, because those tend to be very, very current in terms of getting all sorts of rumors and updated news out. Then I check Zero Hedge, an amazing site. It is remarkable how fast that site gets on some of the news. I am really impressed with that.

Adam Taggart:  Yeah, Tyler is incredible.

Chris Martenson:  Yeah. He is truly amazing. Then I have a number of other blogs I check. But if it is really critical and urgent, I am looking for the fastest information I can get to. What I don’t do is I am not checking the majors – the big newspapers online – I am not going to TV and hoping there is going to be good information there. Those are not sources for me. And then if I have gone through all of that and I decide that there is anything so urgent that I have to quickly write something up and/or send out, an alert that is what I will do next. So I am really watching the markets as much as my first early warning indicator.

I should note that when I sent out the big warning in 2008, which now we know in retrospect was actually a very good warning to be giving about a potential collapse of the banking system, what alerted me to that was watching credit default spreads blowing out on a number of major institutions. That was my first warning sign, and that came about a week and a half to two weeks before the actual true event unfolded.

Adam Taggart:  Great. Well, one little commercial to make, too, is that with the new site we will be launching in two months, we will be adding essentially a data dashboard on the site for a lot of the most common sources that you mentioned that you look at. So if folks want to be looking at the same types of data that you are looking at on a regular basis, we will have that dashboard in place.

Chris Martenson:  Oh, I can’t wait for that. So, folks, this is putting together the one place, the one page, for all of the stuff that I just mentioned. Because I want it all in one place myself, rather than having to fish around and maintain a bunch of sites. So we decided and entered in an arrangement with a company that can help provide that for us so that we can deliver that all at once. Hopefully there will be an opportunity in a downstream version where we can add a little color commentary around it, so that maybe a popup box or some note that can be attached where I can tell you why I am looking at this indicator and what it means to me that it has moved this much. That, I don’t believe, is going to be in the first iteration, but that is the direction we are trying to go in, is to find ways to get you the same information I look at with enough context so that it is useful to you.

Adam Taggart:  Great. All right, next question comes from RaviNathan“Are there options for investing in precious metals that you can suggest for people with IRA’s and 401K’s that are trustworthy and hold unencumbered and allocated units?” I think Ravi and a lot of people who submitted similar questions are concerned that the ETFs, like GLD, SLV, have too much counterparty risk, and other options out there, like some of the Sprott funds, come at a pretty high premium.

Chris Martenson:  Yes, there are excellent companies you can use. I cannot for legal reasons say who they are. But the financial advisory management firms that we most trust can address those specifically and very completely.

The general answer is yes, there are fully unencumbered, allocated options out there with custodial firms that can hold your 401K or IRA assets in physical bullion. I absolutely recommend that as the first order of business. I am a little less concerned with the high premium on the physical, like Sprotts. I really trust the Sprott funds. They have what they say they have. The premiums have been there long enough that I kind of think they look permanent at this point in time. Maybe not always as high as they currently are, but I think if you bought at a premium, you can be reasonably – well, over the past year and a half, you could have sold at a premium, too. So those sort of canceled out a little bit.

And I fully share the concerns around the ETF’s themselves and I absolutely think that any firm that you do use, particularly after what we saw with MF Global, you have to be clear around really what the legal arrangement is around the firm that you are going to use. Is it insured? Are they actually holding it in custody? If their parent company goes broke, what happens to the assets underneath? Do they get stuck in some horrible discovery process that goes through some sort of a trustee arrangement afterwards, or are they actually yours? These are all things that a competent advisory firm can talk to you about and they will and they should.

Here’s how you know if you have got a bad advisory firm: you start talking to them about these things and they act as if you are asking silly, inane questions that really nobody asks and otherwise try to put you off. These are important questions. Everybody should be asking them. Anybody that steers you to the idea that these are not relevant or important or somehow a little out of line is not the right firm for you at this point of time. MF Global taught us that.

Adam Taggart:  Yep. It is probably worth noting here for our listeners, Chris, that we did at the end of last year identify one particular advisory firm that we have gotten to a point of comfort of recommending to people who are looking for a financial advisor that sees the world through a similar lens as we do here through the framework of the Crash Course. Anything you want to mention to folks about that?

