A tipping point: what does climate action look like?

climate change activists

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We’re at a tipping point

This piece was originally printed in the January 2020 edition of Tank Storage Magazine.

Now is the time when the fight against climate change must transform from talk to action. The need to transition from one to the other generally becomes apparent when the talk — already so tired, already so played-out — takes on a renewed spirit of starkness and urgency.

For me, that happened this past March, at the IHSMarkit CERAWeek conference. A former boss of mine, BP CEO Bob Dudley, said, “We are operating in a world that is not on a sustainable path.”

Dudley’s not an outlier; 93% of his peers are wholly convinced that climate change is real. 

The difficult question remains: What does climate action look like?

For Pink Petro, achieving progress in the fight against climate is one and the same as achieving equality within the entire energy sector. I argue that equality is the answer to our environment and the new economy.  Every study says something different, but we do know the energy workforce consists of only 15-to-18% women (compared to the overall workforce, wherein 47% of the jobs are held by women). Meanwhile, on energy boards, only 14% of the seats are held by women — a 100% increase over what it was in 2009, but still in need of improvement. Kassia Yanosek with McKinsey & Co recently provided a framework for action, a position Pink Petro has been advocating since 2015.

In and of itself, these imbalances are a tough knot to untie, but untying it becomes harder still when we link gender equality to actually healing the planet.

But essentially, climate change and gender equality constitute a circular economy.

On a fundamental level, climate change is wrapped up in matters of social justice. Access to energy is directly linked to wealth and health. In the past century, our industry has lifted nations out of poverty, while still a staggering 750 million are without reliable affordable energy. That in mind, we cannot conscientiously tackle the transition to sustainable energy without including society at the table. Trippy as it may sound, energy needs society and society needs energy.

On a practical level, we need to ensure more diversity-minded hiring in our business, and that isn’t just about “pink” — it’s about the entire rainbow. We also need diversity of thought and wholesale inclusion to fuel action going forward.

On an individual level, we need to see ourselves with clarity and make more conscious choices about our energy footprint, the better to lead others forward. The oil and gas industry is producing oil and gas leveraging alternative fuels in operations. We, as leaders in industry, also need to walk the walk at home and in our life. Little-yet-visible acts all add up. 

The good news

Some pockets of the energy sector are ahead of the curve. In natural gas electricity generation and nuclear generation, about 40% of those employed are women And as those in these areas are learning firsthand, greater gender equality not only serves the interests of justice, it also breeds innovation and brings about economic benefits. A recent PESA study showed that companies with at least 30% of their leadership positions occupied by women see greater net margins (6%, and that hiring more women to fill executive roles yields greater shareholder returns (34%).

Last February, I testified before Congress on the Energy Workforce of the Future. I explained that we as an entire sector, not just oil and gas, need to be welcoming in more women, more young people, and more people from other underrepresented communities to the table. 

We need all forms of people and energy to power our planet forward.

Feature image credit: Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com from Pexels