Irreconcilable political postures don’t belong in energy discussions – or Europe’s pathetic energy situation will go global
If you hear a story about someone that starts a business with their own money, and that business grows, and becomes highly profitable, and eventually hires a hundred people, and the owner gets rich…what do you think when you hear that story?
Given that readers here are most likely businesspeople, you would likely think it’s a great story; how someone put their own money at risk, and not just succeeded but created a lot of jobs with the associated societal benefits.
Not all of you will think that. Adherents to Marxist philosophy, in all its percolated-down variants, would look at the situation in disgust – just another capitalist making a fortune off the backs of employees. This group views the situation thusly: the owner couldn’t have made the fortune without the employees, therefore the employees are ‘responsible’ for the fortune, therefore it should be theirs as much as the owner’s.
In all my years of interesting chats with interesting people, and un-interesting chats with un-interesting people, and nauseating chats with political people, I’ve never found anyone that can reconcile those two viewpoints. You are in one camp, or you are in the other. Some can see both sides, but at the end of the day, you pick one. This fundamental division gives rise to the endless free-for-all that defines politics. That’s not the end of the world; few people want an absolute free market in everything, and few want total government control. There is therefore kind of an acceptable push-and-pull in this arena, and as a result we see that most political parties wind up in the middle. There may be personal idiotic tendencies in play, but in general, it is hard to paint a modern democratic party as being particularly dogmatic at either end of the spectrum. Some may sound dogmatic, but as soon as they get in power, they adopt policies out of necessity that piss off the extremists that had high hopes when they voted for them (such as Trudeau buying TransMountain).
Unfortunately, this binary vision that most recognize as unhelpful in politics has infiltrated energy. Even more unfortunately, the reasonable middle ground that politics muddles into is missing in energy debates.
The phenomenon is highly visible in social media. Just say the words “climate change is going to destroy the world” and two things will happen: an echo chamber will start singing hallelujah that will make the whole encampment feel good and emboldened, and opponents will leap to the keyboard to point out the uselessness of multi-decade speculation based on politically motivated ‘science’.
On the other hand, just say the words ‘the world will need hydrocarbons for decades’ and the counterattack will be equally ferocious. Should you try, you will rapidly become familiar with the terms ‘fossil fuel shill’, ‘climate change denier’, etc.
In politics, that irreconcilable difference is not great but it is actually not a bad backdrop against which the tug of war of ideology is waged. Citizens, on average, won’t go for either extreme; most see, for example, the benefits of both free(ish) markets and a social safety net. We then get a moderate pendulum swing or oscillation between governments that lean slightly too far one way or the other, and we muddle through without exposure to dangerous extremists.
The energy world, however, has fallen into a death spiral, because the two opposing viewpoints, as mapped out in the media in particular, cannot coexist. To ‘win the fight’ against a climate emergency, if one truly believes in it, then the fossil fuel system must die, and quickly. On the other end, the existing system’s supporters say that the existing system cannot be replaced easily, and that its survival (and health) are critical to human survival.
Had climate change not been made political, we might actually be getting somewhere, with regard to an energy transition. Indeed, many people are doing many great things to alter the trajectory of the global energy system. Hydrogen is shaping up as a massive global opportunity to rewire the energy world in a cleaner way. Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan, and other countries have kicked off hydrogen plans at the national level. Hydrogen’s best facet, besides the cleanness of its use, is that it can mesh with existing infrastructure to a significant degree.
Battery powered stuff will find a useful home in certain markets, such as the explosive growth in sales of tiny, dirt cheap inner city EV runabouts in China. Some types of vehicle are perfectly suited to electric power. But not all, not by a long shot.
Other companies are finding niche ways forward. Porsche is working on a brilliant idea to make renewable fuel from intermittent wind/solar that will work in existing internal combustion engines. The genius of this approach is that it is grounded in reality; it recognizes that over a billion ICE cars roam the world’s roads and they won’t go away any time soon. Creating a green fuel usable by the existing fleet will save many millions of cars from a premature death. Porsche’s plan also makes remote wind/solar installations perfectly viable without power grid connections – just create the fuel wherever, and ship it. If this flies, it might be the single most useful development in terms of wind/solar, power sources which, without energy storage, are deceptively problematic.
Eagle eyed readers will notice that I am taking a side; the side that says we cannot dismantle the existing energy system quickly. But there is a key difference between ‘this side’ and the other side: ‘this side’ can recognize the value of new forms of energy, when used right; the ‘other side’ refuses to accept the value of hydrocarbons. The difference means, fundamentally, life and death for billions.
The world is facing an energy crisis because the existing energy system is being strangled of supply before there is a suitable alternative. Suitable alternatives are coming, but it will take decades to get there. We can’t allow extremists to paint it as an either-or picture. They should be as sidelined from mainstream energy discourse just like wingnuts from either end of the spectrum should be. Stand up for sanity. Push back against energy extremism. The world needs people to speak up, or energy shortages/power blackouts will become the norm, and you don’t want to know what that would look like.
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