Don’t Blame Big Energy

Environmentalists can be too quick to lay blame on the energy industry for global warming. A recent summit in Oklahoma of alternative energy hosted by Congressman Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, was a reminder of the difficulties of the blame game: energy consumption is consumer driven.

This was not a summit on energy conservation, although sustainability was mentioned in light of how long the energy alternatives would maintain our current and future needs. For example, Tom Price, of Chesapeake Energy, had stated that natural gas reserves could keep us going another 100 years. Not surprisingly, energy needs were always shown as increasing over time.

While increasing demand might be a favorable model for any manufacturer discussing their business growth, increasing energy use is a new challenge. What other examples can you think of where a mass produced product was being blamed on a global crisis? If we weren’t so addicted to cheap energy, these companies would likely be out of business. Is it a stretch to ask a manufacturer to help their customers use less of their products?

I asked the Larry Nichols, one of the panelists and CEO of Devon Energy, what, if any, research is being done by Devon and the energy industry towards increasing efficiencies in production and use. “As an example, what if natural gas could keep us going for the next 200 years,” I asked. His answer was obvious: whether discussing production efficiencies, conservation policy, or any industry research, it is consumer driven.

As long as the company stakeholders require profits, policy supports free markets, and consumers demand cheap energy, Devon and other energy producers have no incentive for reducing consumer use.

Perhaps it was silly to ask a conservation question at an energy summit convened by leading energy producers. But I wanted to know if there was anything Devon and the energy industry could do to curb our own addiction for cheap energy. Mr Nichols reminds us that we must face addictive behaviors on our own. In the meantime, it will be business as usual for the energy industry.

If I am not willing to make significant changes in my own use of energy, why should I expect the energy industry to change their practices?

3 responses

  1. It was definitely an interesting event. I would like to see more consumers exposed to these corporations under this kind of light. To avoid hypocrisy we need be both open minded and informed.

  2. Consumer driven? I like to think that I’m more of a passenger… actually… I don’t LIKE to think this.

    I’ve considered my impact on the environment occasionally. I don’t get very far. I’ve thought about energy consumption in my house and now unplug various appliances when not in use. I try to reuse plastic bottles if I have to use one. But my nearly hour long commute… probably my most significant contribution to the environmental woes… I have no real option of public transportation. Even if I decided to begin my morning commute an hour earlier and leave work nearly 2 hours early to make the buses, there is only one stop nearby and it is practically on the on-ramp to the highway. That means no parking. No place to lock up a bike. My options as a consumer are not so much options as they are last resorts. So, does willingness really weigh in as much as we’d like?

  3. We do have fewer options here in Oklahoma. Doug McKenzie-Moore, a social scientist studying sustainability, shows government action really is necessary to quickly and effectively create change. Your current actions need to become inconvenient (rising gas prices, toll roads, increased vehicle taxes) and the alternatives need to become more convenient (bus, high speed rail, HOV lanes).

    For the moment, the best we can do is seek sustainable options where we can. Replacing fluorescent bulbs in your home is a good start, as most Oklahoma electricity is from goal and natural gas sources. Looking for ways to drive less (consolidate your shopping trips, for example. There are many things you could do know as a consumer.

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