Grain of sand in an hourglass
It came down to him or me
- Canada’s greatest band The Headstones – “Long Way to Neverland”
As the year draws to a close, it’s natural to look back at the one just past and ruminate on how it went. If you were thinking of doing that, let me save you some time: Bad idea. If you’re reading this, you’re interested in energy, and if you’re interested in energy it has been an exasperating and dumbfounding year.
There were, in effect, two central themes that defined energy in 2019. The first is the overriding narrative that was planned and executed like the D-day invasion: that the world as we know it will become somewhat/extremely uninhabitable within decades (the timeframe/severity estimate a function of how hysterical the publication), and that the only way to save humanity is to cease using fossil fuels immediately. That narrative came to define the news; it also rejuvenated a political movement looking for a tool to achieve its ambitions, and its shock-and-awe imagery attempted to jolt the world’s population into action.
The world’s reaction to this assault defined the second energy theme of 2019. The general public, if it paid attention at all, was momentarily confused by what sort of “action” was being demanded of them, and governments joined in the chorus of demands for “action”, and then seven billion people did the inevitable: they shrugged and carried on with their day. Some pledged to use more recyclable bags, some hopped on an e-scooter instead of an Uber, and most pledged to give serious thought to the matter some other day when they weren’t quite so busy. And those were the lucky ones – the ones in the rich west that have the time and money to worry about such things. We tend to forget that for the majority of the world’s population the day’s agenda is built around finding enough food, clean water, and supplies for the next day.
Despite the world’s energy realities, the bombastic media blitz dominated the headlines, and it was a year of unprecedented assault on the fuels that keep us all alive. It sure as hell wasn’t fun, and there were a lot of casualties. And there will likely be more, sad to say.
But on the other hand, as an end-of-year exercise it is well worth pointing out how things might be turning around, how maybe our efforts to stop those last grains of sand in an hourglass from falling will be successful.
Consider the following major events that were sizeable speed bumps for the previously unhindered climate-industry/social-engineering movement. A judge in NY threw out a climate change lawsuit against ExxonMobil, after NY state quietly (absurdly quietly) abandoned the most damning charges at the end of the trial (the judge had to ask, so, are you abandoning those claims? and NY state meekly agreed, as they appeared to have no evidence whatsoever). This follows a similar outcome from 2018 when a judge threw out a NY lawsuit against 5 oil companies and another from San Francisco, where a judge wisely threw out another climate change lawsuit after demanding that each side discuss the merits of the others side; he concluded that emissions may be to blame but that it was inappropriate to “place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded.”
Cracks in the wall are appearing elsewhere. The overwhelming narrative that the world is changing before our eyes at an accelerating pace, for example the talk about “exploding demand” for EVs, is withering away as nothing more than overly jubilant propaganda based on wishful thinking. Global EV sales are actually falling, particularly in former poster-child China where sales fell 43 percent year over year in November (having fallen in each of the last five months at an accelerating pace). As even EV-fanboy site InsideEVs put it, as it abandoned its efforts at monthly sales reports (which it easily was able to cobble together when EV sales were rising), “Hopefully, as automakers begin to find success with EVs (many, many years away as it stands right now), we’ll see a change in reporting practices.”
Powerhouse green-revolution states are stumbling. Germany and California, the most enthusiastic renewable energy jurisdictions, are falling away from their goals, in large part because they insisted that renewables could replace nuclear. Turns out it’s not that easy, and even the peasants are risng up to demand a halt to development of new renewable projects (Germany / CA).
The COP25 climate summit, the one in which tens of thousands boarded jets to gather and yell about how everyone needs to stop boarding jets, was an abject failure. Poor countries, having been convinced that they were victims of climate change, cleverly turned the narrative around and demanded that rich countries, which provided much of the historical pollution, pay for all their woes. For the climate crowd, the old Shakespeare nugget “hoist by their own petard”came back into vogue; the climate industry had cleverly co-opted the weather as their ally, claiming every weather event that caused pain or damage to be the result of fossil fuels. Kudos to developing nations for figuring out the game and running with it.
The fact that the COP25 agenda dissolved into disarray over costs and complexities should come as no surprise; whenever the talk turned from “we need to do this” to “how are we going to do/pay for this” the conversation falls into inevitable chaos (as was made clear in a particularly interesting fashion some time ago). The challenges in moving away from fossil fuels are formidable, which isn’t quite a true statement, because that statement implies that we even understand what the challenges are. Seven billion people are walking the earth at the same time because and only because of fossil fuels. Eliminating that fuel source would simply eliminate most of those seven billion people and place them underground on a permanent basis. We simply don’t understand the challenges of eliminating fossil fuel usage yet, no matter what theoretical modellers say.
Some numbskull will read this catalogue and derisively scoff that, see, oil patch Neanderthals cheer when the environmental movement fails. Wrong. The oil patch cheers mightily when the environmental movement makes progress, the real environmental movement, that is. It notes with grim satisfaction when the forces of climate/social engineering/energy ignorance take a Mike Tyson-esque right hook to the head, because those forces ultimately do more harm than good by propagating divisiveness and over-simplistic solutions.
What the world needs to do is snap out of this state of panic and set about reducing our environmental footprints where possible, while recognizing the lifestyles that people choose to live (and will not give up without a fight). We need to pursue new technologies and techniques that build on our existing systems, because only delusional armchair quarterbacks think it is possible to radically overhaul any sort of physical infrastructure in the short term.
From the petroleum sector’s perspective, we need to keep reducing our footprints, and, equally importantly, start telling the world that we are, in digestible sound bites that non-energy people can understand and relate to. For example, here’s a brilliant infographic from CAPP. Yes, CAPP, the organization that haters gleefully dismiss as an industry lobby association. Haters should learn to look at the world through a slightly different lens – CAPP is indeed made up of energy producers, but perhaps energy producers understand the world of energy a whole lot better than, say, the likes of Greenpeace who always seem to find their way into CBC stories about energy for some mystifying (but not really) reason. Perhaps it would be wise to set aside hatred for a second and consider energy realities, rather than ideologically driven impossible plans.
So let’s use those soundbites, because the world needs to know this stuff. According to a Yale University yardstick referenced in the CAPP report, Canada leads the world in environmental, social and governance yardsticks, as well as being at the top of the heap for our general respect for the rule of law. (I’m “meh” interested in the social yardstick because I’ve done my time in the classroom of a sociology professor and have had enough of that whining for a lifetime, thank you very much.)
It has been a brutal year for Canada’s petroleum sector, with attacks coming from every angle. Yet demand for petroleum products continues to grow, and by the very yardsticks that the climate industry promotes, Canada does it better than anywhere else.
Furthermore, the hard times are driving a wave of ingenuity, new businesses, and new business ideas that with any luck will revitalize the western Canadian resource sector. The industry may look different in a few years, but those last few grains of sand will not fall.
In the coming year, let’s focus on all that’s gone right, and remember that cyclicality is part of the business, that demand for petroleum products remains robust and growing, and that the world cannot live without these fuels for many decades. We just need to get better at saying so.
Possibly too late for Christmas presents, but it’s not too early to get a head start on next year. Or treat yourself since January sucks. Pick up a copy of “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or Indigo online. These Amazon reviews may be the wisest material you’ll find on the internet (except that one loser).