A Place for the Fossil Fuel Industry in a Clean Energy World

We know fossil fuels are dirty and have little to no place in a clean energy world. However, what of the people behind that industry, who have worked their lives in the field? None of us like risking the uncertainty that comes with changing jobs, and if given the chance to keep a lucrative job, most of us would want to do that.

Arguably, proposals for clean energy that do not provide a sufficiently viable alternative for those in the fossil fuel industry are doomed to fail in the long term. Asking people who have earned any amount of fossil fuel money to forego future revenue will most likely result in time wasted, precious time that we need to spend directly reducing fossil fuel consumption.

As revolutionary as it may sound, the fossil fuel industry deserves a seat at the table of the clean energy revolution. Part of being a successful PM is knowing how to manage all stakeholders on a project to ensure a successful project outcome. A PM cannot simply ignore a major stakeholder and expect the project to run smoothly. Ignoring the fossil fuel industry only creates back pressure that is certain to blow up at the most inopportune time. For example, when trying to secure funding for further clean energy projects when much of the available funding is somehow tied to fossil fuels in one way or another.

Fossil fuel folks are not going to fund a clean energy project without some stake in it. From their point of view, developing clean energy is accelerating the death of the industry they have worked so hard to build, and that has done wonders for their lives. They might see the virtues of clean energy but lack a good reason to support it. Well, they will never learn the good reasons to support clean energy if they do not have a welcoming seat at the table. Reasons like this one: it is an opportunity to not be left behind as others invest in this high-growth market. Europe is not going to abandon its clean energy goals any time soon. Russia and China are investing heavily in nuclear power, and China also in solar power. Even if it’s not happening as notably in the United States as elsewhere, clean energy is taking the world by storm. To not participate is to risk being left behind.

It might be politically convenient to feign ignorance, but many who have made money from fossil fuels likely do understand that clean energy is the wave of the future. It is just inconvenient to fully believe that is the case. The money has been so good for so long, there is a great hesitation to change. Despite that, all the major fossil fuel companies seem to have made some small investments in clean energy. Whether these investments are being done out of genuine recognition of the importance of a clean energy future or simply to appease a greener public, that is beside the question. What matters is that there are investments being made by fossil fuel companies in clean energy. Where the door has opened just a crack, there is the possibility that it may open wider yet.

The fossil fuel industry can and should be stewards of the clean energy future. Through their direct investments, they can build the clean energy infrastructure for their companies that ensure that their companies will not be merely relevant, but lauded by the greener public. People innately want control, relevance, regard. They view these things as being risked in a transition to a clean energy future. Being proactive by being stewards of that future ensures that no control will be lost, they will stay relevant, and they will be held in high regard.

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