"Two Things Changed Everything: Human Liberty and Energy from Hydrocarbons," Remarks by Chris Wright
Thank you for this flattering and humbling recognition.
What else I am thankful for is THIS, and what I mean by “this” is actually quite a lot.
History shows that for nearly everyone, every year, every season, every day was an uncertain struggle to survive. Humans were far smaller just a few generations ago, not because their genetics were any different, but because they simply lived in a constant state of malnutrition kicking starvation down the road one day at a time.
Then TWO things changed everything: human liberty and energy from hydrocarbons. Liberty and Energy — hey, that could be a good name for a company some day!
Political liberty was a long time coming and the steps forward are famous in history from Magna Carta to the Dutch Golden Age in the early 1600’s to the English Glorious Revolution in the late 1600’s, reaching a crescendo with the American Revolution.
I have long thought that the progress in human Liberty catalyzed the harnessing of hydrocarbons as free people want…..to do things. And you can’t do anything without energy. Better energy enables better things everywhere and always.
But my continued research has me now thinking that the causality runs at least as much the other way. Better energy, hydrocarbons, enabled or drove the progress in human liberty.
The Dutch Golden Age in the early 1600’s was driven by a surge in harvesting and burning of peat used to manufacture glass, ceramics, and all sorts of other things including better farm implements. They also had a lot of beautiful windmills which are far more famous than the peat bogs, but supplied less than 5% of Dutch energy. As their energy consumption skyrocketed, so did their per capita income to the highest in the world. Civil society blossomed and Holland became a magnet for migrants wanting to expand their opportunities and better their lives. All of THIS led to the creation of the first modern banking system, a rapid innovation culture and robust commerce, both internally and externally with the unprecedented Dutch global trade. The first widespread modern flourishing of free people in a free society FOLLOWED the explosion in peat consumption.
A few decades later during Shakespeare’s time, England was leaping ahead of Holland as English coal was more abundant, transportable, and higher energy density than Dutch peat. Coal already provided 50% of total English energy consumption in the late 1600’s. The great English progress in human, political and social rights appear to have been catalyzed by the tremendous wealth and opportunities enabled by the rapid growth in coal consumption. Poor, stagnant societies do not drive progress. Energized, free societies do.
English and Dutch citizens desiring even more political, religious, economic and social freedom founded our country. Yet in 1800, over 80% of Americans were still farmers and most still lived in grinding poverty. Today that number is less than 2% and we are the world’s largest food exporter. Why?
The US brought forth an even better fuel source: OIL. Oil and, a few decades later, natural gas drove the 20th century’s remarkable transformation in the human condition: doubling human life expectancy and surging wealth and health across all economic strata that made our country the greatest ever opportunity society. Economic historian Deirdre McCloskey called this transformation the Great Enrichment.
This Great Enrichment was not just in the economic realm. It enabled huge progress in human liberty: the ending of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, and exploding social mobility that came from tearing down so many other legal, social and economic barriers to human progress. We all have a lot to be thankful for.
Beyond planes, trains, automobiles, modern medicine, and the internet, we also received THE most precious gift: TIME. Folks today work so much less and earn so much more that we have unprecedented TIME to pursue whatever our interest may be, like wineries for example.
For so many in this room, and particularly in my family, we get to travel anywhere and everywhere. We get to enjoy the great outdoors in ever expanding ways —- I should acknowledge an assist and extend a Thank you to North Face!
I have hundreds of specific reasons to be thankful —— all the wonderful people in this room tonight. Thank you.
My mom, Gayla, made everything I have done possible and NOT just by birthing me. Unconditional love, support and belief in me set me on my way.
I WAY out-kicked the coverage with my wife, Liz, who has been my life partner since we were 19. Which may explain why she is drinking tonight!
I have been blessed with two fabulous children one of whom, Schuyler, works in our industry and is here tonight with her new husband, Greg. He also WAY out-kicked the coverage! My son Arthur is in Washington DC — his very presence there raises the local common sense quotient.
My brother Bill and Sisters Kim and Brook have also been lifelong partners. Bill and Kim are tonight with their spouses.
Whatever business success I have had is due solely to the incredible humans who have been my long-time partners: Ron, Michael, Leen, Larry, Kevin, Mark, Paul, Jim, Mike, Tom, Bruce, Craig, Norm, Steve, Richard, Brett, Cary, Duane, Ken, Bill, Rhett, Tracee, Greg, Sean, Ryan, Brian, Norton and Lindsay. Most of whom are here tonight. Countless others have enabled my journey and kept it meaningful and fun along the way.
Everyone in the room tonight is making it possible for others to live long, healthy lives. For all of those who sometimes forget to thank you, I say thank for them.
The Western Energy Alliance works tirelessly to assure that our industry continues to thrive.
I want to extend deep gratitude and thanks to their fearless leader Kathleen Sgamma, who inspires us all. Perhaps I should be giving her this award tonight?
Alliance Chairman (and friend) Bob Boswell, plus the team of Aaron Johnson, Gina Brook, Esther Wagner and Sally Hallingstad run the Western Energy Alliance, thanks for bringing us all together tonight.
To Liberty and Energy, Cheers!