It’s time to turn over a new leaf. Maybe it’s the spirit of the season, maybe it’s delirium from a third vaccination (tip: just wander into a little pharmacy and ask for one, they’re happy to inject anything), or maybe it’s the turning tide in the energy world. At any rate, despite what the news might tell you, there is a converging energy harmony taking place that is good news indeed. But getting there to investigate is a dangerous journey.
People ask if the crazies that attack hydrocarbon-respecting energy commentators are annoying or bothersome, but they’re not. I don’t read comments; I used to, and recognized a few familiar voices that doggedly appear week after week to crap on everything. The only emotion I could muster was pity – what a way to spend your life, determinedly following something that drives you crazy.
One bout of feedback did get my attention though in kind of a weak death-threat-y kind of way. Years ago I defended Rachel Notley in a column (not even a full comrade hug, just a counter to ludicrous notions I’d heard blaming her for all the oil patch’s woes, many of which built up under previous governments). Some people equate recognition of anything good by an ‘enemy’ as an act of war, and one not-cheerful reader’s feathers were so ruffled that he volunteered to come strangle me.
I bring up that happy memory as fair warning to that unhinged person and any similar: today we (at least temporarily) link arms with both an international socialist publication and a self-declared member of the “climate left”, because, believe it or not, on the energy file there is some substantial common ground.
Before disbelieving your eyes and/or putting on your strangling gloves, hear me out. From an energy perspective, the story is a very good one indeed.
First up is the socialist site Jacobin, which is almost a breath of fresh air compared to the attention-seeking brainless dervish that is the modern media stream – they (Jacobin) state who they are, why they are there, and their vision for the future. That vision is to me maniacal and destructive and mortifying, but they are at least honest about it. Furthermore, the clarity of their stance allows them to dispassionately comment on the energy scene in a way that mainstream media now finds itself unable to do.
A recent article in Jacobin entitled ‘The Problem With Alice Waters and the “Slow Food” Movement’ took Ms. Waters to task for her disdain for mass-produced food: “Waters’ food politics is the politics not of the people, in the way that the old left defined it, but rather of…the professional-managerial class (PMC). The PMC sought to differentiate itself from the working class through cultural ideas, even as many of its members also embraced egalitarian cultural values and identified themselves as champions of the less fortunate…slow food is not actually the most environmentally friendly or climate-conscious choice…the primary reason that Big Ag in places like the United States accounts for so much environmental harm is because it accounts for the vast majority of agricultural output and land use.”
This is the very argument some of us have been making for years about Canada’s high per capita emissions – when you are the agricultural, mineral, and energy pantry for the world, there is a not immaterial environmental footprint involved. “Damaging to the environment” is also a conditional or consequential term – is the ‘damage to the environment’ caused by a mine or a pipeline more or less offset by the benefits to humanity of the product? Would you trade in your cell phone or your heat to prevent such damage?
Let’s tie that to the energy scene in a crystal clear way via a Twitter quote from self-identified ‘climate & anti-pollution activist’ Chris Keefer: “This is an absolutely bonkers fact. Germany attempts to block African fossil fuel energy infrastructure development while shutting down its carbon-free nuclear fleet and burning coal and mainlining even more Russian gas.” More than a few of us energy commentators have been saying the exact same thing for a very long time.
Now let’s hear from a self-identified member of the ‘climate left’ that sounds like it came right from the hydrocarbon industry itself (the entire article didn’t, but what did, really did). In an article for the Breakthrough Institute entitled ‘Blue Collars, Green Jobs?’ the author examines how the climate-cultural elite dismissed concerns of unionized workers in California that object to the Green New Deal.
What is pertinent to the energy scene is this example/comment from the article (among others): “The Green New Deal leaves out technological climate solutions that the sector has been advancing for decades. The resolution introducing the deal ‘is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.’” Who are these geniuses and where have they been hiding?
