• Chris Martenson’s Crash Course

    A reader asked me to comment on Chris Martenson’s Crash Course. In preparing to do so I tried to find other critiques and reviews of the course online and didn’t find anything worthwhile. If anyone knows of any, please send them my way.

    According to Wikipedia Chris Martenson is “an American scientist who has done research in biochemistry, neurotoxicology, applied pharmacology and in vitro techniques.” He has been Vice President of Pfizer, Inc. and Science Applications International Corporation.

    In recent years Martenson has developed a video seminar series called The Crash Course. The course proposes ways the economy, the environment, and energy are inter-related and questions their sustainability. The course concludes with suggestions for how to prepare for the massive changes to our way of life that Martenson believes could occur and may already be underway.

    The Crash Course is nearly 3.5 hours long, though broken up into chapters that are between 3 and 20 minutes in length. Martenson is a talented presenter. He is easy to listen to, and the content of the course is simple to follow.

    The more of The Crash Course I watched the more I liked what Martenson was trying to do but the less I liked about how he did it. His broad goal is to introduce and describe some of the more challenging sustainability problems we may face. These problems are serious and worth contemplating. If nothing else, The Crash Course provides an overview of them. Perhaps it is a good place to start learning about the issues of inflation, demographic change, peak oil, and others but it should not be the last.

    That’s what I like. What I don’t like is that the presentation is one-sided. Though Martenson makes it clear enough what is his opinion and what (he believes) is accepted fact,  he does not tell the “whole” story pertaining to any of his claims. He’s lined things up and shaded them to support his point of view. That is to say, though his words and ideas are compelling, he does not and cannot present an airtight case for every claim. However, if you keep this in mind you may still obtain some value from his course.

    What I think Martenson is absolutely right about is that the future will not and cannot look like the past. But this has always been true. Human systems and institutions have evolved and will continue to do so. Just because something is not sustainable or scalable does not mean a crisis will occur. But it doesn’t mean a crisis won’t occur either. No doubt, as Martenson suggests, we will at some point encounter severe economic, environmental, and energy-based crises. When will they occur, and how severe will they be? Nobody knows. It is therefore wise to consider such possibilities but not be overcome by them. It is wise to be reasonably prepared.

    For me that and that alone is the full value of Martenson’s Crash Course. Therefore, I recommend The Crash Course to anyone who has not yet read a great deal about the sustainability issues he discusses. If nothing else, the course is a reasonable introduction from one perspective and may motivate viewers to pursue the topics further and to prepare for changes. Even if one does not fully agree with his perspective, Martenson at least surveys some important issues of our time and in a very accessible way.

    • “He’s lined things up and shaded them to support his point of view.”

      Well give us an example. You give nothing to back up this claim.

      “Just because something is not sustainable or scalable does not mean a crisis will occur.”

      This is very reassuring. The world is running out of oil. Our debt is growing at an exponential rate. etc etc. but you think a crisis might not occur. puh-leeze.

      • @mook – The two quotes you pulled out actually go together. His main technique is to show how if one extrapolates from current patterns, one reaches a level of debt/oil use/environmental degradation that cannot fail to be bad. That’s a fine message, as far as it goes. But it is one-sided. An open minded individual should recognize out of sample extrapolations for what they are: warnings of what could be, not what is guaranteed to occur. If one assumes the latter it leads to a set of decisions that may not be sensible. Of course one never knows.

        When it is snowing hard do we think, “Oh, this isn’t sustainable. At this rate in a few days snow will be above the roof of my house!!!”? No we don’t. Just because something is not sustainable does not mean it will inevitably lead to disaster. That’s merely a statement of logic. Things can change. I wouldn’t count on that 100% but I wouldn’t count on them not changing 100% either. Hedging one’s bets is sensible.

      • Mook: You are spot on. Frank has done an incredibly glib job of citiquing Martenson. His retort to you comparing debt and unfunded liability growth to a snowstorm is downright silly.

