Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another reason why Texas lags behind...

Paul Dickerson was wondering why Texas lags behind other states in alternative energies, so I thought I would propose another reason. In class it was stated that there is no reason the oil industry should speculate on alternative energy when its money can make a sure profit in oil today. While this makes some sense, the potential gains in alternative energy far exceeds that of conventional oil over the long term. I believe that an additional reason why the oil and petrochemical industries in Texas are slow to respond is because there is an inertia to their thinking such that many in positions of authority do not even recognize that there is a problem. Beyond this point, many businessmen tend to be aligned against any government intervention or regulation – such people start with this often legitimate value, and then work from there to accepting the “evidence” against climate change, and/or denying peak oil and other energy and environmental problems.

My belief is based on personal communication that I had with the head of research and development at Eastman Corporation, as well as recognition of the amount of funding that companies like ExxonMobile have channeled into “climate change contrarians.” As of last November, the head of R&D at Eastman Corp. did not believe in climate change, stating that he recently saw a talk that suggested that solar flares were largely responsible (somehow ignoring the incredible consensus that exists in the scientific community and focusing on the “evidence” from groups the likes of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine). Eastman management was clearly paying such an institution to help provide “facts” that the company employees could use to maintain their beliefs.

As for ExxonMobile, their tactics in combating climate change to prevent government regulation is well-documented by the Union of Concerned Scientists (please see: Interestingly, in some cases ExxonMobile not only applied the same tactics that Big Tobacco used in denying the link between smoking and cancer, they even employed the same people. How can we expect a wealthy corporation to even think about climate change when they are busy manufacturing evidence against it?

This sort of ideological indoctrination is common in America, though not generally quite so explicit as the two examples above. Together, they suggest a very strong tendency among important decision-makers in Texas to deny the current energy and environmental situation. Creativity and action are difficult in such cases. Hopefully, when the oldest generation of managers retires they will be replaced by those who are more capable of recognizing the problems that exist today and able to respond in ways that generate both profit and social benefit.

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