The article takes some swipes at the hydrocarbon industry, as is to be expected from an author self-identifying as the climate left, but that is ok – the overarching message is so important that the jabs pale in comparison: “Furthermore, it is precisely because industrial workers and farmers are embedded within the very energy, transport, manufacturing, extractive, and agricultural sectors most relevant to decarbonization…that they know perhaps better than anyone why decarbonization is so difficult. They are able to hold in their head both that carbon-intensive companies have worked hard to delay climate action and that fossil fuels have historically delivered tremendous benefits to humanity. It is not merely obvious to them that coal has kept people warm in winter and powered the factories that built the modern world, but this is something they are proud of. That is to say, distinct from the dominant climate left narrative of global warming as a product of elite corruption or capitalism…the industrial worker’s understanding of the problem is clear: …[Greenhouse gas] emissions are the unintended consequence of the technologies that well-meaning people depend upon in their everyday lives.”
The climate left author even takes Greta to task for pushing to limit or eliminate air travel, because her option is cavorting in a multimillion-dollar racing yacht to attend climate protests.
Welcome to 2021, where nothing makes sense at all. Or does it?
Actually, these developments are fantastic news. The above articles and opinions are the best thing to hit the energy/climate debate in a decade. Reality is sinking in here, there, and everywhere.
These public musings from the other side of the political spectrum are profoundly important, because they break down the wall of energy insanity we’ve been facing, the narratives that hydrocarbons are killing us all and that survival depends on their eradication as fuel source.
I’m not going to sit here and defend socialism – philosophically I don’t want to defend it, and pragmatically I don’t want any beatings – but it is only fair to point out that the socialists do indeed have the interests of the working man and downtrodden at heart (as in, defending Africa’s right to energy progress as above, and I repeat: “Germany attempts to block African fossil fuel energy infrastructure development while shutting down its carbon free nuclear fleet and burning coal and mainlining even more Russian gas.”).
Germany isn’t alone. 350.org founder Bill McKibben has said he is pleased to see the climate change fight move beyond the environment to social justice. But then McKibben, who lives in the hyper-wealthy US northeast, has the cajones to pen an article entitled “Let’s heed the UN’s dire warning and stop the east African oil pipeline now.”
Who does that? What sort of person thinks that sort of colonialism is acceptable anymore? Even Marxists that believe climate change is a terrible threat are scratching their heads.
These diehard activists, the bewildered/coerced western governments that obey their commands, and the hapless media are becoming isolated on islands where their renewable-centric rhetoric has a shrinking audience. Even CNN has been questioning whether the cultural, college-educated elite that forms their viewership is perhaps coming across as ‘annoying, offensive, and out of touch.’
The far-left-of-center comments quoted above from Jacobin and the Breakthrough Institute are important because they break the artificial divide, the one we’ve been forced to live with for a decade, the phoney divide that a battle against climate change is a political issue. It is not. It is a plumbing issue, metaphorically speaking.
Our current energy system was developed over the past 150 years into a global network that will take many, many decades to rewire, even if there was a fully incentivized population and business community.
We don’t have either of those. We have a population that loves its comfort items, and a business community that has to deal with the incredibly challenging realities of actually building stuff. Building a few hundred miles of new transmission lines is a decade-long adventure; don’t let anyone tell you they can build several hundred thousand miles in our lifetimes (that’s just the US).
The world as we know it has a few givens, among them: developing people want to develop, and they won’t be stopped. Wealthy western nations have the time and money to devote to new technologies that will ultimately rewire the energy world, but the measly half-billion people in that rich west will not dictate to the other 7 billion how they must live. Not any more.
An energy transition is not the enemy of hydrocarbons, no matter what demons the cliques conjure to tell you otherwise. An energy transition will flow out of the existing system, if and only if that system continues to meet the needs of all the world’s people.
Comrades, good to see you some common sense alignment on the energy file. Peace is going to break out everywhere as the world learns about energy (probably the hard way).
Let’s keep an eye on those weirdos, make sure they don’t stomp on the little guy/gal. About all that other stuff…would love to stick around and chat, but let’s just call it a day and get out while the gettin’s good. See ya.
Bridge-building energy talk is available! Pick up “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Indigo.ca, or Amazon.com. Thanks for the support.
Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here, or email Terry here. PS: Dear email correspondents, the email flow is wonderful and welcome, however I am having trouble keeping up. In past I replied to everything but am getting stretched. Apologies if comments/questions go unanswered; they are not ignored.