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Originally published in Newsweek.
Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg and other young environmental activists are taking the world by storm. Their efforts are becoming a profound movement. We know this not only because monumental figures including former President Barack Obama are singing their praises. We know this because their message is also hitting home.
My 8-year-old daughter came home from school the other day talking about Greta and the movement. Here in Houston, the energy capital of the world, our children are learning about kids around the world cutting classes and marching to save the earth. It’s powerful.
Having spent 10 years as an executive inside energy companies (at BP and Shell,) I know that many people instinctively think of these companies as antagonists of environmental activists.
But they don’t have to be. It’s time for big oil to embrace activists like Greta and others who are fighting for change. And as surprising as this may sound, I know it’s possible.
First, the stereotypes of oil and gas executives as big bad polluters miss the much more complex, and promising, reality. Ninety-three percent of these executives recognize that climate change is real, EY found in a survey. Most say it must be addressed immediately, and that their companies can and want to be part of the solution.
And just like people everywhere, those running oil and gas companies are living through the perils of climate change. Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. My family lost our home. I also lost my office.
As I work with leaders of virtually all the major energy companies through my organization Pink Petro, we talk frequently about our shared environmental concerns and the need to move more rapidly into new sustainable, affordable sources of energy. We have open conversations about “going green,” and celebrate when companies make big moves in that direction. At our recent annual event, the HERWorld Energy Forum, leaders from across the sector did not shy away from discussing the need to speed up this shift.
At the same time, the energy sector as a whole is struggling with another big problem: a talent shortage. Young, skilled workers are flocking to tech and showing little interest in joining energy companies. So while talk of fracking makes it sound like the oil and gas sector has all the “resources” it needs for the foreseeable future, these companies are worried about a more important resource drying up: the workforce.
As young people speak out about the environment and changing how energy is produced, we should invite them to join our energy companies and help usher in innovation and change. What better way is there to attract great workers and speed up the move into renewable energy than to start hiring them?
Let’s harness the power of diverse millennials and Generation Z by having them help us build solutions. Let’s turn that negative energy into positive energy. Their passion can help fuel change. They can help us create ways to lower carbon emissions while keeping the world running, and extending energy to regions that still lack it.
Recently, I was asked to testify in Congress about “green collar jobs.” I was privileged to be a part of a panel offering our expertise. But I was also concerned that no one from an oil and gas company had been invited. It’s important to make them a part of the conversation. Leaving them out prevents the kind of change we need. The key is to bring all stakeholders together to come up with solutions aimed at a common goal.
For the last couple of years I’ve been fueled by a mantra, which I call “E3/P3.” It stands for “energy, equality and economy for all through people, passion and purpose.” When I discuss it with people in any corner of the energy sector—whether at solar and wind companies or those in traditional fossil fuels — it resonates. All these things transcend politics.
For me, that’s what Greta Thunberg speaks to. “You are stealing our future in front of our very eyes,” she says, a message she recently brought to the UK parliament.
Energy companies should ask her to join them in saving it.
The people who built the energy sector were pioneers. That energy has powered life-saving technologies and inventions. It has fueled America’s rise and has lifted economies around the world. And it continues to power the technology that gives today’s young people their platforms to reach the world with their message.
Now, we need Greta and other difference makers to be pioneers for the new age. To help build a new global phenomenon, Energy 2.0. To help lead humanity’s rise against climate change and into a new era.
I believe that one day Greta, my daughter and I will all work together to tackle this challenge.
Katie Mehnert is CEO of Pink Petro and Experience Energy.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.