Ask an industrial manufacturer why they put a “do not drink” label on a bottle of bleach, and you’ll probably get a weary sigh and an acknowledgement that a certain segment of the population simply requires it. A similarly sad situation has developed as the professional protest movement has set their sights on fossil fuels; we are now at a point where we must explain certain physical realities with the patience and tactics of a kindergarten teacher.
A friend recently listened to an acquaintance equate the dangers of fossil fuels with those of tobacco and guns; a quick search of the web turns up plenty of similar speculation. During the winter months, in which most rely on natural gas to ward off unaesthetic limb-blackening frostbite, it is truly disheartening to have to pick up a pencil and try to explain the difference between life saving heat, lung cancer, and a bullet to the forehead. But we must try.
To be kind, it’s worth trying to emulate the thought processes in those brains that equate the three. Presumably, these protectors of the common good see each as being deadly to mankind, scourges that should be eradicated. One can only assume this is because they swallowed the headlines without any critical thought. A quick analysis is in order then.
Cigarettes are one item where there is substantial common ground. It is hard to defend tobacco. The negatives include pollution, various forms of cancer, bad breath, and the sad illusion that smoking makes one look cool (possible in theory but out of reach with the common man/woman). Cigarettes are universally reviled, and the chain of events that led to their widespread acceptance is a low point in corporate behaviour. Tobacco companies for years advertised a product largely by pandering to the lowest common denominator with full knowledge of how addictive and unhealthy they were. So the general scowl towards cigarettes is not an issue.
Guns are totally different. The gun culture exists primarily out of fear: fear of boogeymen, fear of the unknown, and the human instinct towards real or imagined safety requirements. The odds of enduring a home invasion are beyond remote, yet a night of TV viewing plants the seed that it’s virtually inevitable. Institutions like the National Rife Association fight tooth and nail against opponents by using lobbyists, media campaigns, and general fear-mongering. It is not a process for which one should hold their head high, to convince average citizens that the only way to save themselves from probable home invasions/car jackings/muggings/road rage incidents is to have a lethal weapon tucked in one’s underwear. The anti-gun lobby points out that having everyone armed to the teeth does nothing to solve the problem because anyone can get a gun, and the chances for accidental shootings rise exponentially when they are everywhere. So, again, a societal villain that is quite easy to make a case against.
That leaves fossil fuels. The people that equate the three would argue that fossil fuels may be keeping us alive, but are killing the planet. That line of thought makes an argument for energy efficiency and continued development of new green technologies. It is an argument for walking and not flying. It is an argument for proper insulation to keep out cold, and intelligent design of buildings to make them as energy efficient as possible.
It is not an argument for tampering with pipeline valves, or propagating demonstrably false information about the energy business. It is not an argument for trying to convince people that they can live without fossil fuels and maintain an even remotely similar lifestyle. It is not an argument for following the herd of thought that sweeps crowds into delusional directions, where the thinking goes that the greater good is at stake, which allows any reference to reality to be overridden.
Is the point that cigarettes and guns are poisonous and dangerous, respectively, and so are fossil fuels? A great many things are dangerous or poisonous but we don’t seek to ban them simply because of that. Should we eliminate snakes? Daffodils? Assuming the answer is no, then there must be other reasons than danger to the public.
At the heart of it, the only reason someone would make such a comparison is because of adoption of the belief that all three are menaces to society that kill people. That such a concept can even enter someone’s mind gives an indication of just how successful the professional environmental movement has been at tarring and feathering the energy industry.
Cigarettes cause cancer, which kills people. An over abundance of guns kills people because they can fall into the wrong hands in a heartbeat, either into the hands of criminals who would kill you anyway but guns make it easier, or by falling into innocent hands who make tragic mistakes.
Fossil fuel based energy gives you life. It does not kill the planet; 7 billion people are killing the planet. You would not exist in this day and age without it. You would freeze to death or starve to death, and if not you then several billion others. That is a fact, every single day.
The next time you drive by a sign that says “Pipeline crossing”, be honest and give a silent thank you for the piece of pipe operating unnoticed under your warm and well fed body. True, we need to optimize usage, minimize pollution, and start planning for a day without fossil fuels. But in that order.
Finally, we have to admit that it is at least in part our fault that these stupid comparisons are being made. The petroleum business has been much too quiet while this juggernaut of disinformation has grown.
It’s not amusing anymore. It’s dangerous. So don’t be shy in standing up for the energy business. Send these ideas and articles to your friends and family in Vancouver, and Montreal, and Moncton and Florida and Phoenix. Energy is always a topic of discussion, and it normally takes about 4 seconds before it veers off into la la land where people debate with straight faces whether fossil fuels are as dangerous as cigarettes. It is incumbent upon each of us to right that ship wherever we can.
Terry Etam is a contributor for the BOE Report – The Source for oil & gas news and information