For a prophet of doom, Michael Ruppert looked remarkably cheery last week surveying the vegetable plots and chicken coop in his large sloping backyard in the Graton hills.
Nearly a year after moving to Sonoma County, the Southern California transplant says he's so delighted by his new environs he has to pinch himself.
But even in the sunny glow of a warm February afternoon, Ruppert's mind is never far from the catastrophe he sees looming.
"A tsunami is coming," he said. "Those of us who built on high ground hope we built high enough."
Ruppert, an author and former L.A. police officer, is a prominent "peak oil" advocate who takes familiar notions of finite fossil fuels and gives them a sinister urgency.
Not only did world petroleum production max out about six years ago, he said, it's now on an irreversible decline for which no amount of "clean coal," atomic energy, alternative fuels or new fields can compensate.
"In order to order to offset the decline, we would have to find three or four new Saudi Arabias," he said, cigarette in hand. "There is nothing that will offset the decline."
Ruppert is hardly Sonoma County's only peak oil theorist. The county is home to several chapters of Transition US, a group focused on preparing for the consequences of peak production, as well as to the Post Carbon Institute, a leading think tank in the field.
But Ruppert is unusually bleak in his predictions. He's not worried about $4 a gallon gasoline. He's worried about a societal collapse so imminent he sees little point in paying off debts.
"I would be making minimum monthly payments on credit cards now because the whole system is coming down in pretty short order," he offers.
That may sound like the ravings of a crank, as some believe he is. But Ruppert makes for a persuasive messenger.
His projections formed the heart of the critically lauded 2009 documentary "Collapse," in which he is sole star and commentator.