Mike raised some interesting questions last week in this comment to this post. Here’s what he said:
Mike: It seems like you keep pointing at the enviros as the groups that are being unreasonable. I agree, many of these groups are over the top with their apparent hatefulness towards the oil and gas industry, but the industry has brought this upon themselves with their disinformation campaigns, lobbying efforts to thwart legitimate environmental regulations, disregard for human health issues near oil/gas fields, and the list goes on and on.
I’m just pointing out that the energies feel like hate and scapegoating. Is hate and scapegoating helpful? Does my 2007 car use gas due to industry lobbying or disinformation? Does the county snowplow? Probably not.
Now,other TSW readers know more about the industry than I do, but I don’t think that there is one “industry”. There are the folks that were hauled before the hearing and questioned about oil prices ( I think they may be called the “majors” but not sure), plus there are all kinds of other businesses involved. So I’ll call them the O&G complex.
I think every industry has environmental impacts, and every one lobbies to reduce regulation, and every one tries to make money. In our state, for example, we recently legalized marijuana- clearly that has environmental and health impacts. Including weakening indoor air quality laws (smoking tobacco indoors is bad, marijuana, not).
And then there’s expansion of wind turbines in Eastern Colorado
Harman doesn’t see much difference between her activism against wind and solar in Washington County and someone fighting an oil and gas well in a Denver suburb. When it comes to approving new industrial land in any community, she said strong local regulations will help ensure people are “good neighbors.”
And the wind industry has shown disregard for human health issues.. like oil and gas, there are controversies among pro and con scientists and health care providers, e.g. this study.
In Ontario and elsewhere,5 some individuals have reported experiencing adverse health effects resulting from living near IWTs. Reports of IWT-induced adverse health effects have been dismissed by some commentators including government authorities and other organizations. Physicians have been exposed to efforts to convince the public of the benefits of IWTs while minimizing the health risks. Those concerned about adverse effects of IWTs have been stereotyped as “NIMBYs” (not in my backyard).6,7
In terms of the wind industry exhibiting lack of concern, check out many stories on the Stop These Things blog, originated by Australians.
I’m not saying that the O&G complex is any better or worse than any other industrial complex. But why are some so hated, and others seem to get a relatively free pass (except for our remarkably consistent friends at CBD and some other groups)? I’m thinking ranchers and the forest products industry. And many critique OHV users, while thinking the Outdoor Recreation industry is swell. We seem to assume the worst about some industries and overlook the problems of others. The only thing they have in common is perhaps a history of having donated to “the wrong” political party. But I’m open to other hypotheses.
Meanwhile, the oil and gas folks apparently did lobby for a carbon tax with dividends also.
Mike: How can for-profit mega-corporations who answer to oligarchs, investors and shareholders with the primary desire of maximizing profits be trusted to work in good faith to transition to a carbon neutral world?
I wonder about media corporations also .. how can we trust them to tell us stories fairly and not focus on emotional content that drives clicks?
Or pharmaceutical companies not to downplay risks of drugs? Or even scientific disciplines and NIH to police themselves around dangerous research (see this excellent Vanity Fair article exploring various scientists circling wagons after the Covid outbreak).
I guess the answer is regulation and enforcement thereof. That’s the way it works for cars and airplanes and pharmaceuticals and so on. That way there are sideboards, and you don’t really have to trust. Still, there are other forces, like the ESG movement. From Tisha Schuller :
The divest-or-engage debate came to a head in February with two interesting decisions. First, the New York State Pension Fund (NYSCRF) announced a $238 million divestment from oil and gas companies it saw to be “unprepared to adapt to a low-carbon future.” This group of companies included about one-half of the oil and gas companies owned by NYSCRF. The decision to divest from select oil and gas companies reflects public-sector investors’ attentiveness to how companies are embracing the energy transition in their strategies, a stance we saw earlier this year in private equity announcements, covered in this Both True.
Environmental and social activist groups applauded NYSCRF’s move as progress towards a greener future. But two of the nation’s largest pension funds — the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) — oppose such moves as less than constructive. “When you divest you don’t solve climate change, you don’t solve the issues,” said CalPERS managing director Simiso Nzima in response to NYSCRF’s divestment.
CalPERS and CalSTRS, which together control over $42 billion in fossil fuel investments, prefer to “constructive engagement” to communicate their concerns while maintaining maximum return.
I agree it would be a wonderful thing for everyone to sit down and do some collaborative problem solving, to come up with a solid transition plan, to put real money towards the transition efforts, and to persevere to stay the transition course, but I don’t see it happening without the heavy hand of government.
Regulation is part of the heavy hand of government. But we can certainly have regulations without hate.. see non-hated industries. Ben and Jerry’s?
Mike: I personally prefer more measured, thoughtful dialogue, but it seems the shrillness of environmental groups is required to get people’s attention to put pressure on politicians to do what is needed to minimize (a relative term) extinctions, loss of entire ecosystems, and human suffering moving forward.
Apocalypticism (or “doomism”) has been discussed pro and con among climate activists.
Example: AP story by Seth Borenstein:
Mann said doomism has become far more of a threat than denialism and he believes that some of the same people, trade associations and companies that denied climate change are encouraging people who say it is too late. Mann is battling publicly with a retired University of Arizona ecologist, Guy McPherson, an intellectual leader of the doom movement.
McPherson said he’s not part of the monetary system, hasn’t had a paycheck in 13 years, doesn’t vote and lived off the grid for a decade. He said all species go extinct and humans are no exception. He publicly predicted humanity will go extinct in 2026, but in an interview with The Associated Press said, “I’m not nearly as stuck on 2026,” and mentioned 2030 and changes to human habitat from the loss of Arctic summer sea ice.
So Mann’s kind of implying that the O&G folks are promoting doomism.. oh well. And AAAS gave him an award for science communication.
To me, empirically, shrillness hasn’t worked. It’s been thirty years now, at least. There’s that old saw about “if you keep doing what you always did, you’re going to get what you always got.”
And ENGO’s do have a variety of strategies, including more collaborative ones, as with Environmental Defense Fund and reducing methane.
Framing is a choice. We could also frame the climate problem as 1) it’s difficult to change the world economy, which is now dependent on fossil fuels. Especially in a just way with countries in deep poverty. 2) Transition strategies and adaptation are important. 3) it’s complicated and we don’t know the right answer yet, 4) we can’t kick entire industries out of the boat and expect to row as fast, and 5) promoting hatred and division doesn’t ultimately help solve complex problems where we need all hands on deck.
Mike also linked to this article in which the author Robert Rapier (a chemcial engineer) says something similar.
These are issues in which there seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding — which leads to finger-pointing — between the Biden Administration and the oil industry. Given the circumstances, as I wrote previously I believe the Biden Administration should convene a summit with the heads of the major oil companies. There should be frank dialogue, and the outcome should be clearly communicated to the world.
Trust is built by making agreements, making them transparent to the public, and living by them. That might actually be easier for companies to do than for politicians. Agreement also need to be realistic, and involve doers as well as talkers, writers and exhorters.