What To Watch: Issue #5

Read the first four installments of the “What to Watch” series here.

It’s easy to roll our eyes when prominent public figures, from actors to U.S. presidential candidates, make nonsensical statements about the future of energy.

The problem is, not everyone knows it’s nonsensical.

Oppositional public figures are smoke signals for the kinds of interrogations you will face. Let’s put that new knowledge to work.

Both of these things are true:

  1. Few public figures and politicians have pragmatic experience on energy and climate issues in general, and solutions in particular. But they can make sweeping oppositional statements against oil and gas companies and projects because those statements have little downside for them.
  2. Such statements are both reflective of and influential to public opinion.

The problem

Fossil fuel opposition in many forms is becoming increasingly popular, leading actors to oppose fracking or presidential candidates to declare energy and climate “a national emergency.” These statements once produced only shrugs in those charged with actually providing energy to the public. Now, they’re making energy production and delivery more difficult. 

In 2013, Yoko Ono released “Don’t Frack My Mother” to pressure Governor Cuomo to ban hydraulic fracturing in New York. Around that same time, Matt Damon starred in Promised Land, a movie vilifying oil and gas exploration and production. In September 2018, 200 actors joined scientists in an open letter calling for urgent action on climate change.

And I bet you didn’t know that “polar fracking” could create an earthly apocalypse inclusive of zombies? (Hat tip to Tim Olson who sent me Daniel Raimi’s tweet.) Et tu, Bill Murray? And that’s the secondfrack-generated zombie movie this year.

On March 15, 2019, students around the globe held a strike from school for climate action – one of their demands is that 2020 candidates support a green new deal. Inherent to all these climate-focused actions is an expectation that energy moves beyond fossil fuels.

It matters because

The more public perception sways toward highly simplified opposition to oil and gas, the more regulators, policy makers, investors, and community stakeholders feel empowered (and pressured) to make project development and operation more difficult.

The critical mistake companies are making

Dismissing this wave of opposition as irrelevant and unhinged. Which it is in many cases — but that’s beside the point.

Seize the daySuccessful companies will:

  • Find the Good Vibrations. Take the time to understand the good intentions behind these actions and the proponents’ desire to drive positive change. Each person wakes up in the morning certain that they are on the side of righteousness. By empathizing with the mindset of those in the opposition, we are in a better position to respond constructively when our stakeholders reflect a similar point of view. The response is then articulate and sensitive:  “I believe I understand why you have that concern. Can I offer another perspective?”
  • Aspire. Companies must be able to articulate their company’s role in creating an energy future that embraces the aspirations of stakeholders who expect a different energy future. Rather than fighting against the “visionary” nature of these perspectives, we must articulate a vision of a shared, ambitious energy future.

For practical thoughts on assessing and mitigating risk, check out What to Watch Issues #1 and #2.

If you’re taking the advice I offered in the opening installment of Both of These Things Are True, you are spending some time each day reading, listening to, and watching mainstream media offerings where climate dominates the energy conversation. It can be discouraging. Allow yourself a big sigh – and then seek to understand a new perspective. It makes the effort more of an adventure.

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