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Canadian Energy Policy, ESG & Toxic Social Media

I have been recently pondering how Canadian politics and energy policy could end up in such a stupid state of affairs – especially on ESG climate change matters.

After watching Netflix’s Social Dilemma, and reading some excellent articles in The Atlantic, the picture seems clearer. And it may be mostly about Social Media (SM). As the Social Dilemma points out, there are only two industries that describe their customers as “Users”. SM and Drug Dealers.

Social Media – Toxic Algorithms

Like flies to carrion, SM’s best method of attracting and keeping users glued to platforms is moral outrage on an ESG issue. SM creates its ideal business model by priming people’s sensibilities on a given ESG issue, while feeding them more and more vectored, validating information.

On ESG questions, are we animated by the desire for social improvement or just virtue signalling? Are SM’s moral outrage algorithms based on our deep need to affirm that we are Good People? Is it sometimes easier to feel like a Good Person by simply accusing Bad People, instead of working for real dialogue and change, or examining ourselves?

While the statistical answers to these questions might not be clear (and SM does not care either way), the outcomes of this toxic business model certainly are. Those outcomes are:

  • The total polarization of groups concerned with a given ESG issue
  • A general disinterest in dialogue with (or information from) a polar opposite group on that ESG issue, in favour of simply seeking more vectored, validating information.

Stupid is as Stupid Doesn’t

Ironically, ESG issues polarized by SM probably have a much lower likelihood of real improvement, because real improvements require real dialogue and collaboration. As our mothers taught us, yelling at people does not often lead to progress. Sometimes you have to listen too.

And SM is not interested collaborative listening, because there is less profit in it. By convincing social actors of the existence of a holy war, and feeding that war with scripture, SM’s algorithms actually prevent betterment.

You might describe it as Stupid Is as Stupid Doesn’t. Or #gee…thingsareactuallycomplicated. Or#whatdoyoumeanitsnotallaboutme? Or #listeningisreallyhard. The writer might be accused of virtue signalling himself at this point; a risk he will take in deference to “read up on a problem, be open to listening and get off your f*g high horse”.

SM & Climate Change

For a (depressing) real life example, examine the climate change debate in this country. Climate change became a global lightning-rod-ESG-issue, because it presented SM with a great opportunity for profit. One side of the debate decries deep conspiracy “international oil companies”, while taking little cognisance of the fact that:

  • the Paris Accord makes specific mention of natural gas as the key swing commodity between a carbon economy and future, non-carbon economy
  • a fuel mix change of this magnitude will likely take at least 30-50 years to accomplish, as renewables are not yet an efficacious or economic replacement for petroleum, and
  • Renewables infrastructure is also created by industrial processes with their own huge, environmental problems.

SM is not interested collaborative listening, because there is less profit in it

The other side of the debate decries economic surrealism, neo- marxism and virtue signalling, without potentially considering whether excess carbon production is ideal for the planet. Both sides are yelling, and no one is listening. That’s right Greta – you are actually part of the problem.

What would collaboration bring? Well, it could have given Canadian ethical natural gas (by LNG export) a key role in replacing high emission oil and coal around the planet. This would have actually lowered global carbon emissions. It could have given Canadian energy companies more impetus to deploy co-gen and renewable technology to increase Power production. This would have helped meet the desired Power demand for electric vehicles, while actually lowering global carbon emissions.

So, collaboration could have done quite a lot. Most importantly, it would have shown all of us that the objectives of each “side” are not mutually exclusive at all. They are actually in concert.

SM & Canadian Energy Policy

So why did collaboration not occur in the Canadian federal government policy debate?

Well – because political parties are literally using the same SM moral outrage tools to troll for votes. This is the most cynical kind of internet trolling, because it keys on division and not the cohesion governments should pursue. In result, government policies are now predicated on the warped SM mirror of polarized positions. Two (of many) recent examples are instructive.

The current Liberal government agenda seeks the immediate replacement of an annual $134.4B economic sector so that Canada is not on the ‘wrong side’ of the Climate question. We could have done much better on the climate file (and our economy) by truly collaborating with the Canadian Energy Industry to export ethical natural gas while investing in renewables at home. Instead, the Trudeau government plans to replace the country’s most important sector with tax revenue from Pot? Or perhaps cotton candy and rainbows? It is a policy predicated on SM vectored, validating information, and not facts. And it simply will not work. I predict Canada will be out of the G7 in five years – about the same time pensioners’ heating bills go to $1400/month.

While it is easy to critique the current Liberal policy, the federal Torys have their own cross to bear. For almost a decade, successive Harper governments instinctively resisted any ESG dialogue. By doing so, those governments failed to:

  • propagate ethical Canadian natural gas exports via LNG plants on the West and East Coasts, in total concert with the Paris Accord
  • approve Energy East, thereby replacing Eastern Canada’s (undesirable) import of unethical crude from places like Saudi (which is perpetrating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen) with Canadian volumes, and
  • encouraging Canadian petroleum R&D and investment in co-gen and renewable sectors, both of which Canadian petroleum companies happily invest in anyhow.

But between about 2006 and 2020… nothing happened. And now we are here. Stupid is as Stupid Didn’t.

The Round Up

To be frank, there may not be enough space to pull a U-turn for Canadian energy. We lost so much petroleum market share, first to the US and then to Russia/Saudi, that I do not believe many realistic collaborative options are left. Perhaps I am wrong about that – it would be a good thing to be wrong about.

But a start would be for each of us to make personal choice NOT to feed SM’s polarization business model. The less sway the SM machine has over us, the less our political parties might be interested in abusing that machine to the national disfavour.

Instead we should wrest control back and do what Canadians always used to do best; collaborate and be reasonable with each other.