Envisioning Energy Futures in the Oil Industry: Avoidance, Persistence, and Resilience As Responses to Climate Change and the Low-Carbon Transition

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Mark STODDART, Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NF, Canada
Patrick MCCURDY, University of Ottawa, Canada
Cory COLLINS, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada
The oil industry is implicated in driving climate change and has consequently been targeted by social movements worldwide. This paper asks: How does the oil industry envision social futures related to climate change and low-carbon transition within the "empowered spaces" of key oil industry events, which serve as spaces for industry members to deliberate with each other? Taking an event ethnography approach, we analyse the 2016 and 2017 North and Labrador Offshore Oil & Gas Industries Association conference (St. John’s, Canada), the 2016 Offshore North Seas conference (Stavanger, Norway), and an Oil & Gas UK event launching their Business Outlook 2017 report (Aberdeen, Scotland). The sector does not present a unified vision of social futures related to climate change and low-carbon transition. Instead, there are three heterogeneous strategies for envisioning social futures: 1) avoidance, wherein future scenarios related to climate change and low-carbon transition get limited attention; 2) persistence, wherein the focus is on adaptive strategies to remain competitive in the future social-political-technological landscapes of a carbon-constrained world; and 3) resilience, wherein the low-carbon transition is accepted and the sector needs to substantially re-envision itself to remain relevant in this emerging reality. The third of these strategies is particularly surprising, as it involves raising important questions about the identity of the oil sector as part of social futures. For a subset of participants in these empowered spaces, being part of the oil sector means having a positive stance towards a renewable energy and low-carbon transition. Furthermore, the 2015 Paris climate change agreement was a critical event that provoked some actors to envision new social futures, though this is most visible in Norway case. Similarly, an ecological modernization discourse is prevalent in the Norwegian case as part of envisioning social futures. However, this is a form ecological modernization without environmental movements.