… ‘energy transition’ is running neck-and-neck as the phrase most commonly used in discussions involving energy. It’s the subject of great discussion but there’s not a lot of agreement on what it means. Some think the carbon age will be over by 2030; others think it will be a long transition period. The presidential race will focus on climate policy and energy transition.”Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit and author of the upcoming book “The New Map: Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations.”
— Carbon Brief (@CarbonBrief) August 2, 2020
— Professor Peter Strachan (@ProfStrachan) August 1, 2020
It is an unusual experience to read a business book about energy transition that has no data, charts or graphs. But The Investor Visit and Other Stories: Disruption, Denial and Transition in the Energy Business is not your average business book. Canadian economist Peter Tertzakian’s inventive approach to engaging readers about energy disruption and transition over the centuries uses archival accounts of real-world transitions in North America and Europe, brought to life in this book and an interactive online museum of ephemera from our energy history.
At first glance, The Investor Visit looks to be a compilation of 10 distinct stories about individuals whose lives were affected by either prolonged resistance to energy change or the unsettling ethical and human impacts of energy transitions. But it is much more than that. For example, “Nobody Tips a Scandiscope” is not just about atrocious chimney-sweep labour practices in 1850s Britain and the industry’s 75 years of resistance to legislation banning child labour practices. It also offers a tacit reminder that statutory and policy levers do not always bring about intended outcomes, especially when there is no energy alternative and there are few technology solutions to improve it.
In “The Long Road to Saving the Children,” Tertzakian recounts how the practice of using climbing boys would have been replaced by mechanical brushing systems introduced in the early 1800s but other factors conspired to keep the practice alive for another 75 years. The increased use of coal during the industrial revolution and resistance by social groups that enjoyed the slave-master status of owning a “climbing boy” effectively stalled the expected end of child chimney labour. The point Tertzakian is making is relevant today: intended energy transitions can be symbolized by statutes and forward-thinking lawmakers, but the actual practice and inculcation of those changes may face headwinds if multiple and complex conditions exist to delay or prevent change.
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