I wish the British were coming

British redcoats

Redcoats, please come back. Give our business blokes some of your British good sense on energy. Image: plain_jane53177 via Flickr.

America may need a British invasion to get an energy policy that will take us through peak oil.

These days, the British seem to know better than we do when it comes to energy. So maybe they can help us out this time, as they have in the past. Fortunately, America has always been an Anglophile nation. Even if we chafed under their Crown, we did buy their culture. There’s nothing we trust more than a BBC accent.

The Beatles triumphed where two centuries earlier Lord Cornwallis had surrendered. And between Yorktown and Lennon-town, we had Ivanhoe, The Pirates of Penzance, Twinings Earl Grey. More recently, Cleveland has given as warm a welcome to Harry Potter as it did to Princess Di.

But none of these Anglo-imports had the impact of the Beatles’ landing. Their Yellow Submarine unloaded a shipment of rock-and-roll heavy artillery to support the mountain-rifles of the Elvis Insurrection. That spurred a mass movement of fun, sex and youth rebellion that grew into the American Revolution of the sixties.

Of course, the forces of reaction struck back, as they always do. By the end of the century, American Tories had bought up youth culture. Big Business found a way to make counter-culture pay and to keep the kids in line. Give ’em an iPod, send ’em to Yale, and then onto Wall Street.

Today, many on the Left keep waiting for the kids to get uppity again. Engage the youth vote! It seemed to happen with Obama’s election. But then came disappointment. The kids voted once and then they got bored with politics and went back to sexting each other. Now it’s the same old guys running stuff again. The Tories.

So while we wait for the kids to wake up again, why not try the Tories themselves?

American business stuck in the ancien regime

In general, American big business continues to act as if gasoline is going to fall back to 99¢ a gallon sometime pretty soon. Just look at today’s initial public offering by a company with absolutely no future in a world of expensive oil, General Motors. The Washington Post quotes Obama auto czar Steven Rattner saying, essentially, that what’s good for GM is good for America. “People do not buy shares in recently bankrupt auto companies unless they are confident about the future.” The Post goes on to gush:

Faced with broad enthusiasm, GM this week boosted its offering price and size beyond initial expectations. The carmaker said Wednesday that it priced its shares of common stock at $33 each, raising $15.8 billion. Including preferred shares, the company has raised at least $20.1 billion.

Depressing, isn’t it? During the worst downturn since hobos rode the rails looking for the Big Rock Candy Mountain, American investors are betting on cars, light trucks and SUVs, many of which could be off the road in two or three years if gas gets back to $4 a gallon as many experts predict.

That $20 billion could have helped build out the passenger rail system that America so desperately needs. Another wasted opportunity courtesy of the same guys — the smartest guys in the room — who brought us Enron, sub-prime mortgages and credit-default swaps.

Knights of the boardroom table

Now contrast that with what a bunch of British industrialists accomplished today, and all before tea time. A consortium of big UK firms, including Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, has urged the government to prepare their country for a coming oil shock. The UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security released a briefing called Peak Oil: the implications of the Gulf of Mexico spill.

Quoth Sir Richard:

“The time to take out our insurance policies against such an outcome is now. We must do this to avoid the horrible shocks to the UK economy which will be mirrored in many other parts of the world.”

The British industry group put out an even bigger and more detailed report about peak oil in February. Considering that it comes from mainstream business leaders and not from the usual peak oil suspects, the report makes surprisingly intelligent recommendations, such as “Government, local authorities and business must face up to the Peak Oil threat and put contingency plans in place” and “A package of policies are required to deal with the economic, financial and social impact of potential high oil prices.”

Don’t expect that kind of language to come out of Detroit anytime soon, particularly after investors have just rewarded GM for stubbornly refusing to pull the plug on its brain-dead business model of Happy Motoring without end.

So maybe we do need that British invasion to knock some sense into our hapless American Tories.

Previously, your humble correspondent has most cordially invited Sir Richard to support a campaign to make the public aware of peak oil. Perhaps now we might encourage Branson, with fellow knight Sir Paul McCartney in tow, to board that Yellow Submarine — or a Red Virgin Atlantic 747 — and meet us at Yorktown. We can mend fences about that whole Cornwallis thing. We’ll even buy you an ale in Colonial Williamsburg.

From there we can raise a force of peak-oil Minutemen to march on the Capitol. And then? On to Detroit to get all that money back.

Meantime, we can start by fomenting a domestic insurrection against bad energy policy in big business. Where’s the American Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security?

Time to start one up, Sir Warren Buffett. Your nation calls you, as a patriot, in our time of need.

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  1. Diane Blust says

    Great article, Erik! Maybe we Virginians should band together and march on the Capitol, or least Warner and Webb. A project for the New Year??

    Diane (Reston)

    • says

      Diane, that’s a great idea. Virginia has good potential to lead a national movement for post-peak infrastructure, because we’re so close to DC and could easily make our voice heard. We do need to ask our senators to do more. Also, pretty much everyone except California, New York, Maryland, and a few other states needs to ask their senators to do less for infrastructure of the Auto Age, which is passing fast, and more for trains and other technology that will take us into a future of energy conservation.

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