In her column this month, President Hackbarth continued the theme of how perception is reality, and how we label things can immediately shape how we react to them. This is particularly important as we talk to our friends and neighbors about the future of energy. It’s critical when we engage with the next generation of geoscientists and energy professionals.
In September, the 24th World Petroleum Congress was held in Calgary, Alberta. It was an excellent event, with more than 5,000 attendees from across the globe discussing the future of energy.
The World Petroleum Council – which has itself changed its name and branding to “WPC Energy this year to reflect the evolution of global energy systems – is a U.K.-based charity founded in 1933 that is “dedicated to the promotion of sustainable management and use of the world’s energy resources for the benefit of all.”
WPC Energy members are nations. Currently 60 member countries are part of the organization with a vision “to be recognized as the premier global forum facilitating an open dialogue around oil, gas, energy, and their products.”
A key focus is the next-generation energy workforce, and the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary featured the release of its latest WPC Energy Global Youth Survey entitled, “Are you listening?”
A joint effort by WPC Energy and Accenture, a consultancy, this survey reveals the opinions and perspectives of both young professionals in the energy sector and students interested in pursuing careers in the field.
What the survey showed is that globally, the respondents “have a positive view of the industry – and strong opinions about what’s needed to take it to the next level.”
“Today’s young professionals and students are the energy warriors of tomorrow. But there’s a catch – they’re going to need some backup. Current industry leaders and other important players have got to step up. They’ve got to tap into the younger generation’s passion for all things sustainability and give them the power to lead and reshape the industry.”
For young professionals and students in the survey, this transition in our industry is both inevitable and personal. They recognize that a cleaner energy future requires both personal choices and the efforts of corporations to create leverage for change.
From their perspective, corporate responsibility is about more than maximizing shareholder value. And as millennials and Gen Z move into positions of ever-greater control in the energy industry – eventually running it – their collective focus on all things environmental will increasingly shape the decisions and choices these firms make.
The survey showed an important pragmatism about what’s possible – and when.
Two-thirds of survey respondents do not believe that energy companies will be net zero by 2050. Less than one-fifth think that the Paris Climate and subsequent COP agreements have had much impact; more than that think it’s been slim to none.
They recognize the difficulties of achieving an energy transition – and this is the term used throughout the report – with 40 percent expressing that it’s the energy industry’s responsibility to lead the transition. They’re looking to current leadership and asking for “credible low-carbon roadmaps.”
That’s one of the biggest challenges, isn’t it?
A perception, both in policy circles and the global public, is that accomplishing the energy transition is a matter of political will. If we simply decided to do it, we could.
This view reveals itself in the survey, too, with respondents indicating that policies need to “establish boundaries within which the industry must operate.” Within that framework we can then evaluate technically feasible options for low-carbon energy sources and finally assess whether they deliver a return on investment.
I read this and thought to myself that they’ve got this process completely backward.
Now, that response reveals a lot of my biases. But I believe it’s the reason why we’re struggling to develop credible low-carbon roadmaps. It’s also the reason that global energy production and consumption trends show no evidence of an energy transition.
Policymakers will play important roles in incentivizing change and technological advances, but when it comes to ensuring security and affordability along with sustainability, recent experience in Europe has shown the limits of regulatory systems to deliver all three.
It’s not lost on me that younger members reading the preceding few paragraphs might expect my next comment to be, “…and get off my lawn!” Just another old man railing against progress.
Yet, I am in complete agreement with the idea that “balancing sustainability, security and affordability for a viable global transition requires technology, innovation and collaboration.”
As our industry balances these needs – as the public demands it – we’ll create multiple pathways to achieve these objectives. Some of these paths will turn out to be dead ends. I am confident, however, that other paths will emerge that harness the creativity and priorities of a new generation – a generation that is already working alongside us – and will move us decisively in the direction of a cleaner energy future.
To that generation I say, keep pushing.
To myself, I ask, am I listening? Perception becomes reality.