Terry EtamIt’s not even Calgary Stampede time yet – it looks like it will be a good old-fashioned free-for-all – and I’ve already encountered a fascinating drunken goofball at the top of his game. Nothing unusual there, I suppose, except that this encounter actually had an interesting and thoughtful punchline.

It happened on the train to downtown last week, at about 8 a.m. Life is returning to normal in Calgary, and the train was fairly full. Halfway downtown, two guys oozed aboard, oddly drunk for 8 a.m. Not falling-over-drunk but party-drunk, making friendly but disjointed/loud conversation with commuters who just wanted to stare at their phones or crawl under the seat if it wasn’t so disgusting down there.

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One of the drunks, swigging from a two-litre pop bottle, latched onto a tall gentleman and began chatting him up: asking how his day was going, pointing out how nice his clothes were, etc. He then lapsed into the philosophical phase that too much alcohol often brings. “Do good things,” the drunk advised. “Be good. Don’t have too many nice things. Don’t wear too many nice things like your nice belt there because someone like me might come along and take them.”

“That would be really annoying,” the ready-to-flee businessman answered, valiantly attempting to make conversation.

“Maybe that’s the point,” said the drunk.

Whoa. That perked me up.

Fascinating. If the guy’s right – and I don’t have a reason to doubt him, he knows his business – he brings up an interesting point about motivations and well-meaning but misguided cures. Is there a whole psycho-industrial complex built around the idea of helping people like this when their ultimate justification for their actions is that they just want to annoy people who are higher up the economic ladder? Can that explain the unfathomable attacks on the energy system that keeps us all alive but is withering from the assault? Do activists, to a certain extent, simply want to annoy ‘Big Oil’?

Drunks talking philosophy have a surprising overlap with today’s energy conversations because the quality and tone are so endearingly similar (to a degree – our leaders pontificating about current energy challenges lack not just the wisdom but even the enthusiasm of the drunk). I’d sworn off the topic of energy conversations for the summer months because the energy world currently defies description. There are equally powerful movements – one setting out to deconstruct the energy system, the other encouraging it to produce more.

Sometimes these opposing views come from the same mouths, a few days apart. Discourse is challenging, a natural consequence of asking those who have torched the existing system why they’re doing it when the consequences are so obviously devastating. (If one were to ask, maybe they too would say they did it just to be annoying – I have no idea and will never know).

I have been drawn back from exile, at least temporarily, by notice of interesting/positive energy news that defines the essence of what any significant progress on an ‘energy transition’ will look like.

It should be profoundly evident by now that the giddy rush to renewables/sidelining of hydrocarbons is nothing but a recipe for disaster and the demise of billions of people. If that’s your vision of how to severely reduce global emissions, more power to you. But because it’s not going to work, we owe it to ourselves to find out what will work to reduce our footprint on the globe.

The whole world wants to live like the West, and should be allowed to live like the West, but resource scarcity is going to make that very hard indeed.

That’s the ultimate ‘environmental’ movement – the attempt to maintain the magnificent standard of living we’ve achieved by utilizing the resources we pull from the earth much more wisely.

Think of a typical $500 crap TV. They used to be $3,000 but now are so cheap we buy them and then toss them to upgrade to the latest and greatest. Embedded in that outdated TV set are all sorts of minute amounts of minerals and metals, each of which requires a mine and processing facility and a whole lot of transportation.

Throwing a gram of any such substance into the landfill doesn’t sound so atrocious. But all those grams add up to an environmental nightmare in the form of new mines and supply chains, all necessary to get that gram into the TV.

It’s an abomination to throw such stuff into the dumpster, yet that’s what we do because it makes no economic sense to salvage that gram. But we should, somehow. If the incentives are right, the market will find a way.

I encountered a cool story that somewhat revived the seemingly forgotten (or at least antiquated) concept of reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s so old it sounds like a cliche now, but those three words are the foundation of any environmental progress we may achieve in the next decade or two.

Benefits flow out of those words in tangential ways, one of which is or should be the relentless drive to optimize what we have, rather than sidelining something that’s still good and diverting precious resources to building something new.

CruxOCM is a company that developed software that automates certain pipeline operating procedures, much like autopilot does for planes. The software can expand throughput production capacity by up to 10 per cent. The company made the news last week with an announcement of a new customer, Phillips 66, which plans to implement the software across its network.

I don’t know much about the company other than the public material, and I don’t have a pipeline I can call my own. But the concept of building a company or sub-industry solely to increase the efficiency of what we’ve already built is exciting and full of potential.

Think of the potential value embedded in software like this. Some parts of North America’s oil and gas production landscape cannot grow without further pipeline access. It’s safe to assume anyone who watches energy at all knows by now how difficult it is to get new pipelines built.

Canada and the United States produce millions of barrels of oil per day, and many tens of billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. The ability to increase throughputs by up to 10 per cent has enormous repercussions, particularly if the alternative to moving that extra 10 per cent is building tens of billions of dollars of new pipeline – if it can be built at all.

Whatever ‘energy transition’ progress develops in the next 10 to 15 years will be dominated by ideas like this – better utilization of existing resources. Same goes for better windows in houses, and better recycling of materials to prevent their mining/extraction/construction in the first place.

Between that and converting the world from coal to natural gas, we can make an absolutely huge dent in our environmental impact (and here I’m referring to the most critical aspects of ‘environmentalism’ – reduced habitat destruction, reduced demand for new mines/infrastructure/processing/raw materials transportation, etc.).

Fill your elected representatives’ ears with common-sense energy ideas. They might welcome it; it can’t be easy on any brain to publicly negate themselves every other day, as they currently do on the energy file.

Terry Etam is a columnist with the BOE Report, a leading energy industry newsletter based in Calgary. He is the author of The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity. This column was supplied by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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