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Energy Through a Convex Lens

By May 27, 2021 One Comment

In his 2013 TEDxCalgary talk, Peter Tertzakian plays energy philosopher, reflecting on the future of the oil and gas industry through the history of the candle.

Just as the candle faced competitive assaults that eventually led to its demise as our primary source of light, so too does the oil and gas industry have a number of forces acting upon it now. And, just as it took the candle hundreds of years to be replaced, the oil industry will innovate to preserve market share. That’s how incumbents behave when challenged.

As Peter predicts in this presentation, the industry has become more competitive and efficient, resulting in a better, lower-cost product and lower emissions. Industries as entrenched and globally dispersed as oil and gas are hard to displace. And, just like the candle, will take us a while to wean ourselves from.

The story of the candle

In 1692, candlemakers saw their livelihoods threatened by new technology, including the convex lens (shown) and whale-oil lamp. So what did the chandlers of London do? Petitioned the local government to protect their interests.

But the competitive assaults kept coming: coal gas lights, then kerosene. Candlemakers fought back in an effort to make a better product at lower price. But the introduction of the light bulb marked the beginning of the end for them all.

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  • Andy Pattullo MD, FRCPC says:

    Pleased to see a presentation that presents realism about the future of the fossil fuel industry and highlights the consumer responsibilities that come with a desire to reduce fossil fuel consumption. After 17 years research to try and see why it is we should specifically try to reduce CO2 emissions I find myself at a loss that there is not much more discussion about the pros and cons of such a strategy in the complete absence of any observable negative impact of CO2 in our atmosphere, clear evidence that it is near the lowest level in the planet’s history and abundant evidence that the changes we can presently measure from rising CO2 are all positive. As a teacher of science and particular with a focus on the perverse role of modelling in current academics I am astounded that we let a raft of poorly constructed, unvalidated, computer models lead us down this road to social ruin long before we lose access to cheap reliable fossil fuels. I appreciate that this message may be implied but hidden in the presentation as to mention these facts is akin to being declared a witch in 17th century New England.

    We are wasting so much of our resources and damaging the energy underpinnings of our society just at the point where we have reached the highest level of human achievement and well-being. We are chasing energy systems that destroy the land, create massive unrecyclable waste, consume massive amounts of energy intensive resources in their realization and yet still can’t power a light bulb reliably 24-7 without some form of back up or highly expensive storage.

    As alluded to in the presentation this is only possible because of the ill conceived intervention of the government. I look forward to the day when these issues are the subject of open public discussion and the application of true critical thinking.

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