The stupid goes to 11

One last dive into the increasingly ridiculous Bigfoot fiasco, along with a few words on India's ambitious net-zero pledge and the IEA's bearish oil forecast

You might have thought that a government agency picking a fight with the creator of a children’s cartoon over its portrayal of the oil and gas industry is about as dumb as it gets. But Jason Kenney and the UCP found a bunch of different ways to turn the stupid up to 11 on this latest War Room fiasco. First, there was the Premier melting down in a press conference about the movie and its apparently sinister portrayal of his favourite industry.

But that was just the appetizer in this five-course meal of stupidity. When pressed by the official opposition about what the War Room’s performance metrics were, and how the government was going to measure its work, Energy Minister Sonya Savage essentially admitted that they didn’t have any. As journalist Lisa Johnson noted on Twitter, Savage instead suggested that the performance measure her government is looking at is oil production growth. ”Year-over-year growth. That's an actual measure."

This is, of course, abject nonsense. As Peter Drucker, one of the 20th century’s pre-eminent experts in business management and administration, famously observed, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” And measuring the War Room’s success on the basis of Alberta’s oil production is a pretty obvious case of spurious correlation — one that might deserve its own entry in a future edition of this wonderful book.

But maybe that’s the point here: by not being able to actually measure its performance, Albertans (like, say, the Auditor General) can’t assess its success or failure as easily. And that leads to ludicrous statements like the one from Airdrie-Cochrane UCP MLA Peter Guthrie, who argued that the War Room’s ability to attract attention to Bigfoot Family speaks to its “awesome” ability. “The NDP’s opposition to the CEC – as well as the media’s and activists’ – this tells me it’s working, and working pretty well,” he said.

He’s not alone. The usual Postmedia lapdogs came to the government’s defense, with the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples writing that “the Canadian Energy Centre picked a fitting target and it got out Alberta’s message on oil and gas in spectacular fashion. I take that as a win for Albertans.” The Calgary Herald’s Don Braid was a bit less obvious about the water he was carrying, but he too suggested that criticisms of the government’s campaign against Netflix were missing the mark.

It stands to reason that the UCP and its allies in the media will continue playing up this ludicrous skirmish in the ever-more ridiculous culture war, if only to distract Albertans from the news that one of its largest non-oil and gas companies, Shaw Communications, was bought out by Rogers. Both the company and the Premier assure Albertans that the loss of a major head office won’t result in a loss of jobs, but as the latest layoff news from Cenovus — an additional 1,000 jobs, the direct result of its takeover of Husky Energy — suggests a less rosy outcome might be the in offing.

In any even, we’re not done with this nonsense yet. The best take on it, in my opinion, came from my friend Jen Gerson.

What the fuck, indeed.


Eastern promises

It was only a few months ago (it seems like years) that Jason Kenney was stepping in metaphorical crap over his ill-advised comments about India’s apparent reliance on burning dung. As I wrote for The Line:

“Never mind, for the moment, the fact that burning cow dung isn’t exactly the primary source of fuel in India — a country whose renewable energy ambitions massively outstrip our own. The parochialism and ignorance of the comment was galling in and of itself. But what was most telling was Kenney’s unwavering belief in the future of an industry whose best days are clearly in the past.”

Well, if Kenney needed to update his priors about India’s role in the global energy market back then, he really needs to update them now. That’s because India may be on the verge of making some truly ambitious commitments — ones that represent a fundamental challenge to the belief, still widely held in Alberta’s oil and gas industry (as well as the Premier’s office in Edmonton) that India’s demand for fossil fuels will help support demand growth for decades to come. “Officials close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi are working with senior bureaucrats and foreign advisers to consider ways to meet the 2050 deadline, according to people familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg’s Archana Chaudhary, Akshat Rathi, and Rajesh Kumar Singh wrote. “A 2047 target is also being considered, they said, to mark the centenary of India’s independence from British rule.”

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If that sounds bad for the notion that demand growth will be sustained and supported by India and China for many years to come, that’s because it is. They are under no obligation to transition from coal to gas and onto renewables, as the west has been doing for some time now. Instead, they can skip straight to the end-goal of clean and cheap power, just as the developing world bypassed landlines in favour of cheap mobile phones. The same may very well be true of renewable energy — and sooner than a lot of people thought possible.


Lowered expectations

The question of when demand for oil will peak in places like China and India is very much open to debate, but when it comes to places like North America and Europe it’s looking far more settled. As a recent report from the International Energy Agency suggests, that peak may have already happened. Thanks to the growing shift towards electric vehicles, along with a number of COVID-related changes to work and travel patterns, the Paris-based agency says that demand “is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels.”

Overall global demand will be a modest 4% higher in 2026 than it was before COVID-19 hit, but that’s hardly the kind of forecast that feeds dreams of new oil sands facilities here in Alberta. Indeed, the IEA expects total Canadian output to average 6 million barrels per day in 2026, a mere 200,000 barrels per day above 2019 levels.

Memo to the government: Maybe Minister Savage’s idea of correlating the War Room’s success to oil production growth isn’t such a great one after all.


One cool thing: the Android of electric vehicles

If Tesla is the Apple of the electric car space, Volkswagen can emerge as the Android equivalent. That’s the suggestion in a recent Bloomberg piece, which notes that the German automaker’s CEO is all-in on the transition away from fossil fuel vehicles. “Let me begin with the obvious: e-mobility has won the race,” Herbert Diess said at a recent industry conference. “It is the only solution to reduce mobility emissions fast.”

Like Apple, Tesla is a market leader that keeps everything in-house — a strategy that allows both of them to charge a premium for their products. But by taking a more open-source approach to its supply chain, Volkswagen may be able to close the distance just as Android did. And like Android, which offered better displays than Apple, Volkswagen may have an ace up its sleeve as well: batteries.

"In 2012, VW invested in Silicon Valley startup QuantumScape Corp., which was building solid-state batteries that promised to increase driving range by as much as 50% and reduce charging times to 15 minutes. Though QuantumScape’s battery won’t be in a car before 2025, the company’s market value stands at about $23 billion—roughly a sixth of VW’s valuation.”

Time will tell whether this analogy holds, but one thing is already clear: more competition in this space will be good for both consumers and the environment.


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