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Days of plenty

A man in a bunker outlines our forthcoming Collapse
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  December 2, 2009

FEW RESPITES Michael Ruppert’s relentless recitation of impending doom.

In Collapse, the latest documentary by Chris Smith (American Movie, The Yes Men), the director condenses a two-day, March 2009 interview with a little-known investigator named Michael Ruppert into a bleak harbinger of the world's seemingly inevitable ruin. Ruppert, a former Los Angeles policeman born into the intelligence community, recites bullet points from his influential, long-running newsletter, From the Wilderness, and his recent book, A Presidential Energy Policy, in order to make his case.

The similarities between Smith's documentary and some of Errol Morris's recent work are few — the setting is a stark bunker, the music is overdone and Philip Glassy, and the only respites from Ruppert's face are montages of archival footage of societal and environmental upheaval — but they're so pervasive that you may fault Smith for a lack of originality.

But unlike Morris's Robert McNamara doc, The Fog of War (2004) — focused on a subject whose considerable powers were clouded by immoral or wrongheaded thinking — Collapse forces us into the mind of a man who is utterly powerless, yet has predicted, with unnerving accuracy thus far, the decline of industrial civilization.

Ruppert summarizes his theories in many nutshells, the most illuminating of which is "we are at the point where the infinite growth paradigm clashes with something more important than money is." That is, there are not enough natural resources to allow the world to continue to grow, nor enough to account for the volume of currency in the world. So, the means to support our current way of life do not exist. Ruppert believes, among other things, that we have already passed peak oil, and that the insolvency of the Federal Reserve Bank and the bank-insuring FDIC are on the way.

However alarmist Ruppert's predictions may seem, and however long it may take for them to bear fruit (or not), he cites too many facts to allow the viewer much comfort. Just one of many, on peak oil: Why are the Saudi Arabians, who have a quarter of the world's oil reserves, already investing considerable resources (for a modest return) in offshore drilling?

Ruppert condemns a host of options for additional oil or alternative energy ("ethanol is an absolute joke," "there is no such thing as clean coal"), only offering kind words for solar and wind power. But still: the energy created from solar and wind farms needs to be transported, and the means of doing this derive from oil, copper, and another finite resources used to create power lines.

If you're humbled by Ruppert's evidence (some, no doubt, will see it as familiar or unremarkable), you can still criticize his methodology. Ruppert distrusts the media, and uses his professed aptitude as an investigator to scan the news for facts. Then, he tries to "place the dots close together enough so that they can be connected." On the rare occasions when Smith interjects with a question asking why we should trust his facts when others disagree with him, or why we should believe Ruppert at all, Ruppert's answers are unsatisfying, as he resorts to more lofty, disturbing generalizations.

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