If you were to share your feelings on renewable energy, electric vehicles (EVs), or the so-called Green New Deal, you would likely trigger a lively conversation.
It seems like everyone has some strong opinions on these topics.
We look at the Green Revolution as an unparalleled opportunity for American businesses, including some businesses that you might not expect to profit from it.
Environmentalism may have been a fringe movement a few decades ago, but it is absurd to dispute its role in American society, and American business, in 2023.
The shift to clean energy and EVs is not the future of the country or the world, it is the present. It is underway as we speak. Governments worldwide invested $500 billion in renewables last year, and that number will only grow year after year. It’s pretty clear that American industry will reap enormous benefits from its continued investment in the renewable energy revolution.
Given that reality, it might be tempting to sound the death knell for the fossil fuel industry, and to begin sketching out the corporate post-mortems for the oil and gas companies that have been central to the American economy for the last hundred years. Will the death of the internal combustion engine also be a harbinger of the end for companies that rely on the sales of fossil fuels for their very existence?
Well . . . not so fast.
For starters, there’s ample evidence to suggest that we should retain a healthy bit of skepticism before we assume that the world will run exclusively on solar, wind, and nuclear power a mere 20 years from now.
Consider comments made in an October 2022 CNBC interview by Goldman Sachs economist Jeff Currie, who noted:
Here’s a stat for you as of January of this year : At the end of last year, overall, fossil fuels represented 81 percent of overall energy consumption. Ten years ago, they were at 82. So through all of that investment in renewables, you’re talking about $3.8 trillion, let me repeat that, $3.8 trillion of investment in renewables moved fossil fuel consumption from 82 to 81 percent, of the overall energy consumption. But you know, given the recent events and what’s happened with the loss of gas and replacing it with coal, that number is likely above 82. So when we think about what those renewables have added… the net of it is clearly we haven’t made any progress.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration zooms out even further, noting that in 1908, fossil fuels accounted for 85% of U.S. energy consumption. More than a 100 years later, that number has not moved significantly.
Even President Joe Biden, an ardent supporter of phasing out fossil fuels, acknowledged in an anecdote during his State of the Union address in February that “we’re going to need oil for at least another decade and beyond.” Most industry sources estimate at least several decades of reliance on fossil fuels, even in the most optimistic version of a total transition to renewable energy.
Put more simply: fossil fuels aren’t going anywhere any time soon. They’re not only essential to powering vehicles. They are the building blocks of modern life.
In his 2022 book How The World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide To Our Past, Present and Future, author Smil Vaclav referenced four materials as the pillars of modern civilization: ammonia, plastics, steel, and cement.
Without ammonia (made from natural gas and liquid petroleum gas), it would be impossible to make nitrogen fertilizer, which facilitates the feeding of half the world’s population.
Durable, low-cost plastics surround us in our daily life, and couldn’t be manufactured without petroleum.
Steel and cement, the most widely used construction materials in the world, both require combustible fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for their production.
No sane person would argue that the world would be a better place without fertilizer, plastics, steel, or cement. And while technology may one day work out fully “green” solutions to replace any or all of these essential materials, we are decades away from that too. So we don’t waste time worrying about the demise of the fossil fuel industry. These companies are, and will continue to be, central players in the American economy for the foreseeable future.
Similarly, the mining industry, suggested by some to be on the cusp of elimination, will not only survive, but thrive, in the years to come. Electric cars require coal (in the form of electricity), rare earth minerals, and four times more copper than is needed for conventional cars. Coal and natural gas also remain integral elements in the production of iron and steel, so the demand for miners is unlikely to abate any time soon.
If it sounds like, in the big picture, the Green Revolution can be a win-win for American businesses and American society, then you’re seeing the big picture just about right.