In this post I will try my utmost to stick to the specifics of what is being proposed in this motion, and the implications of it. To state my position clearly up-front, I am OPPOSED to this motion.
On the Role of Hydrocarbon Fuel Sources
In regards to the statement in the resolution that “companies whose main source of revenue is tied to fossil fuels are irreconcilably opposed to combatting climate change through the elimination of fossil fuel consumption”.
This statement that companies in the hydrocarbon energy sector are fundamentally incapable of playing a positive role in regards to climate change is incorrect for the following reasons:
It does not acknowledge the potential of emerging technologies like carbon scrubbing and carbon capture & storage, which (particularly for things like electric power plants), offer the potential for a zero emissions source of energy.
There is an implicit assumption being made here that all hydrocarbon based sources of energy have an equally detrimental contribution to greenhouse gas emissions / global warming. This is untrue and overly simplistic. A more accurate way of looking at it is to look at hydrocarbon fuels as a spectrum, ranging from 100% carbon and high CO2 emissions to 100% hydrogen and no CO2 emissions at all. The spectrum looks something like this (descending order of carbon intensity):
Tar / Bitumen / Heavy Oils
Light Oils / Volatile Condensates
Natural Gas / Methane
For reasons of energy efficiency, a global shift away from a carbon energy sector and towards a hydrogen energy sector is already underway as the technology needed for the storage and transport of hydrogen intensive fuel sources improves. The added factor of climate change means this shift needs to be accelerated. Strategies then such as capturing emissions from coal-fired electricity power plants or oilsands upgraders and reinjecting them underground, or replacing carbon-heavy fuel with natural gas are key steps towards a sustainable energy sector where fossil fuel companies are able to make an important and positive contribution.
Granted, not every fossil fuel company is working on sustainability issues like this. Like every other industry sector, there are best-in-class and bottom-feeding companies with very different philosophies on how they do business. For that reason, companies that are part of the hydrocarbon energy sector should be evaluated as a potential partner the same way as any other industry. That is, an objective, balanced, evidence based evaluation of each company’s merits where climate change / environmental impact are one criteria among many that are looked at.
On the Hydrocarbon Energy Sector Supply Chain:
As has been noted by others, a motion that chooses to focus only on limited portions of the supply side of the hydrocarbon energy sector while entirely ignoring the demand side is fundamentally flawed. Fossil fuels are some of the most heavily traded and used commodities in the world, and any attempt to extricate ourselves from that entire supply chain (supply, transport, demand, financing, engineering support, etc.) would be piecemeal, ineffective and incomplete.
If the goal is to identify how EWB can take positive action on climate change, a better strategy might look something like this:
Conduct a thorough, systemic evaluation of the entire hydrocarbon value chain and identify entry points where EWB could potentially play a role.
Determine what resources will be needed to undertake such an initiative (time, people, money), and where those resources will come from.
Identify which specific parts (if any) of EWB’s revenue mix need to be adjusted in order to accommodate that new focus area.
Essentially this is the framework for proposing a new venture initiative, which is not surprising. Understanding how EWB is able to take action on an area is I think an important first step before making radical changes that will damage other parts of the organization.
In addition, the statement in the motion background that accepting money from fossil fuel companies prevents EWB from“…taking action that it is poised well to engage on…” is a subjective opinion that is not being backed up by any arguments or evidence. I would in fact argue the opposite, in that that EWB is not particularly well placed to take action on global CO2 emissions, and that other organizations such as Greenpeace or the Pembina Institute are actually much better suited to play leading roles in this area for a whole host of reasons. That is also a subjective opinion that I’m willing to be convinced otherwise on, but a strategy and proposal for of how and why EWB should be engaging in this area needs to happen BEFORE radical financing changes are proposed, not after.
On Ensuring EWB’s Financial Independence
This motion is suggesting that accepting any revenue from fossil fuel companies is compromising EWB’s financial independence. This is I feel the wrong way of looking at it:
It is a practical reality that EWB (like every other organization) needs revenue to operate, and this revenue needs to come from somewhere. There is no ‘perfect’ source of revenue, they all have their advantages and drawbacks, and to single out only the drawbacks of only one revenue source is not right. To entirely get rid of one revenue source would actually be harmful to EWB’s independence since it would not only reduce EWB’s revenue base overall, but would make the organization proportionately more dependent on its remaining sources of revenue, which also have disadvantages that are not being acknowledged here.
