Friday, August 22, 2008

That Good Ol' "CAN'T DO" Spirit

For centuries America has been a place where, no matter how great the challenge, the people dug in with a "can do" spirit and made things happen. Obviously, when it comes to very basic things like power generation, the nation has adopted a dangerous, new "CAN'T DO" position. Fueling the nation's fleet of autos and trucks with petroleum-based products? The petrophobes say NO! Constructing oil refineries? NO! Nuclear power plants for electricity as demand surges? NO! How about some clean-coal plants? NO! Windmills near Cape Cod? NO!

Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Power, is hardly a political conservative. He is often mentioned as someone from the energy industry that could find a place in a Democrat President's cabinet. Yesterday he was speaking to the World Affairs Council of Charlotte Speaker Series at The Westin Hotel in Uptown Charlotte. Mr. Rogers has just returned from a two-week trip to China and his speech dealt with the differences he finds in China and the US when it comes to energy production. In short: China has become a CAN DO nation while The United States is increasingly finding reasons to say CAN'T DO. Coverage of his speech is here in an article headlined "America Losing Its Economic Drive?"

Two things I've seen first hand offer some hope. Living in California I saw what happened when electricity rates tripled and brownouts were happening despite the enormous rate increases. The people, angry that they couldn't surf the Sierra Club website without electricity, rose up quickly, recalled the Governor, and voted in someone who promised to do better in that area. The fact that the replacement isn't really much better than the bum that got thrown out isn't my point. Just like we saw with $4 gasoline this summer, there is a point where the comfortable masses can be stirred to action. At $2.50/ gallon comfortable Americans can have an abstract, mindless concern for a frozen plain on the North Slope of Alaska. At $4/ gallon the same person will say, "Punch a hole in that swamp and get some crude oil for cryin' out loud!"

This gives me a tiny bit of hope for the days ahead.