Chris Martenson:  Well, this firm manages a lot of my family’s money. We do currently have an arrangement with them whereby if we direct a new client to them, that funds with them, that we will over here at receive compensation for that referral. And that compensation affects in no way the fee that you would pay if you join them. But in full disclosure I do need to mention that we have formalized an arrangement with them that does provide a win for us, it provides a win for the firm, and we believe really provides a win for the clients as well. And, as I mentioned, this is where my family is very comfortable with this firm at this point.

Adam Taggart:  Great. And I have heard you say this to folks in the past: The most important thing that we recommend folks do is to find a financial advisor that truly fits their needs and is going to treat them in a way that they want to be treated as an account. At the end of the day, we don’t necessarily care if they go with the firm that we recommended or not, but we want to make sure that people are at least putting their money that they want financial assistance with, with a firm that they feel is going to be a good steward. I will say if there is anybody listening that wants to have more information about the firm that we have begun directing people to, feel free just to email us at

All right, let me get to the next question here. The next question comes from user LittleFeatFan: “How big of a threat is global warming in your models?” Or as put by the forum thread – this is one of the ones that is more active on the site: “Is global warming still worth brushing off?”

Chris Martenson:  Global warming is something that we have not put front and center in our set of concern,s and there are a couple of big reasons for that. Not that it isn’t a concern, but here’s the biggest reason – we have learned – and Dan Ariely, if you want to listen to an incredible podcast from a while back, I believe we got that in early 2011. It’s around behavioral economics.

And behavioral economics says that humans are predictably irrational, and one of the ways that humans can really be counted on to behave in a certain way is that we tend to react to threats that are clear and immediate over ones that happen to be a little bit more distant and nebulous. This explains smoking behavior, for instance. A lot of people would not drive a stock car at 200 miles an hour, but they will smoke. They may have the same risk factor over time, but it turns out that one is near, clear, and immediate, and obvious, and the other is not – it is longer term and nebulous.

We discovered that global warming is very, very good at motivating an incredibly small number of people to take actions. For most people it is just not a solid enough threat for them to say, “Here is what I am going to do that is different as a consequence of that.” And we are agnostic as to why people take action. So if we end up getting two families to take the same actions – they both end up using half the fuel. One family is doing it because they believe in global warming, and the other family is doing it because they happen to believe that it builds extra resilience into their lives because they believe in Peak Oil. We are agnostic as to why people end up burning half the oil in this particular scenario.

What we found is that in approaching what we do through the economy and looking at the energy situation and understanding where we are in the resource story around the environment, that those are ways that we can approach this conversation and have a large number of people take very concrete definitive actions. That is our metric for success – have people take in information and use it to make substantive changes in their lives that we can see, touch, and feel. That is what we care about.

The second thing is that at our site – it is an Internet site and one of the things that we learned through the School of Hard Knocks on the Internet is that emotional material is very difficult to handle on an anonymous site where people get to sign in with an anonymous screen name – there is no human interaction in terms of facial expressions, and things, flame wars and all this and that, are very easy to get going on websites. And we wanted to create a place which had a very different tenor, a very different feel. We are talking about difficult material. We are asking people to entertain very challenging thoughts around what the future might look like. So that means our environment and our site needs to be safe, needs to be welcoming, needs to be inviting. Flame wars are none of those things.

And what we discovered, again, through the School of Hard Knocks, was that of all the people coming to our site to discuss global warming, none of them were climate scientists — almost none of them, very few, just a couple. Everybody had a very strong emotional belief about it and whether they were for or against the idea. And those beliefs led to very uncomfortable conversations, name-calling, a general degradation of civility, and other things that we felt were working cross-purposes to the larger mission of the site, which is to get as many people as we can – actually everybody if we can, to look at this material, think about it, discuss it, whether they agree with it or not or discount it or embrace it entirely. Our mission is to get the conversation going.

And, unfortunately for us, we discovered that global warming was a limiter of that conversation, not an enhancer. And we looked around the web and decided there were lots of places people could go to have that conversati