During a perilous time for the nation, President Richard Nixon warned against the possibility of the U.S. becoming a “pitiful, helpless giant.” More recently, the Wall Street Journal borrowed Nixon’s phrase in criticizing the U.S. failure to rescue citizens during the disastrous exit from Afghanistan.
A similarly pathetic weakness is being exhibited in the corporate offices of energy producers. Under attack by climate alarmists attempting to destroy oil and gas companies, ExxonMobil and other large oil companies are adjusting to what they perceive as a new “green” reality by paying homage to the false claims of a climate crisis, for which they are accused of being responsible, and to the false viability of wind turbines, solar panels and biofuels. BP (British Petroleum) had even, for a while, changed its name to Beyond Petroleum.
Instead of firmly standing for the vital role their products play in the advancement of civilization, these companies have adopted a strategy of weakness and appeasement. Is timidity too mild or cowardice overly severe to describe such political calculation? Attempts by energy executives to mollify those who deny the value of fossil fuels can be no more successful than Chamberlain was in Munich, bragging about “peace in our time.”
How did this policy of appeasement affect the energy industry over the last decade? Companies were sued by several West Coast cities for imagined climate change. There are at least 40 members of Congress elected in 2018 and 2020 supporting the Green New Deal. And teams of lawyers are circling the oil companies like a pride of lions circling a wounded zebra.
To protect themselves and modern society, energy companies owe it to their customers to go on offense. Fossil fuels are absolutely vital to sustain advanced economies and to raise the people of developing nations out of poverty and privation. At this time there is simply no substitute.
Without coal, oil and natural gas, civilization would still be stuck where it was 200 years ago— a thin veneer of wealth atop a vast mountain of human squalor and misery. A veneer enforced by such institutions as slavery, colonialism, and tyranny. The attack on traditional energy companies is an attack on civilization itself. Playing defense was not viable for France in 1940; nor is it for today’s energy industry.
A much better response would be based on a 1997 presentation by then-ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond at the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing: He took pride in the accomplishments of oil and gas companies and pointed out their importance for world civilization, especially for development in Asia. He also pointed out that there is no significant climate threat from atmospheric CO2.
The use of fossil fuels “is essential both for economic growth and for the elimination of poverty, which is itself the worst polluter,” Raymond said.
Despite hundreds of billions in subsidies and other support, solar and wind energy have not only failed over the last 30 years to add significantly to the world energy supply but have made electric power more expensive and less reliable in places as diverse as Texas, California, Germany, and Great Britain. Solar and wind face too many physical, economic, and environmental obstacles, which are in reality, impossible to overcome, as has been documented by many, including the Manhattan Institute.
Major energy companies certainly have the resources and expertise to defend their vital contributions, as well as to expose the lie that additional atmospheric CO2 is causing a climate crisis. There are many first-rate scientists who understand this. (The CO2 Coalition and the Global Warming Petition Project are just two examples.) A simple Google search can show that virtually all the claims of environmental disaster from excess CO2 in the atmosphere are vastly overstated.
The scientists and engineers in these companies, working with publicists, can certainly develop a very effective strategy. The civilized world needs courageous champions of fossil fuels, not pitiful, helpless giants retreating from nihilists who would induce a modern Dark Age.