Wars on alcohol, drugs, prostitution, pipelines…why not just waste your time playing video games?
There’s always something going on in society that really bugs certain segments of the population, either because they don’t get any enjoyment out of it or because they deem the activity too harmful to be allowed to continue. We’ve tried banning alcohol, prostitution, and drugs, and each campaign has failed spectacularly. Now we’re at it with oil. Many people would like to see the world weaned off fossil fuels. While much of the world is overjoyed to get their hands on fuel at all, never mind the source, fossil fuels are being singled out as the largest culprit of climate change. I suspect the phenomenon is some sort of dinosaur revenge; they were apparently wiped out by some catastrophic climate event and subsequently donated their bodies to fossil fuel deposits. Now they’re back seeking vengeance on he climate.
As I’ve said before, I think we are moving to a greener future as oil gets more expensive and the need to rein in pollution becomes greater. But the current war being waged against pipelines demonstrates yet again the futility of trying to solve problems by attacking supply.
The more militant fossil fuels haters have firm plans to fight their war. In North America, we’ve witnessed the very weird situation where pipelines have become public enemy number one, and the reason that’s odd is because pipelines have existed for a long time with thousands of miles’ worth hiding silently beneath our feet in a totally boring and unremarkable manner.
The strategy of the anti-fossil fuel movement is to kill certain oil fields, like the oil sands in Canada, by preventing the construction of pipelines to get the product to market. The thinking is that the big companies with bank accounts large enough to fund those expensive developments will be scared off if they can’t get the oil to market. The parallels to other comically futile concept wars are so similar it’s spooky. And the results will most likely be the same.
The biggest problem with these “choke the supply” schemes is that they don’t work. Ever. Some things inevitably happen in nature. Ask farmers, the sun and rain germinate weeds, year after year. Weeds grow like they always will. Flowers grow through cracks. And crack will always find its way to pipes that want to smoke it. Oil is no different.
When demand for something exists, it’s impossible to dam up every supply channel. The goods may become more difficult to get, but the problem doesn’t go away. Prostitution has been battled for centuries. How’s that plan going? Drugs should be as rare as unicorns now, given the scale of the assault on them. Surely by now all the dull-witted dealers have been rounded up, and third world drug farmers are sitting on piles of unsellable cocaine or whatever else people jam into their orifices and veins these days?
If pipeline opponents succeed in halting any new construction, will people stop driving cars? No, the oil will come from somewhere else, by some other means. Rail, truck, whatever, if the demand is there, the product will show up. At what price is anyone’s guess, but it will show up. Cutting off supply from, say, the oil sands may create a shortage and drive up prices, but then oil companies will just have more incentive to step up the search. And as a little known fact, the oil sands produce a small fraction of the world’s oil, and never will produce more than 5 percent no matter how starry-eyed the forecast.
The world consumes more than 90 million barrels of oil per day, and to get to that level the search has gone pretty much everywhere. Oil companies will set up a drilling rig in your kitchen if you turn your back for an hour, having drilled pretty much everywhere else on earth including deep ocean waters, deserts, arctic regions, and Los Angeles. Multinational oil companies who work diligently to meet or exceed every nit-picky regulation in western countries routinely set up shop in third world countries where a kangaroo court would be a major stride towards the rule of law. And they do this because…demand is there.
This isn’t revolutionary thinking. It’s existed forever, and human ingenuity and/or determination occupy the space between demand and supply.
If you are serious about saving the environment by moving away from fossil fuels, follow the lead of Tesla Motors and just make it happen. Blocking oil transportation from any project, no matter how large, will only (if wildly successful) drive up the price of oil, which will further fuel the global frenzy to find the stuff. It is possible to drive up prices so high that demand is impacted, but as we’ve seen recently the impact is minimal, with the side effect that high prices create incentives for further drilling in new oil fields.
Moving away from fossil fuels is possible and will happen, but fighting new pipeline construction is a sad waste of time.