People often comment to me that, with respect to the energy/hydrocarbon debate, we can get somewhere if we just “have a conversation”. Surely, the reasoning goes, if reasonable people sit down and discuss, we can move the needle in a positive way.
I don’t know if that is a realistic scenario. The majority of rational people simply don’t care about energy for the same reason you’re not presently concerned with whether you’ll starve to death next month. Food (and energy) will be there because…they always are. That’s how our world works these days. You can try to launch all the conversations you like about HVAC systems, and you’ll get nowhere, and that seems to be the way it goes for things that are ubiquitous, readily available, and boring.
For those that do care about energy, the situation is dire. For those that understand the complexity and challenge of bringing reliable energy to all, well, I don’t have to tell you the challenges there. For those that care about energy but don’t understand it, the situation is dire as well, because they’re making little headway, so they have banded together on a bizarre circle of groupthink that has flown so far off into left field that they’ve lost touch with reality.
Of the latter group, in case that sounds harsh, I provide two exhibits. The first is California. The state is in utter turmoil energy-wise because it’s listened to snake oil sellers that convinced them hydrocarbons had to go, and quickly. The state now is heading for third world status, with growing intermittent power (and numerous other oddities that can fill a whole other article – try this one for size).
The second example is so stupefyingly idiotic that it’s hard to describe, but I’ll try. No, on second thought I won’t. I seem unable to transcribe gibberish. I’ll lean on Wikipedia: “Extreme E is a proposed off-road racing series that uses electric SUVs to race in extremely remote parts of the world, such as Greenland or Nepal…to raise awareness for some aspects of climate change…” There are 3 other locations besides those named: Senegal, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. The series might not have amounted to much, except that multiple Formula 1 champ and undisputed enviro-hypocrite World Champ Lewis Hamilton has signed on (a true environmentalist would slit his wrists before making a living at the gold-plated trough that is current F1, where leading teams spend $400 million/yr, literally define the jet-set, and in general excel at every facet of over-consumption about as well as a pig in a bakery would). Hamilton made the news recently by complaining bitterly about leaders who “don’t care about the environment at all”; pre-COVID Hamilton flew approximately 200 days per year, on private jets (his contribution to fighting climate change: he sold his personal private jet, and now flies on other people’s private jets). F1 could, if it wanted, put on a spectacular display for 1/20th the budget and 1/20th the enviro footprint; they choose not to.
The racing series is just too bonkers for words. Let’s look across the entire spectrum of what one can call environmentalism. On one extreme we have what I consider true environmentalists, the Mother Earth News crowd, the people that live their life in a minimalist way, in order to reduce their footprint on earth (sample recent articles: “Six easy ways to live a more zero-waste life”; “Our campaign for natural landscaping”; etc.). At the other end of the spectrum, we have the kill-‘em-all climate activists of Stand.Earth, Greenpeace, etc. Despite the focus of these groups on bringing things down versus making things better, even these groups recognize that needlessly trampling pristine landscape is not a good idea.
The organizers cloak the scheme in green in part by noting that the “floating paddock”, a 105-meter long cargo liner, has “reduced its environmental footprint further” by converting propulsion to run on ultra-low-sulphur-diesel. As of Jan 1, 2020, all cargo ships are mandated to run on ULSD. So they’ve done nothing but comply with the regulations, hardly groundbreaking work.
Extreme E is simply so loony as to be off the charts. It’s trampling the environment to promote saving the environment. It’s like saying I did my job to help society today by not mugging any senior citizens. No, it’s actually worse. It’s like mugging a dozen of them to bring awareness about tot how bad society has become. To promote environmentalism by bringing F1’s piggish environmental disdain to the remotest corners of the world is too much for words.
It should now be perfectly obvious, there could be no stronger proof, that such grandstanding in the name of activism has little to do with the environment. Invading and trampling untouched wilderness in a commercial venture whose reason for existence is to show how the preciousness of that wilderness is contemptible, insulting and – bad for the environment.
There is an opportunity here for a beleaguered hydrocarbon industry to redefine the energy message the way it should be, because the current self-proclaimed champions of the environment have decided to host auto races on top of the most untouched parts. The gullible world has been so swayed by the global fear campaign that they’ve lost sight of reality. We’ve let opponents of hydrocarbons define not just the battleground but the terminology, the scorecard, and the rules. But in their brazen sense of victory, they’ve thrown caution to the wind, and now are so filled with hubris that they can suggest that moving a flotilla to the most desolate corners of the world, desecrating pristine habitat, and racing amid preciously rare landscape is, overall, “good for the environment”. It is of course precisely the opposite.
Given that they’ve lost their minds in that sea of infallible certainty, we can now take back the messaging. It’s not that complicated. Things are good for the environment or bad for the environment. Pollution is bad for the environment, so let’s try to minimize it. Emissions are bad for the environment, so let’s try to minimize them. Contamination is bad for the environment, so let’s try to minimize it.
Is the combustion of hydrocarbons bad for emissions? Yes, it is, so we should seek to minimize the footprint. Does the production chain of hydrocarbons have an impact? Yes, it does, so we should try to minimize it. But underlying these messages should be the easily-displayed “given” – that life the way we know it requires those very same hydrocarbons.
Perhaps, hmmm, say, someone like the Canadian Energy Centre could think about this. Perhaps they could find the person who tweeted that, in reference to Canada, “Despite leading the world in crude oil reserves and production…” (wrong and more wrong; the underlying fact sheet describes this correctly, but good lord…what garners more attention; page 12 of the fact sheet, or the tweet? Is there no process to vet anything? No disclosure committee? (speaking of which, can’t help myself: There are two typos in the section beginning “2010 to 2019:…”)) and reassign them. I have no idea what goes on in that dome of thought (has Greenpeace infiltrated it?), but here’s a tip: these details, such as getting tweets correct, are monumentally important. The world of energy dialogue now has an otherwise excellent article that will only be remembered as would a beautiful face with a tattoo of a dying pig on it. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend on the dessert; if you sneeze on it on the way to the table no one will be interested in the genius of the flavours.
There are certain key messages that are clearly understood at the CEC; what doesn’t seem to be understood is the battleground, and how to present those messages. Please figure it out quickly; we’re dying over here.
At the same time, pick up every theme that true environmentalists pursue. Aim for zero waste. Promote recycling and reuse of our lives’ detritus in ways beyond dumping it in a blue bin (again: see Mother Earth News and all like it; one issue will have enough fodder for a season’s campaigning). (To be fair, CEC is doing some things right; the input of Indigenous resource defenders is magnificent.)
Let’s put it this way: if activists can travel to remote locations, dragging a small country’s worth of machinery, making a mockery of environmental protection, for no other reason than to stage a habitat-shredding spectacle (which will promote further tourism to these regions) and successfully sell it to the world as pro-environment, then we as an industry can surely craft some messaging that will resonate better than such pure insanity. If we can’t, then maybe the activists are right – our industry is doomed.