Monday, September 15, 2008

Charles Maxwell and the Speed of the Change

Just as I was getting settled back into the office last week, John ran in with this article and asked me what I thought about it.

It's an interview with energy-focused investment analyst Charles Maxwell.

John loved it. Maxwell is John's kind of guy. An energy contrarian. A former oil man that was laughed out of his smoke filled Wall St. boardroom when he predicted, four years ago, that oil prices were about to start soaring.

He's concerned about energy independence. He sees a future in which electricity powers transportation. He sees big potential in nuclear power, but he's refreshingly unemotional about the political barriers the nuclear industry faces. And, somewhat unusually among his treehugger-averse peers, he doesn't shudder at the mention of the word "conservation."

After reading the article, I think I like him too. I get the sense that he's a capitalist first and a human being concerned about the well being of our planet and its inhabitants second, and that worries me a little bit, but maybe I'm just reacting to his unapologetically long position on tar sands exploration. Regardless, however, he strikes me as pragmatic thinker with a significantly longer term focus than most energy people, and I appreciate that.

I also appreciate, more specifically, his answer to a question asking him what concerns him most about a future that includes extremely expensive oil (USD 250-300/barrel):

People are going to be asked to change much faster than they are willing to.

I think that's worth keeping in mind. We're probably not going to find enough silver bullets to make the transition away from oil painless, and we shouldn't forget that.

Hopefully, as a global society, we'll rise to the occasion. Hopefully we'll feel the pain and learn from it. Hopefully we won't get angry and violent and dishonest. Hopefully we'll think and build and innovate and change.

It's not going to be easy, but acknowledging its difficulty has to be a step in the right direction.