- Renewable energy is the future, building more jobs and economic stability.
- Most Democrats and Republicans want climate to be a top government priority.
- Oil company leaders know they’ll benefit from a faster energy transition.
- Katie Mehnert is founder and CEO of ALLY Energy, an online platform for the energy community. Mehnert is a former global director at BP and Shell.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
As soon as President Biden began taking action on the environment, some lawmakers rushed to slam him for allegedly killing jobs in some sort of “war on oil.” They’ve been keeping this up in a steady, misguided drumbeat. This opportunism isn’t just politics as usual. It’s bad for the nation, the economy, and the world.
Biden is not “at war” with the fossil fuel industry. Society is at war with greenhouse gas emissions. And increasingly, the markets are turning against those emissions as well.
Rather than fighting each other, we should all be working together. The crumbling of Texas’ power grid in the recent storm – in which problems plagued all energy sources including coal, natural gas, wind and nuclear – served as a powerful reminder.
In the big picture, jobs in the oil industry have been falling in recent years. Far from being saved, the coal industry has been facing “some of its darkest days, plagued by falling demand, bankruptcies and job losses,” CNN reported.
Meanwhile, renewables are accelerating. Quartz declared 2020 “the year clean energy started to beat big oil,” most notably when wind and solar company NextEra became more valuable than Exxon and Chevron. (As Bloomberg put it, “clean power eclipses oil.”)
I grew up as a second generation leader in oil and gas. I built a career in energy, spending time as a global health safety and environment leader at two oil giants. I have tremendous gratitude for the people who built the carbon infrastructure that has powered the world and delivered a huge number of the products that fill our daily lives. However, I’m also part of the effort to move the world into a new era of renewable energy.
I’m far from alone in this. In fact, you may be surprised by how much company I have. Despite stereotypes about Texas and the energy community wanting to produce and sell as much oil as humanly possible, many of us want to speed up the transition. I see this daily through interactions at ALLY, our digital community for a diverse workforce in all forms of energy.
It shows up in survey data as well. In a poll last year by EY, oil executives named “decarbonization and other changes in response to climate change” one of the trends with the “most positive impact” on their company’s business growth.
While certain politicians fixate on oil, Texas has – perhaps quietly – become the “center of the global corporate renewable energy market,” producing more jobs from renewable sources than from coal. Here in Houston where I live, the city is producing a whopping 92% of its power from wind and solar – one of the highest levels of any city in America.
We also know first-hand some of the drastic effects of climate change. We lived through Hurricane Harvey, a storm experts say was “almost certainly” more devastating because of human-caused warming. My family lost our home and had to be rescued by boat when the Army Corps of Engineers released dams in hopes of preventing even more catastrophic flooding in other parts of the Houston area.
Americans across the political spectrum have made clear that addressing the environment is an essential task of our time. In a Pew survey last year, two-thirds of Americans said the federal government was not doing enough. A recent study by Yale and George Mason University found that most Democrats and Republicans want the climate to be a top government priority.
The writing’s on the wall. It’s time for lawmakers to read it and stop fighting. People want more green energy, which makes President Biden’s plan to make “the largest investment in history in American innovation” and create “10 million clean energy jobs” so promising.
Those jobs won’t be solely in companies that are exclusively focused on renewable energy. They’ll also be in clean energy projects of big oil companies, which are gaining ground in keeping with the companies’ net-zero targets. In fact, some oil giants are converting themselves into green energy stocks.
But there’s a long way to go. Oil companies can and should do more to join the wave of the future. This will require a burst of new talent, with ideas and innovations to speed up the transition. I’ve even recommended that we hire activists like Greta Thunberg to be a part of the energy sector. Bring them on board, so they can leverage their passion to help.
When lawmakers trash environmental activists, they’re not helping the oil and gas community. They’re making it harder for us all to find common ground and make advancements together. As Vincent Saubestre, CEO and President for Total EP Research & Technology USA, said in a recent webinar with me, it’s time to end the “Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker approach.” In fact, he said, “We welcome critical allies that will challenge us to go further.”
It’s time for an all-on-one-team mentality. The people, the markets and the new administration are all pushing in the same direction. Let’s get constructive and cooperate to drive an energy revolution. Our children are counting on us.
Katie Mehnert is CEO of ALLY Energy and Ambassador to the US Department of Energy’s Equity in Energy program. She is author of Grow with the Flow: Embrace Difference, Overcome Fear, and Progress with Purpose.