It’s Thanksgiving season in Canada, and soon in the US, and it’s time to show some gratitude. It’s time to reflect on how we live, all the things we are able to do, and how that all happens. This isn’t just about energy, it’s about effort and building and creating. And it’s about recognizing that we owe respect to those that provide so much of what we take for granted.
Examples are not hard to find, both economic and not. Someone somewhere spends his time writing a song that may lift the mood of millions, but no one says hey thanks for doing that. Some lonely farmer pounds around the field and produces enough grain to feed a small town, but no one says thanks when they buy the lentils. Some solitary operator does his rounds checking on gas wells to make sure they are running, and indirectly heats a hundred homes or hospitals or whatever through the long winter.
Put down the protest signs for a minute and think. Think about where the food comes from that you will eat today. Think about how you got to the protest.
Let’s also set the record straight about heroes and villains. Protestors do not have a monopoly on caring for the environment. The energy industry does know that a functioning and healthy environment is good for everyone. No one disturbs forests or grasslands for the fun of it. No one wants to kill a cow for the fun of it either – but we all enjoy the benefits when someone does. Seven billion people need food, clothing and shelter. That creates a massive footprint; there is no other way to distribute energy across the globe. Cutting off supplies of cheap energy is a conscious choice to doom some populations to extreme hardship in accessing the basic essentials. Protestors should be honest enough to lay out exactly who they intend to punish, because that is an inevitable consequence.
Environmentalists view green energy as a necessity in order to save the planet. Regardless of your thoughts on that, no one should lose sight of the fact that green energy is also an absolute luxury. People who are starving or freezing don’t spend much time worrying about carbon footprints. Our western lifestyle affords many luxuries, one of which is the ability to turn up our noses at the very energy sources that enable our advanced way of life. Isaac Newton said that if he could see further than most, it was by standing on the shoulders of giants. Renewable energy is the personification of that principle; green energy options exist because of the efforts of those who have brought you cheap energy in the first place. That means fossil fuels, which everyone knows will not last indefinitely.
Go ahead and work towards a greener future. That’s great, and that’s what the sincere ones, the builders, are doing now. They are laying the groundwork for an economic future that can survive once fossil fuels become too expensive. The irony is that green energy developments often face the same hurdles, the same wearying battles against NIMBYism that the petroleum industry faces.
We have to face the realities of today. The simple traditional lives some yearn for don’t exist anymore; we are all addicted to cheap energy. We choose trucks instead of horses. A nomadic lifestyle of living off the land sounds satisfying and wholesome – as long as we can have the internet and travel wherever we want. We may grow some vegetables and herbs, but outside of farmers no one can feed themselves alone (and even that’s a stretch – farmers hit the grocery store now and then too).
Someday historians will look at this period as one where cheap energy propelled us to levels of technology and comfort undreamed of a hundred years before. Look around at how we move and live. None of this would be possible without the benefits that petroleum has brought us. No solar panel would ever have existed without the cheap energy that fueled the development of the products that make them. Without fossil fuels, wind turbines would be at best wooden structures that would hardly power a small water pump.
Stop protesting and start working for the greener future you claim to want. We live in a world where 7 billion people consume 30 billion barrels of oil per year to maintain their way of life. Some of it is indeed wasteful and can be curbed with ease, and those are the best places to tackle. The hard part is tackling them without hypocrisy; anyone can easily begin by never getting on a plane again. Any volunteers?
The world’s population cannot exist without a significant environmental footprint. For those convinced that the world can’t warm by another degree without catastrophe, they must by any sensible measure take up signs and protest against the worst problems – primarily coal burning, and primarily in China. Actions that slow pipelines or energy developments in nations with the most advanced and stringent standards are a waste of time and utterly misguided. If you are in that camp, chain yourself to a Chinese embassy, not a pipeline valve.
Oil is what got us here and what will permit the transition to green energy in due course. Imagine a world of no plastic or advanced materials. There would be no cheap energy (hydroelectric is a glaring exception; glaring because it falls in the renewable camp with a free pass, despite the upheaval to ecosystems man-make lakes create) without the materials, factories, and building blocks that fossil fuels have enabled.
The ungrateful go on the attack against the very industry that brought us this far. And the attack isn’t against faceless corporations; countless people are being vilified because they choose to work in the energy business. Leave them alone to do their jobs. We all need them, more than most would admit. Few complaints about natural gas are heard in the dead of winter.
Show respect and gratitude for how you got here, and how you live. Yes, times are changing, and the world is going greener. But show some respect for the millions of men and women who work hard to get food from the field to your table, and that prevent you from freezing to death in the dark. It’s not altruistic, they make a living at it. But it is only because of those people – many of whom are facing dire economic circumstances at present – that we enjoy the standard of living we have. Protests are non-constructive and embarrassingly ungrateful. Fight the good fight if you want, but do it by going and building something, not the opposite.