Given the festive time of year with the holidays fast approaching, it’s a good time to talk for a minute about tuberculosis. Don’t be judgemental; you have your fireplace-on-TV traditions and I have mine.
The disease has thankfully been pretty much wiped out of North America decades ago through the wonder of vaccinations. The discovery and propagation of this disease-stopping technique was an incalculable gift to us all, saving heartache that relatively few of have to endure these days, at least from this disease. Sadly, tuberculosis remains one of the major killers in the world. There are however many other once-formidable ailments that have been obliterated by mass vaccinations.
So imagine the dismay of the medical community or those touched by similar diseases when a famous…”pinhead” isn’t very festive, how about “attractive talk show host” – went on the air several years ago announcing that vaccinations are dangerous. Being both pretty and on TV – an extremely potent combination – meant that her message of quackery sadly found a receptive audience.
The result was that the segment of the population that is swayed by such things – unfortunately it’s sizeable – agreed, and other mouthy converts joined… and helped several long-dormant illnesses make a comeback (as has been jocularly documented on the Jenny McCarthy Body Count website (some advice: their tee shirts make terrible Christmas gifts). Parents began deciding that infinitesimal risks to their child were more important than preventing a possible re-ignition of some terrible diseases. The success of vaccinations ironically led to these attacks on them, because that’s how the world seems to work these days. None of us have likely ever met a TB patient so the threat isn’t real, but I do know vaccinations frighten poor Jenny to her little core, and it doesn’t get more real than that. Of course she’s not alone either; the anti-vaccination movement has it’s own warriors, but the TV exposure did wonders for the cause.
Which brings me finally to some sort of point: in the absence of a continuous effort towards conversations of substance, junk from the depths of the web will rise up to fill the void. The unfortunate part is that thoughtful conversation doesn’t stand a chance against emotional arguments that take over. The emotional beasts of fear and hope are incredibly strong and resilient, and consistently beat to a bloody pulp the nerds of calm and rational thought.
Fear is the mightiest hammer, and there are many that know full well how to use it. No matter where you might fall on the spectrum of opinion of a contentious issue, when weighing the arguments it’s good to be mindful of the potential role that fear plays in the messaging. People want happy news, but they pay attention to what scares them. Not that fear itself is bad, but we are dismally incompetent at ferreting out what we really should be worried about.
People are infinitely more frightened of murderous home invasions than they are of teenage drivers, yet the odds of getting mowed down by a texting 16 year old dwarf the risk that you will be murdered anytime soon unless you are a member of the drug trade. We think climate change is a most pressing risk because it could cause sea levels to rise two meters in the next century, when a terrorist attack on our electrical grid, natural gas heating systems, or water supply could cause incredible loss of life and human suffering.
Those lines of thought deserve attention way beyond the design of BOE Report and other similarly erudite energy websites. We have enough to do here because the energy world is huge, complex, and changing rapidly, and where there is change there will be opportunists waiting to pounce on the human preponderance to give an ear to whoever scares them the most.
This column isn’t here to provide all the answers; I can’t even begin to pretend to do be able to do that. It is to try to bridge the vast gulf between what the general public knows about energy, and what really happens. What the public knows is normally too superficial or just plain wrong, and what really happens is not well understood because vested interests offer too much favourable interpretation. The gulf is so large and the need so great that even lethargic hacks feel compelled to get off the couch and say something.
Agreement isn’t necessary, and probably only three percent of opinions will be right about the future. The problem is we have no idea which three. So if you don’t agree with what you read here, that’s fine; what isn’t fine is to just accept as truth the relatively thoughtless media stream of lazy, sheep-like headlines and sensationalistic fact distortions.
The very best thing that could happen for the energy world is for the general public to become more engaged in energy conversations, and to ask more questions. Ones who chain themselves to a pipeline valve aren’t involved in a conversation, but neither is someone who protests against wind turbines because they don’t like the look of them. People who say we have to act now to save the planet are engaged in a conversation if they stop flying. Ones who say we can’t presently live without fossil fuels are engaged in a conversation if they acknowledge that in the future we won’t be able to rely on them like in the past.
We shouldn’t let sheep and distortionists take over the narrative with lazy and biased conversations that avoid middle ground. That’s where 90 percent of the population lives. Make up your own mind, but before you do, be sure that you have an understanding of the whole landscape, or that you’ve at least given other sides a chance. You won’t find golden truth in the IR presentations of a US shale producer, and you won’t at Greenpeace’s website either. It is helpful to everyone if we don’t allow the vested narratives to control the airwaves unchallenged.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the holidays and I extend my sincerest wishes that your new year contains very little tuberculosis.