Fewer pitchforks, more facts: How do we take back energy discussions?


One fine November day long ago in my university days, the Saskatchewan Roughriders won the Grey Cup for the first time in decades. It was a big upset and the province went nuts; at the time it had little else to cheer about. My friends and I joined a huge throng of people running purposefully but pointlessly down the streets of Saskatoon, one of many such overjoyed groups. This particular battalion headed downtown, came to an intersection, and paused. It’s hard to pick a direction when you have no destination in mind. Some wise guy near the front shouted “Let’s go tip over the Bessborough!”  and the crowd was off and running in that direction. It was my first notable example of mob thinking.

Two other quick tales from college days that may or may not lead to a valid point: Like many curious students (and Rush fans) I read Atlas Shrugged as a young punk and was bowled over. Interested in discussing the themes, I discovered there was actually an Objectivist Club on campus so I joined, hoping for some interesting conversation. Instead, I encountered a wildly naïve but utterly focused bunch who wanted to abolish government. There were no discussions about transitions, or the rule of law, or societal inertia; nope, all they could see was “It’s gotta go.” I wished them well and went back to the real world.

At the same time, my brother in a distant city was feeling also feeling the idealism and enthusiasm of youth, from a slightly different angle, and joined Greenpeace. His very first day there went sideways; he was eager to go door to door with his comrades and encourage energy efficiency, tactics to increase fuel mileage, etc. He was shot down by the local politburo: No, that’s not what you say; you tell them we must abolish cars, period. His efficiency baloney was completely off script and verboten. His idealistic phase lasted about as long as mine, less than the shelf life of a bucket of oysters.

Now then, to get to some sort of point. Recently there was a picture of a young woman chained to equipment at the Trans Mountain construction site. What are your thoughts about her, or her male companion (who, in an excellent weasel-move, managed to be released while his female friend wasn’t)? Do you think there is any chance whatsoever that they know how the world works? Or are they just listening to the leaders no wiser than the ones who wanted to tip over the hotel, or abolish governments, or remove all cars?

There is a reason universities and people in the age band get caught up in these kinds of things. An active campus has a bewildering array of anti-this –or –that clubs, or societies, or you name it. They get into some most excellent catfights, and there is no point in trying to step in the middle.

But put them up against each other 15 years later and see what you get. Utter indifference probably, due to the fact that they’re trying to get ahead in life. It’s not that the mundane act of living kills off idealism, it’s more that the idealism can’t be brought to life. The world is too complex, too big, too entrenched, and frankly people are just too busy trying to keep the wheels on their own personal shit show. Yes, thanks for the flyer, we definitely need to save the planet, but I’ve got to get groceries and feed the monsters and figure out how to look after my aging parents. All this isn’t readily apparent when you’re 21. (This isn’t a new phenomenon; a majority of 1960s era protesters eventually became The Man.)

Youth is youth; they will forever be idealistic and full of zeal and that’s a very good thing. But it also means they won’t be particularly passionate about, say, utilities, or the energy infrastructure that keeps them alive. And it’s not just energy in this camp; you’ll not find an advocacy group anywhere on campus dedicated to the well-being of sewage systems or power grids. Civil engineers might be the closest to a sympathetic ear, but I’m sure you’ve seen engineers on campus before, right? With the knowledge that that pile of drunks before your eyes on an average semester’s evening will someday be designing the bridges you drive on, there is scarce room on their plate to take up causes.



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