Two Visions: Hope and Promise or Apocalypse

by Kathleen Sgamma, President of Western Energy Alliance on May 22, 2019 - 8:46am

It’s commencement season, and there’s usually mischief afoot with speaker controversies and disinvitations. But what stood out to me last weekend were two commencement speeches and their contrasting visions.

First was Denver native and wealthiest African-American Robert Smith’s speech to Morehouse College. Almost nonchalantly in the middle of his speech, he announced he was wiping out the student loan debt of the entire 2019 class. Not only was the act a true investment in the future of what he called “my class,” but an inspiration to them and others to take their good fortune and pay it forward to others.

On the flip side, Apple CEO Tim Cook, speaking at Tulane, chose to issue recriminations about his generation failing the graduates on climate change. In fairness, it was probably hard to be a wealthy commencement speaker last weekend after Smith’s bombshell–even Oprah took grief–but his mea culpa to a generation with more luxuries and opportunities than any other before seemed to hit a sour note.

It seemed odd that the leader of a high-tech company would engage in fear mongering about the potential impacts of climate change on coastal communities like Louisiana, instead of offering a vision of technology as a solution. Why did he fall victim to the political noise, his words, surrounding the issue of climate change rather than encourage technological solutions? The implied assumption that technology will remain static and unable to mitigate rising sea levels and other impacts seemed an odd choice for the CEO of a technology company that has changed the world for the better.

Speaking of real solutions to climate change, I like to harp on how natural gas fuel switching in the electricity sector is the number one reason the United States has reduced greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country. I won’t repeat all that again here, as it’s summed up in our position paper, nor linger on all the innovation that our industry does on a  daily basis that continues to drive emissions lower. You understand all that.

But Tim Cook and many others aren’t getting that story. When it comes to coverage of climate change, as with any complex issue, there’s a narrative in the media and any information that doesn’t fit that narrative just doesn’t get covered. The oil and natural gas industry has to be the bad guy, since we’re producing a product that emits greenhouse gases. Defaulting to that limited narrative, the media and politicians find it easy to attack our industry or tie us up with red tape.

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