As a soon-to-graduate engineering student at Dalhousie University, I regularly hear, “So what now? Where are you going to go?” To which I reply, “Oil and gas, if I’m lucky.” This usually results in either a complete halt in conversation, or a disorganized, yet predictable lecture outlining the many evils of this industry. Usually I just nod and think about what I’m going to have for dinner, but a recent iteration of this song and dance struck a chord with me. No, I didn’t finally wake up and commit my life to saving sweet Mother Nature; I just became painfully aware of the pervasive hypocrisy, apathy, and ignorance of the general public with respect to the dynamics of oil and gas.
The particular encounter of which I speak started and ended just like all of the others. Having explained my career aspirations, I received a sermon on the dangers of pipelines from someone with a conspicuous lack of engineering or technical background. I brushed it off as I typically do and moved on to more palatable conversation. However, what followed this enlightening discussion absolutely made my blood boil. Not five minutes after vilifying an entire industry, I overheard this certain individual discussing the best places to go for a cruise (the Arctic, for anyone interested).
How this person could support an industry that employs vista-class cruise ships, each burning upwards of 1 200 tonnes of Bunker-C heavy oil for a seven-day cruise, while not supporting the industry that makes this luxury possible, is beyond hypocritical; it’s absolutely ludicrous. It’s also symptomatic of a frighteningly common mindset in our society. That is, “I want to live exactly how I want to and then put all of the blame on those who make my lifestyle possible.”
Every other week on my campus, there’s an event railing against the oil and gas industry, frequented by iPhone-toting, voluntourism-going “environmentalists.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I fully support having an environmental conscience—in fact, environmental stewardship is a huge component of what we learn as engineering students. What does not sit well with me, however, is the aggressive denial of our implicit role in the oil and gas industry. The impression I get from my more “green” contemporaries is that one’s oil and gas usage doesn’t count if you subscribe to certain set of beliefs: the petroleum derivatives in your iPhone don’t count if you use it to organize green-activism events on Facebook; the thousands of litres of aircraft-grade fuel burnt in a single flight are a writeoff as long as you can get to Thailand for a week or two of volunteering.
Again, I do not take issue with making efforts to reduce our environmental impact or improve the world around us, but dealing with this convoluted mindset is becoming increasingly tedious. If we do not, as a society, understand and, more importantly, acknowledge the far-reaching implications of our consumption rates and behaviours, we will never make any appreciable progress toward responsible, sustainable energy production and usage.
Therefore, the next time you plan on asking an entire industry to make sacrifices, take a minute and think about how these sacrifices will affect you and your lifestyle. Are you willing to bet on solar panels and wind turbines and give up the luxuries that oil and gas provide you? You can’t have it both ways.