“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide.... I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
Many of you are familiar with Twitter’s infamous “fail whale” image. Like the catch-phrase “epic fail,” Twitter’s fail whale has become synonymous with, well, epic failure. I was reminded of the fail whale while reading James Murray’s excellent recent blog piece, “The best green economy speech I ever heard.”
Although I encourage you to read the original, a quick synopsis follows: Murray describes the time US ambassador Bruce J. Oreck seized the microphone (and the day) at a meeting in Helsinki to promote the UK’s Climate Change Act overseas. Oreck had become dismayed at the business nay-sayers worried about the costs and economic competitiveness of implementing climate protecting measures. Here I quote Murray:
'“Do you know what the largest employer on the eastern seaboard of America was in 1850?” he asked the room, to be greeted by the inevitable silence. “It was whaling.”
He went on to explain how New Bedford was once the world’s biggest boom town, how whaling was one of America’s largest industries, and how tens of thousands of people made their fortunes from the whale oils, blubber, and bones they brought ashore. And then, how within 20 years, it was all virtually gone.'
Murray goes on to say that there are actually a variety of reasons why America’s whaling industry collapsed, including rising costs and a dwindling supply of whales which were hunted to near extinction, but the main cause was remarkably simple – businesses invented something better:
'As Oreck explained, the gas street lamps that began to emerge just as the industry peaked in the 1850's, and the electric bulbs that followed a few decades later, eviscerated the demand for whale oil just as surely as Massachusetts’ whalers eviscerated the whales. Add in the growing difficulty of catching over-hunted whales and the development of a host of synthetic materials to replace various whale products and the industry was completely dead within 50 years.
As if the parallels with today's carbon intensive industries weren’t already explicit enough, Oreck spelled them out. “If you don't adapt, your business is going to die…. You don't have a choice. Right now, new and better and cleaner technologies are being developed all around the world and they are going to blow you out the water.”'
Apparently, we haven’t learned much in the three years since Murray’s conference. Indeed, US leadership has faltered as climate silence has replaced frank boldness. Fossil-foolish businesses are still trotting out the same tired arguments about costs and competitiveness, never realizing that they are staring straight at an energy epic fail whale: Go clean and renewable, or go the way of the whalers. There is no place for whaling in the 21st century.
“At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable,” ~Bartleby, the Scrivener (Herman Melville, 1853)
P.S. Someone else really likes Mr. Murray’s post as well; here’s Treehugger’s take on the topic.
Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.