It felt like a weird pleasure to succumb to a spring tradition once again. The Masters golf tournament was on this past weekend. I had trouble pulling myself away. For the non-golf crowd, that might be an eye roller, but hang on, wait until you hear about all the drama.
To be clear, I am a fair-weather fan, only the Masters and the British Open catch my attention – the Masters because it is such a welcome sign of spring (last year’s Masters-in-fall was an abomination – no thanks), and the British Open because golf is funny in 80-mile-per-hour wind.
So once I’ve labeled the key players appropriately – there needs to be a snotty punk for a villain, an underdog, a crafty old veteran…once the roles are sorted out, time to enjoy the drama. (And my character generalizations are usually wrong; ‘jerks’ turn out to be pretty decent, etc., but the flimsy plot only has to hold together for four days.)
The ads amp up the drama enormously. Ooh, a new golf ball…from the “Number One most trusted” ball in golf (isn’t that kind of a weird polling question?). Wow. It promises “A new level in Total Performance”. I stare in awe, chip crumbs all over my shirt, wondering what drilling one of those into a tree would mean to my game. I’m intrigued by the breakthrough in Total Performance.
How will it fly when half-coated in mud? Does the ‘total performance’ hold up after I’ve had six beers? Oh look, breaking news on the club front too. A new driver, ‘years in the making’, with extensive wind tunnel testing, threatening to revolutionize the game and make completely irrelevant that $500 piece of junk you got sucked into last year.
Character development in the show is impressive. I now know that Phil Mickelson spent 1,353 consecutive weeks inside the Top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, a streak that ended in 2019 when, I don’t know, I guess he no longer trusted his golf ball. I notice that Mickelson is still sponsored by one of the big accounting firms…is he math challenged, and a little voice is wired into his ear that whispers “Write down a 5 now, Phil”? And he’s using a golf ball brand that is clearly not the most trusted in golf – Titleist claimed that ground in their commercial, and I never heard Callaway protest – how does one play with that mental baggage? Another guy is sponsored by Flex Seal, according to his shirt, and I expected him to therefore just walk right through all the water hazards without even blinking, but nope, he stayed to the paths…such a mysterious game.
It is hard not to get sucked into the unfolding melodramas. The field includes past Masters champions on hard times, pounding a ball back and forth across the green with teary rage-filled faces, just like me. Young chargers shooting the lights out for a day or two, the world watching in suspense to see when it will sink in that the media’s stare is now so intense that the commentators will call their mother to find out the back story on that scar on their little face. And then they’ll hit five balls straight in the water. Like I do.
I get sucked in further and further until I reach a certain very personal tradition of my own. At some point I notice the clock and explode off the couch in a flurry of cussing. I’ve been watching this for five hours? On a beautiful spring day?
As such, I seldom pay much attention to who wins the thing, because I’m out in the garage furiously trying to make progress on some half-finished bird house or finish torquing the lug nuts like I promised the tire shop I’d do four months ago.
The best thing about the Masters though? It was such a wonderful sight to see things coming back to normal. A bunch of vaccinated people wandering near each other without masks and/or shrieking and running away.
I almost forget about energy for a while, but it is there similarly, returning to normal. A fair number of people wish it wouldn’t, but wishes don’t get one very far.
The desire for a lower emission world is a very interesting phenomenon. It has become muddled and fragmented, because the drivers, the ‘wish list’ that proponents want it to achieve, are not singularly purposeful, as it would be if driven by market mechanisms.
If a market mechanism drives changes in energy habits, then it is simple – find lower cost alternatives, or stop doing whatever it is in the first place that requires the energy.
But the ‘energy transition’ is not market based, it is based on people’s wishes, and the wishes are not consistent. Some want an energy transition to accelerate social change. Some seem to want it as a punishment mechanism against ‘Big Oil’ and the legacy of global production.
Some see it as a means to make fortunes based on government subsidies and programs for renewable energy. Some see the future of humanity at stake if we don’t act NOW – even though acting NOW without a proper game plan is insanity.
If a transition were market based, it would be concise and actionable. But it is not. A carbon tax is an attempt to make it market-based, to drive up costs so high that people seek alternatives, but it will not work the same way. A price spike due to shortages is something people understand and react to, over time. A price spike due to a government policy is something else entirely.
Ask Ontario how that worked out, years ago, when their power prices spiked due to a over-eager ‘energy transition’ – the government was booted from power so hard that they are still bouncing. We may well see that happen again nationally, and in other countries as well.
An ‘energy transition’ based on a desire to achieve certain social outcomes is even more likely to be unsuccessful, because social outcomes are not consistent among all. If they were, politics would be intelligent and boring.
The result of this muddle is government mandates and enthusiasm that tend to work the same way – bureaucratic enthusiastic guesses backed by marketing campaigns and possible legislation that the public stares at in wide-eyed wonder, then gets on with their day, and the fiasco unfolds as it should.
For example, as a student of energy, I’ve read about the ‘inevitable’ switch to electric vehicles (EVs) for more than a decade. Countries and states and provinces are mandating an end to the sale of internal combustion engines, and building EV charging stations as fast as their fat little legs will allow. Automakers, some with guns to their heads (VW, after Dieselgate emissions cheating scandal) and/or stringent emissions regulations coming, have gone ‘all-in’ on EVs (GM, among others).
And yet there are signs already that that shift was nothing more than over-eager wishful thinking. Woeful EV acceptance rates among the public are one thing; another is the soft and quiet back-pedalling of governments that are now rapidly and vigorously pursuing hydrogen options. While Elon Musk may have declared, not so long ago, that fuel cells were ‘stupid’ – advice which was taken as proof by the world’s EV fans – governments now are embracing the stupidity.
By 2030, Japan plans to have 900 hydrogen refueling stations (up from 90 today), China >1,000 (from 30 today), Germany 1,000 (from 43 today), and many other countries are similar. A number of industrialized countries have published hydrogen strategy documents (and a number (like China and India, home to nearly 3 billion people) have declared strategies of ‘more of everything or all these people are going to starve/riot/freeze and our heads will be coming off’).
These strategy documents are quite interesting. While many point to an end target of green hydrogen (produced by renewables), most quietly mention that blue hydrogen (produced from natural gas with carbon sequestration) will carry the day. The real ‘energy transition’ will be, as was pointed out by Peter Tertzakian in a recent Calgary Herald article, more of a ‘hybridization of energy systems’. That idea makes sense, from an energy infrastructure perspective, but one won’t get that feeling from reading the headlines.
Like the Masters, you have to stay tuned until the end to know what’s going to happen. Thursday’s hero is often forgotten by Saturday, and Saturday’s hero often finds himself standing in shin-deep water on Sunday flailing at a submerged ball and watching glory fade for another year. And by next year there will be another revolution in golf balls and an earth-shaking new driver, and off we go again.