    • The reality is we have finite resources and the world’s population growth is exponential. Exponential population growth is not going to change anytime soon. Oil is a dense source of energy that will be very hard to substitute. Western governments are accumulating budget deficits that are out of control, making their citizens financial slaves. Top soil erosion, species extinction & deforestation is not going to change anytime soon either.

      Adaptation may be the key, but either way, economic growth is not going to continue for ever. The analogy about snow above is mixing apples with oranges. The economic and financial model used in western nations completely relies on perpetual economic growth, without it the model will change, we have no choice in the matter. It probably won’t be voluntary because politicians react to crises and rarely take unpopular initiatives. The public only wants to hear positivity from politicians, they don’t want them to make the tough economic choices such as lowering our standard of living, raising taxes, cutting entitlement programs etc.

      I don’t mean to offend people however, collectively we need to wake up. In the past, civilisations have collapsed for various reasons. Some of those reasons include financial problems, lack of energy (food) and environmental degradation. I don’t know what the solutions are. If anyone has some solutions, then they should inform those that have the power to make the shift in paradigm possible.

    • “…extrapolations for what they are: warnings of what could be, not what is guaranteed to occur.”

      You fail to grasp the inherent connectedness of the systems. Modern global economy = oil = resource depletion.

      People believing in an economic collapse are deemed doomers, meaning the alternative is business as usual (economic growth, exponential oil use, increases in emissions). If this continues, then the Earth collapses. Which is the real doomsday scenario?

      Peak oil will happen, and the more time that goes by before it does the worse off we will be. No large-scale preparations to speak of have been made, and I have very little faith in people (esp. Americans) changing their daily habits to suit even the most undeniable, apocalyptic, near-term forecasts.

      The economic situation could make it impossible for America’s economy to continue. The oil situation could make it impossible for the global economy to continue. The climate situation could make it impossible for human life to continue. Each can happen independently of the other two, and the last one results from the business-as-usual paradigm.

    • What bothers me about Martenson’s spiel is that it is very slick, but then you go to his website and you are cut off from virtually everything – unless you pay $30/month.

      So, all the talk about peak oil and monetary policy to show that there is something wrong leads to a closed door with not a hint of what value this guy has.

      So, tell me what I can hope to gain from this site. What is the point. The guy is obviously very smart scientically, but also very people smart in that he figured out how to tease people very well. What is it all about … I need to know before I waste money on a scam.

      • brux raises a fair point, that we should have confidence in the value provided by prospective teachers before spending our money, but from what I’ve observed of Chris Martenson so far I don’t believe his criticisms he makes are particularly fair. Not to say that I’ve been entirely persuaded myself because $30 is a fair bit of change. But I’ve seen my share of slick presenters peddling snake-oil, and if Chris Martenson is one of them he’s put up substantially more effort and shown a great deal more respect for his audience than the typical con man.

        First of all there’s the Crash Course itself, which is available both as a 45-minute video seminar and 3 and a half hours of animated lectures. Besides receiving a factual overview of the topics that concern him, these videos demonstrate Martenson’s philosophy of communication. A con artist’s philosophy is typically demonstrated by emotional appeals, a confusing structure, and a composition that’s light on delivery but heavy on style. Instead Martenson sounds consistently calm and helps you to keep track of the structure of his long message. Also, while his animation in his lectures are functional to support his points, the production values are hardly the most polished or “slick” I’ve seen (perhaps because the videos are made by one guy trained as a scientist, rather than a graphic designer?)

        Secondly, the public information on his website, outside the paywall, is not limited to these videos. There’s also an active forum with over 60,000 messages with free registration, so you could easily talk to subscribers to find out whether they’ve been getting good value. Chris Martenson himself doesn’t limit his appearances to his paysite. Tonight I found he’s interviewed John Rubino at zerohedge.com and spoken before Parliament in the UK. And he’s got a blog, , where he actually writes on the public internet about current events, so whatever the paying subscribers get is over and above what he’s writing for free.

