Environmentalists and "tree-huggers"

Wind Turbine. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

A few days ago I wrote about my experiences with Big Oil. Little did I know that I would manage to upset a friend who posted a comment, which I am reproducing here:

"Tree-hugers huh? Don't you think that is a little harsh? Idealists are idiots until their ideas take momentum, after that they are known as visionaries. Not before.

Alternative energy doesn't work? Hell, that's were we will agree to disagree (being a wind turbine engineer and all).
Oil is only the cheapest ECONOMIC source of energ: it is dirty, chemically dangerous, prone to explosion, and its biggest charge is to the enviroment it is IRREPARABLY destroying. Plus, it is not renewable.

I don't want to live as if I were the last generation to use the earth, and I don't even have kids like you do.

Anyway, as I said, this is a point were we will have to agree to disagree.
I have a TREMENDOUS respect for you, and it is only such respect that allows me to retort; I know you are a rational person who will not corner me to the ground just because I think differently about a subject.

In any case, the best of lucks in your new endevours. All the best to you and your family. ^__^


I also have Arc in the highest of regards and this comment provides a footing to talk about some ideas I have been juggling in my head.

First, the use of the words "tree-hugger" is not casual - it is deliberate. I am certainly not very diplomatic when I am dealing with prejudiced or dishonest people and I find a lot of those in the "green" movement.

Before going any further, I am all for preserving the environment, as much as it is possible to reconcile such preservation with the needed economic development for poor people/countries. I think all life is precious and while I cannot accept the killing of one more marine mammal, for instance, I also think the life of some members of a rather abundant species of two-legged land mammals is also important to preserve.

However, the tree-huggers I am refering to are people who use the banner of the green movement in order to further their perverse agendas, which seemingly do not include the well being of many of those two-legged land mammals. I do not really understand what those agendas may be, if they exist at all: it seems to me that many of these infamous characters are in the game only for personal gain.

And they are dishonest. I was outraged last year when a well known (in my country) catholic bishop called a press conference in order to present his findings after conducting some water analysis in the neighborhood of a gold mine. He accused the mining company of poisoning the river with "heavy metals". What heavy metals? Aluminum, magnesium and silicon... some of the most abundant materials in the Earth's crust.

So, I stand by my use of the word tree hugger. I am an environmentalist, an advocate of conservancy, not of poverty and famine for those who could use a good job in a gold mine - as long as the mine complies with good environmental practices. But the tree huggers will have none of that and they want all those jobs to go away.

As for renewable energy, I am all for developing renewable and alternate energy sources. However, I don't think they are all quite ready for prime time.

My good friend Arc says he is a wind turbine engineer. Nice job. I like wind turbines. They are one of the most mature technologies for renewable/alternate energy around. Unfortunately, they have two shortcomings:

1) Mostly, they are not good for providing base energy as the wind does not always blow the same when you need it and 2) They are not that reliable as yet.

I tried to indicate that alternate energy would come into its own sometime later this century. Wind power is a good example. There is already work underway to make wind turbines more reliable, going to direct drive and avoiding those pesky, difficult to maintain gearboxes. Yes, Big Oil will suffer at not being able to sell lubricants to the wind turbines anymore (with direct drive) but I, for one, aplaud the idea as the gearbox is the weakest link in a power system comprising wind turbines.

And, I have to say, wind power is also attacked by the green movement. Migrating birds are killed by the spinning blades and pressure differentials between one side of the turbine and the other kills bats. I sympathize with the birds and the bats but I also believe that good locations can be found for those needed wind farms where they will make the least damage to the flying fauna.

Not that all of them will be spared. But you have to give some to get some, right? Which, would bring me back to the gold mine...

So, friend Arc. we do not disagree at all. We are in violent agreement. But it is all a matter of balancing the pros and the cons and coming up with the best solution for all - marine mammals, flying fauna and those insipid two-legged land dwellers that tree-huggers don't seem to consider worthy of conservation.

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The end of an era (for me...)

This is me, about 20 years ago, a talk to customers. My bosses, in the background, watching...

Yesterday, after 20.6 years of working with Big Oil, my employment came to an end.

20.6 years is a lot. I always ask my kids if they remember seeing me working for another employer. Your personality becomes entangled with the company's and friends and family think of you when they see the company logo and viceversa... sometimes I think I have a star already engraved on my forehead!

I remember 20-something years when I was in need of a job and looked in many places... the story itself of how I began working with Big Oil is interesting. But in that time, with my youth ideals still fresh I used to think I would not work with the brewery or the distillery - I do not agree with the excess in drinking that these companies seem to promote. I didn't want to work for Big Tobacco either, even though they called... I think it is inmoral to help produce a product that causes disease and death. But Big Oil, even though twenty years ago did not have the greenest image did not look bad to me. Besides, I always sold lubricants, even then. No one seems to notice but, who can live without lubricants? (Even reproduction would be difficult...)

Anyway, Big Oil hired me at the toughest time in my life, recently married and with a child on the way. Watching shop windows full of baby clothes and stuff I could not buy. And, in time, it gave me enough to raise and educate my children, feed and clothe them, a good life - all these, things for which I am very grateful.

Besides, Big Oil gave me the opportunity to learn to manage a business with other people's money. I made mistakes that cost the company mone. They told me "don't do it again" and I moved on. I learned so many things... I don't think many people (certainly no more than 10) in Guatemala know so much about lubricants as I do. And I met many important poeple, some of which are now offering me employment... And I knew so many places, in Guatemala and elsewhere in the world, that I would have never visited if it were not for the job. All of which has enriched my life in a wonderful way.

I cannot neglect mentioning also the opportunity to work with so many talented colleagues and some extraordinary bosses ( I always think of Ralph when I think of good bosses). Many friends, many colleagues, many customers and acquaintances, relationships that I hope will be able to continue even though I am no longer with the company.

A great experience. I would not change those 20.6 years for anything. And I defend Big Oil. It is true that BP has messed with the industry's image with this big screw-up in the Gulf but the industry, generally speaking, is not irresponsible, in spite of how much the tree-huggers may crow.

And there is much to say about our dependence from oil. A few weeks ago, a local columnist was making an apology of alternative energy. Everything fine and dandy except it does not work. Yet. The cheapest source of energy available to us at the moment is oil and that will not change in the next 20 years. Maybe in 50.

In the meantime, all the best successes to my friends and colleagues working for Big Oil. And to Big Oil, as well, because success for the companies carries with it success for their employees.

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