The news stream has changed a lot over the past few decades, obviously. We used to have a very finite number of news sources; either a handful of newspapers or a few evening TV news shows. From these, the general population could then take relatively bland narratives and bash them into whatever twisted shape their minds wished to interpret them as, running them through political/ethical/moral/cultural/philosophical filters and shouting the results to whomever might listen. Which was often almost no one. Other than haranguing friends and family, interaction was limited to “letters to the editor” which few people bothered to write.
These days, like anyone needs reminding, the filters are gone, the flow is wide open, and feedback channels are a deafening cacophony of noise. The term “news sources” has become trampled and pulverized as if by buffalo stampede. Regarding the quality of news, we can be sure of one thing only – simply posting facts, and expecting that narrative to compete in the media shark tank, will produce the most ignored site on the internet. Just ask the global petroleum industry, who tried that for decades; even most advocates believed that the importance of oil and natural gas was too obvious to even comment on, failing to notice the hordes of environmentalists wrapping its gigantic ankles with ropes.
We are now paying the price for this strategic error, particularly in Canada, as the absolutely vital industry is now under attack on all fronts from enemies with little interest in the realities of industrialization. “…for humanity to succeed, oil and gas companies must fail,” blustered Environmental Defence in a Globe and Mail editorial. “The fossil fuel industry wants wildfires and sea-level rise to be your fault…” calumniates West Coast Environmental Law’s Andrew Gage, who somehow nominated himself as spokesperson for the fossil fuel industry by declaring that he knows what it “wants.”
Out of, and despite, this bizarre and nearly limitless news/opinion/propaganda flow, the energy industry is finding a way to create a sort of resonance with the general public. The industry fortunately has a great start because, as we are seeing more and more, the general public is actually highly supportive of Canada’s energy business, and becoming ever-more doubtful about the industry’s opponents. Even the CBC (the CBC!) reported in 2018 that 2 out of 3 Canadians think it is wrong to block the Trans Mountain expansion.
However, in seeking to further enhance this resonance, the petroleum industry needs to think carefully about what it says. Wrong steps can happen easily if we, for example, try to debate the bunkum of Mr. Brooks and Mr. Gage. Canada needs a productive and positive energy conversation, and we won’t find it there.
What we must do is keep in mind the key and true realities that people either forget or never were aware of with respect to energy. We can point out where it comes from in the world, and allow to people to evaluate where they want it to come from. We can point out the environmental footprint of various countries, if we know what it is. We can ask them if they know where their heat comes from, or where their food comes from, and show them the role of petroleum products in those chains. We can hold up a cellphone and help them understand how many components it has, where they came from, and how they came together. Few customers pick up a new iPhone and marvel at the fact that they are holding the nerve ending of trillions of dollars of fossil-fuel driven infrastructure. We can point out that we don’t make a population healthy and fit by blowing up grocery stores.
We need to avoid the temptation to get too sidetracked by environmental extremists, because that is counterproductive and a waste of energy (speaking from experience). We have more than enough positive things to talk about, because there is not a Canadian citizen who can survive without fossil fuels, and, more importantly, not a global citizen that truly wants to (or they would do it).
The mic has been left wide open for environmental extremists for a long time, and they’ve taken full and clever advantage, but the house-of-cards fear model is going to fold of its own accord. That is inevitable when fear and destruction and hypocrisy are central to communications. It is easy to catch someone’s attention with prophecies of impending doom that require immediate action, but the public is not, as is often claimed, stupid. They may be fooled for a while, and there may be much complacency and antipathy, but if interested, they will listen. And eventually even the most disinterested citizen can smell a rat when watching the global environmental elite jet around the world continuously while at the same time shouting at everyone to kill fossil fuel companies.
The petroleum industry can strike great resonance with the public and build support by simply pointing out these situations, like asking if having climate change conferences in every conceivable tropical resort is actually more supportive of the energy industry than it is a sensible critique of it. Those messages are everywhere, we just need to bring them to the forefront of consciousness.
Of course, as can be seen in BC this week with protests against the TransCanada gas pipeline, there are still formidable obstacles to getting anything built. But as with environmental extremists pushing things too far and losing credibility, perhaps we are getting close with respect to the indigenous issue as well. Not only are indigenous leaders speaking up, loudly, in support of pipelines and corresponding economic development, but the standoff in BC is a potentially huge turning point. Even the provincial NDP government has supported the LNG project, so, as unfortunately happens all along this miserable road, people are forced to take sides. This divide is a huge one: do we have rule of law or not? And as a corollary, does consultation mean getting every single person to sign off?
Maybe we need to go right to the edge, to have hands forced, to finally start breaking logjams. But the tide is slowing turning; the world continues to demand more fossil fuels and we simply need to show them that Canada is the best option to supply them.
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