        Though it may sound like I’m just a booster for him, I’m quite new to Martenson myself. While I’m still working out whether to subscribe, I felt I could still correct a misleading characterization.

        • @Macguges….thanks for an intelligent and full response to brux’s response. I have already had a good deal more than $30 (a month’s subsription)woth of value from the Crash Course and the many related articles, links and forums. and I haven’t parted with a penny. This bears none of he hallmarks of a scam. His is not the rhetoric of Snake Oil merchant – he invites one to examine the issues for one’s self.

          @Austin Frakt ..thank you for your article

        • It’s been 6 wks since your posting. Did you decide to enroll at CM.com?

      • what you get is a heads up. I have advised many family members…all have – nots how to prepare and those that have already hit bottom – unemployed- that there are few jobs in the horizon and retool their approach to survival.

      • I wouldn’t get my shorts all bunched up due to a $30 cost being a ‘tease’. We spent the money just to see if more or better insights were available. FWIW, people waste more money than that on junk food … and then waste more money on diets books to undo the bad they did to their self in the first place. :^)

        • If you have watched the whole crash course series, you will know that Chris is saying one thing: It is better to be prepared for something that might not happen, than be ill-prepared for something that DOES. I find comfort in being prepared and sleep well at night not having to worry about, “What if…?”

      • I’m a subscriber to Chris Martenson’s website – Peak Prosperity. I happily pay the $30 a month and feel I get full value. The information presented is varied and useful and more in the nature of news and ideas rather than theory or fact. There are some occasional predictions though.

        But for value overall, I would say the free access to the Crash Course is unbeatable. If you can’t/won’t pay $30 for the whole site, then be thankful that you’ve had more for free via the Crash Course than most pay sites deliver in 10 years.

        The best bit is the free bit – The Crash Course.

    • “…extrapolations for what they are: warnings of what could be, not what is guaranteed to occur.”

      Fundamentally wrong. Dangerously wrong. Extrapolations are guaranteed to occur unless conditions change. As long as current conditions and parameters remain the same, we can predict the outcome with virtual certainty. The only time that will not happen is when new factors are introduced to change the conditions.

      The raw facts are, we as a society are not doing anything to materially change the conditions. Myopic millions will remain happily in denial and do nothing but listen to the “drill baby drill” crowd and think everything will be peachy if we drill in the Arctic or offshore or bring dirty oil down from Canada.

      I came here as part of a search for hard evidence to counter Martenson’s claims but I have found the same thing here as on other sites – a lot of internet blibber blabber from know-nothing naysayers. To date I have not found any credible evidence that he’s wrong, backed up with the specific factors that are going to change the conditions and alter the curve.

    • I have come here to respond that first, criticism against chris is very few, and the ones i did read are very bad. He speaks about a general but true pattern,

      One persons argument was that human adaptability and innovation will fix the problem. In other words, the problem will magically fix itself. This is alarming just to hear, and I’m quite scared for the future because a a MAJORITY of people are ignorantly blissful and agree with this statement for any problem that occurs.

      I can understand how technology might remove our dependence on oil and that population growth may decline with education on the matter, but the economic view of the situation is by itself is horrendous. The way things are going, either the global economy will suffer or at least the US economy will suffer unless something is done.

    • I have visited and learned from many peak oil websites over the past couple of years and I have to say that Chris Martenson is the most sensible and fact-based source that I’ve found. Moreover, if you google “Chris Martenson podcast” you will have access to many highly-informative interviews he has conducted that will increase your understanding of any subtopic related to the Crash Course that you wish. For free. Yes, he selects and interviews people whose views align with his own, but you know that going in, right? I think his thoughtful style of analysis and presentation allows one to do some critical thinking and reach one’s own conclusions.

      I imagine that his $30 a month is reasonable, but he provides so much content for free that I have never felt the need to pay for more.

