To prepare for peak oil, I’ve argued that nations need to rely less on imports and bring their manufacturing back home. But here’s an import from China that I’d like to see come to the West.
In advance of China’s National Car-Free Day in September, Chen Guangbiao, a flamboyant but green-friendly billionaire, staged a publicity stunt where he had a Mercedes-Benz sedan crushed.
After an excavator crushed the luxury car at his corporate headquarters in Nanjing, Chen, who purchased hundreds of bikes for his employees, then lead fifty of them into a street ride, carrying signs saying “expand public transport vehicles, double parking fees and oil prices.”
Too cheap by half
Even with crude oil prices down from their highs of recent months, Chen still thinks that oil is too cheap. To discourage driving and make alternatives like transit or bicycling look more attractive in China, Chen thinks gasoline should be more expensive, not less.
He wants the government to spend money raised from increased oil prices and car-related fees to develop China’s public transportation, according to the Taiwanese paper Want China Times.
Critics have denounced Chen as a showboat and publicity-whore, dinging him, for example, for popping up at disaster scenes with red envelopes of cash. Detractors call his generosity “rogue philanthropy” and say that it fosters a culture of dependence, reminiscent of John D. Rockefeller handing out silver dimes to the poor on the street in the old days.
Chen’s approach may be a far cry from the less colorful giving of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett whose foundations demand a higher level of accountability, but Chen says he’s going to follow the example of Gates and Buffett by giving away most of his fortune to worthy causes.
Meanwhile, Chen is a man with opinions on oil and the environment and he isn’t afraid to go much further than fellow billionaires on either side of the Pacific to make a political point.
Suicide, political or ecological
However Chen’s idea fares in China’s more regimented system, no politician or businessman in the US would last long if she suggested raising energy prices voluntarily at any time, but especially now in the dark days of the Great Recession.
But with peak oil here, the US and other western countries should be doing much more to get off of oil. And that means getting off of gasoline cars. We’ll have to do it anyway at some point when the price of oil goes too high — or, when the economy finally collapses fully and takes the global oil trade down with it.
So, as they say in cop shows, we can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way. You choose.
I’d chose Chen’s way.
As a plan to cut oil demand through policy, Chen’s idea reminds me of the Oil Depletion Protocol proposed by Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg that would have industrialized nations voluntarily reduce their imports of crude by 2% annually. But Chen’s scheme is so simple that anybody can get it. And his marketing is, let’s say, a bit more impactful.
Next year, he says he’ll crush a BMW. In the meantime, I hope we’ll see more stunts from this gutsy and clear-headed billionaire to get the China and the world off of oil. For example: Why doesn’t he come to the Detroit Auto Show and crush a Porsche?
— Erik Curren, Transition Voice