Again, a better strategy might be to take a more comprehensive look at EWB’s entire suite of revenue sources and determine / refine the optimal mix, which would be small amounts from as many different revenue sources as possible. Instead of banning corporate revenue from hydrocarbon companies, maybe instead let’s put more effort into generating new revenue sources, so that the entire revenue base gets larger and the percentage of fossil fuel company revenue gets proportionately smaller.
Also, language already exists in the proposed Corporate Partnership Guidelines to ensure that no one company or sector is making an outsized or overly influential contribution. If it is felt that the present language in the guidelines is insufficient, then the best course of action would be to propose strengthening the language regarding revenue independence in those partnership guidelines.
On the Impact to EWB as an organization:
Finally, while I am not for a moment suggesting that the health and well-being of any one part of EWB is more important than the health and well-being of Planet Earth, it is nonetheless valuable to understand the negative implications this motion will have on the organization itself. Corporate revenue from fossil fuel companies as a percentage of overall organizational revenue is relatively low, but it is higher for certain portions of it, two of which I will quickly summarize:
As was described in detail in a previous post (http://my.ewb.ca/posts/13/93601), corporate sponsorship (all companies, not just from Oil/Gas/Coal) is 50%-60% of the total money needed to run the Conference every year. As a past Conference finance lead, I can say that Corporate Sponsorship is a non-ideal source of revenue for reasons other than Climate Change (small acceptance percentage among companies contacted, very difficult to budget & plan for, the revenue is not confirmed at the time registration fees need to be locked down, and it’s very susceptible to economic downturns). It would be great if EWB’s chapter delegates had enough disposable income to allow for a Conference that was funded entirely be registration fees, but that’s not the reality at present, so we have to work with the options we have available to us.
The EWB Calgary Chapter (and likely the other Alberta chapters to a lesser extent) has generally been about 90%+ comprised of people who either directly or indirectly work in the oil and gas industry, and about 85% of our chapter operational revenue ties back one way or another to corporate / workplace engagement (and for Calgary, that means Oil & Gas companies). In addition, what we’ve found at the ground level is that the concept of Invested Partnerships is a very powerful strategy for engaging with employees within those companies. Corporate employees are much more willing to make personal donations to an organization that their company supports and partners with (United Way campaigns are very successful for that reason). Also, Invested Partnerships are not just about money. EWB and TransCanada have had a partnership for three years now, and during that time we’ve seen a substantial growth at the grassroots employee level relating to understanding and engagement on the issues related to extreme poverty, development in Africa, etc. There is a community of engaged TransCanada employees forming organically that might not have happened had it not been for the EWB / TransCanada financial partnership catalyzing that process and moving it forward.
It’s reasonable to state that no-one in EWB is looking to actively block progress on climate change. In fact many current and former EWBers are actively working for oil & gas companies in their CSR, environmental monitoring, and climate change departments, they’re simply choosing a different vehicle than EWB to make progress in that area. All that said, I would also point out that when we talk about the resources that EWB needs to operate, we are not just talking about corporate / institutional money, we are also talking about people, and the time, energy and time commitment and personal donations they bring to this organization. I would ask people to think about why an enthusiastic volunteer whose career is working for a petroleum company would ever want to direct their volunteer time and personal donations to an organization that has so arbitrarily singled out their industry sector for hostile treatment? Any strategy of divestment from companies in the hydrocarbon energy sector would thus eventually and inevitably extend to the people who work in that sector which will do the opposite of growing and expanding our organization.
For these reasons, the wording of the motion in that accepting revenue is banned, but that efforts to engage with those same companies should not be hindered, is a fundamental contradiction. The two concepts are intertwined and cannot be so easily separated. With a divisive issue like this, any decision made will require trade-offs, but I’m struggling to understand how potentially forfeiting EWB’s ability to effectively run a National Conference, or financially crippling / eliminating the viability of EWB’s chapters that are best suited to build relationships and make inroads with Oil & Gas companies, is a value-adding sacrifice.
In conclusion then, this motion I do not feel should be supported at this time. As presently worded this motion will not reduce the world’s CO2 emissions by even a single molecule of gas and would thus be making a symbolic-only statement on climate change. In contrast, the potential downsides and collateral damage to this organization are quite tangible and quantifiable.
Thanks for your time and patience if you got all the way through this post!