“When I returned to work this past summer, I felt completely different. The noise at the refinery wasn’t just oil traveling through the pipes, it was the blood of civilization pumping triumphantly. Every day, humans continue to choose fossil fuel energy because it is one of the best forms of energy, and I work at a refinery, helping people to use that energy.”
Here’s the scene.
You’re at a party. You’ve just been introduced to someone and you’re making small talk and exchanging information. Where are you from? What brings you here? Work? What do you do for a living?
Easy questions, right? Not if you work in the oil industry—because you have every reason to expect a negative response when you answer them. You hesitate and shift your weight, preparing for the coming judgment. You answer, “I work at the refinery on the east side of town.”
Your new acquaintance gives you a look that says: You work in the oil industry? You’re part of the problem.
Not wanting to be impolite, he changes the topic rather than voice his disdain for how you have chosen to spend our life. The conversation moves on, but you’re left with a sour taste in your mouth. “Why is everyone always looking down on what I do—and why don’t I speak up and defend myself?”
Here’s what I’ve come to believe over the last year. The reason I didn’t speak up (I do now) is because on some level, I agreed with those who look down on our industry.
I had been educated to believe that this “other person,”—whether it be a peer, a Professor, or a new acquaintance—was correct. Since elementary school, my formal education, like most others’, has taught me that fossil fuels are a dangerous addiction that, while convenient in the short run, are destroying our planet in the long-run.
This “education” was partially countered by my real life experience working as an intern in the industry. My first job was at a refinery in Texas, where I learned about all the incredible products that are derived from oil, from milk cartons to medicine. I gained a lot more appreciation for how integral oil is to our lives.
But I was conflicted, because even though I knew that the oil industry was important, I couldn’t refute the view that it was a dangerous addiction destroying the planet and that it should be replaced by “sustainable” source of energy (such as solar, wind, and biofuels).Neither could most of my co-workers nor even my company. Like just about every oil company, it conceded that we were environmentally bad (What other companies besides oil companies “Corporate Citizenship?”) but promised to be a little less bad: attempting to lower CO2 emissions a little, attempting to mak ourselves less “unsustainable,” etc. Something seemed wrong about all this, but I didn’t know what or why or how to find out.
But then last November, back on campus, I stumbled across a flier for an upcoming debate, “Oil: Dangerous Addiction or Healthy Choice?” I was very familiar with the “dangerous addiction” argument, made by Wisconsin-Madison professor Dr. Dino Ress. But I had never heard the “healthy choice” argument, made by Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress.
Epstein explained how we used oil to improve our lives across the board—including by building a far safer, cleaner, and resource-rich environment—that we choose to use because it generates the greatest portable fuel (and synthetic materials) ever devised—and that both the producers and consumers of oil are moral in choosing to improve life this way.
Most important, Epstein explained that, as humans, we should be chiefly concerned about the human environment. The energy we choose to use needs to be evaluated on the basis of improving our environment, not the environment of the prairie chicken.
He stressed that although oil technology, like any technology, has challenges, if we look at the big picture it makes our planet a far, far better place to live for humans—and anyone who truly cares about our environment should appreciate the oil industry.
The debate taught me that the question that had been bothering me for some time—How could an industry so fundamental to improving our environment be “bad”?—was not the right question to ask. The right question to ask, about any industry, is—Does it improve the human environment? And for the oil industry, the answer to that is a resounding “YES.”
Suddenly I saw everything I knew about the industry in a new, clarifying framework—a moral framework that relates everything to the big-picture of human life. This was the day an advocate for theindustry that I worked in, believed in, and finally, fully appreciated.
I wanted more. I consumed all of CIP’s existing material—I read old blog posts, I watched old debates, I listened to CIP’s podcast Power Hour. I also emailed Alex about my studies and he invited me to CIP’s Talent Factory classes, where I started to really expand my understanding by working to create my own content for CIP.
I also started reading the blog MasterResource, another invaluable source on the oil industry–and energy industry in general–with a focus on free-market economics. Such accelerated my education.
When I returned to work this past summer, I felt completely different. The noise at the refinery wasn’t just oil traveling through the pipes, it was the blood of civilization pumping triumphantly.
Every day, humans continue to choose fossil fuel energy because it is one of the best forms of energy, and I work at a refinery, helping people to use that energy.
This is my final year of college. Now, when someone asks me about my future, I proudly state that I am going to be working in the oil industry. When someone makes a comment about how I’ve “sold my soul,” I know how to explain to them that I have, in fact, not “sold my soul” but I am actually very excited to be working in one of the most productive industries “improving my soul” and the planet.
Without the moral case for the oil industry, I would not have been able to do that. And that’s why I was excited to learn, a few weeks ago, that Alex had created a new “Oil Champion Kit” to help anyone become an oil champion as quickly as possible. (You can learn more about it here).
I wish I had been given the information in the Oil Champion Kit my first day at the refinery. I wish all my coworkers—from operators to other engineers to my supervisors—had this information. I hope that someday, it’s taught to every employee at every company. But for now, you can get it for yourself or your co-workers.
I hope my experience inspires others to learn as much as they can about the moral case for our industry. I hope that when I start my full-time position next summer that I am able to take part in a new dialogue on how to spread the moral case for our industry, which will only be possible if hundreds of people take this opportunity to become an Oil Champion. Now, go be the change you want to see—be an Oil Champion!
Erin Connors, a senior in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proudly starts her career in the integrated oil industry next summer.