Will the Oil Industry collapse?
I’m reading ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond at the minute – the tale of how many civilisations just suddenly disappeared off the map. While the most famous of these was the Easter Islanders, the story of the Greenland Vikings is the one which is most baffling. Surrounded by seas brimful of fish, they persevered with trying to grow enough hay in short summers on fragile meadows to maintain their cattle in barns over the long and increasingly severe winters, until their luck ran out and they simply starved to death, their last meals consisting of garden birds and their pet dogs in a vain attempt to make it through.
I got a real resonance between the blind obstinance of the Vikings and the recent warning from Chatham House Prof Paul Stevens that the International Oil Companies (IOCs) face a stark choice: a managed decline or sudden death. While his paper stretches my grasp of economics to the limit, Prof Stevens’ argument is that the IOCs are clinging to the business models that saw them thrive in the past, but the assumptions that underpin those models are looking incredibly shaky.
The fish in this case are the renewable energies. At the turn of the millennium, BP and Shell invested in renewables and then gradually let them go again, losing lots of talent in the process. Today we get news that Shell is investing in green energy once more, although the amounts are modest.
The Vikings would have survived in Greenland if they had adapted their lifestyle to fishing for their dinner, but they refused. Will the oil companies adapt to the new reality? Or will they cling to what they know, dooming themselves?
Photo: Copyright: Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Norway