    • I am an engineer and have spent most of my professional career doing technological forecasts for the govt. I met King Hubbert some time ago and know what he had to go through to get the oil companies to understand that any and all resources from the earth are extracted at a rate that follows a normal curve,And that knowing just the shape of part of the upside you could predict the peak. Regardless of peak oil, there was a time not that long ago when the more oil you used, the cheaper it became. No wonder they called it “Happy Days.” Well, peak oil or not, you can be sure that the more oil we now use the more expensive it will get and we are still on an exponential curve of consumption. Materialism posits that material conditions, not individuals, shape history. Maybe we might dare to say that the reasons stories had to be invented to justify invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and why we would love to put another Shah in Iran, has something to do with keeping us on that exponential oil consumption curve a while longer. That makes more sense than the reasons given.

    • I hate to be blunt…. but shouldn’t a review by an economist, at least speak to the parts of Martenson’s thesis about the economy? The Fed? Inflation? Money? the Mortgage Crisis? Greece Defaulting on it’s debt? Spain?The Eurozone? etc…..

      Where’s the substance?

    • @Witold: If you look into the Transition Movement, you will find that quite a few people, on a global basis, are organizing to survive what Chris believes to be close to inevitable.

    • I’ve read his book and watched the 2011 video before the Spanish metals group in which he summarizes his views. He makes a compelling case for the key argument that growth and prosperity are not the same and that pursuit of growth MAY be a fool’s errand. The reasoning being that we are at a resource (energy and mineral) peak that requires more and more effort to extract less and less of the resource. I am widely read and pretty informed for a “lay person” and cannot find serious fault with the reasoning and conclusions that he draws.

      Unless and until someone can rebut his analysis with substantive arguments based on hard facts such as he uses to illustrate his points I think we have to conclude that he is correct. Current political solutions are ineffective in dealing with “predicaments” which he ably distinguishes from “problems.” We have a predicament that is here NOW. The point he makes is HOW we deal with the outcomes that are possible is critical. I especially liked the three hypotheticals that he offers as “end game” scenarios. He is careful to point out that these are just his educated guesses on what might transpire but they appear sound and well reasoned.

    • What I find astounding is how what he predicted in Chapter 20 came true with the Cyprus Banking Crisis! And he predicted it in 2008!
      He recommended: Have money for three weeks under your bed!
      And in fact, the banks in Cyprus were all closed for more than a week in a preparation of a bank run.
      And if you follow the discussions about fracking oil, its environmental and economical costs, it’s all just like he predicted.
      So I do strongly believe, the best you can do today is buy a farm to sustain yourself, have sun collectors on your roof to generate your energy and hot water and see what happens. Because, there WILL something happen! The ressources are ending and the Chinese are spending…
      The future will be interesting, to say the least.

    • I never paid a penny for any of Martenson’s material. There’s plenty for free on the internet, but I’m sure the fee is worth it for some people that want to go deeper. It’s debatable whether we’ve all ready met peak oil, are at peak, will soon be at peak, or whether or not all of this will definitely happen. I think, however, that everyone can agree that it is inevitable if we maintain our current course.

      When I think of all this, I can’t help but be reminded of Hurricane Sandy. Here in NJ, we knew for about a week before it came that it would make a weird turn and hit our area. Many still waited until the day of to go out and get some food and water, if they did. The optimism bias is wonderful because it keeps our spirits up, but it can be dangerous. People need to start entertaining unpleasant, but very possible or even inevitable “what if’s” so they can do what they can to prepare, no matter how little. When it comes to this stuff, you would rather be a little prepared and have your friends think you’re a crazy conspirator than to be……

      I really think, as a layman, this is what Martenson is saying. Everyone else is waiting for CNN or something to confirm this. I think these people should go on YouTube and see what CNBC was saying about housing in 2007.

      I’ll do my own research.

    • Today i have been seeing the videos of Crahs Course and i have an issue. His model of growing of population accept that the population growing rate, named “acceleration” by Mr. Martenson´s, is a constant value of 1 %. But, when i consult other data, this value is variable. It had a pike in 1965 and it has been decresing since 1980. Because of that, the projection of total population will adopt the form of a Gaus bell, with a pike near 2050 and after that, moving down.