Image credit: Virgin Group
It's always hard to know what to make of Richard Branson. From his reported $3bn investments to fight climate change to his offer of cash prizes for removing atmospheric carbon, the man certainly talks a good talk when it comes to green initiatives. And then the waters get muddied by his plans for space tourism and underwater planes for the super rich. So where do all these plans fit with his well-documented belief that peak oil is coming, and it's going to be a major challenge to the world economy? Branson's Virgin group has already voiced its concerns over peak oil as part of the UK-based Peak Oil Task Force. Now the group, which also includes Arup, Foster + Partners, Scottish and Southern Energy, Solarcentury and the Stagecoach Group, is getting ready to launch its second report. looking at peak oil within the context of the recent recession, and making the case for why acting now to help the UK kick its fossil fuel habit is vital for long term economic prosperity.
According to The Guardian, Branson's foreword to the report (due out tomorrow) includes an urgent message to Government:
"The next five years will see us face another crunch - the oil crunch. This time, we do have the chance to prepare. The challenge is to use that time well. [...] Our message to government and businesses is clear: act," he says in a foreword to a new report on the crisis. Don't let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did."
Of course it should be taken into account that Branson runs a major UK rail operator when he talks of the urgency of government action on peak oil. Similarly, Solarcentury founder Jeremy Leggett is hardly an impartial bystander. But then, neither party claims to be. Leggett, whose awesome vision for a solarized world I reviewed a few weeks ago, had this to say in support of the group's activities:
""[We are] in regular contact with government; we have reason to believe their risk thinking on peak oil may be evolving away from BP et al's and we await the results of further consultations with keen interest."
Only a few short years ago, Peak Oil seemed to be the topic of choice for paranoid bloggers, the more radical environmentalists and fringe survivalist groups. Now the conversation is getting decidedly mainstream. Heck, even some folks at the IEA say peak oil could come sooner than we think. Given the context of our recent financial upheavals, Branson and Leggett's warnings to play it safe rather than sorry seem timely indeed. How else are we supposed to vacation in space when the oil runs out?