Calling All Writers
If your craft is words, moving images or art, I have a big (and free) tip just for you. Like all great creative projects, it is also going to be challenging, but with a good chance of changing the way people interpret reality and act upon it. It is also very obvious, but few have tried it so far. Are you ready for this?
Here it is — your next project should be about Energy. and it should portray energy related activities— extraction, generation, consumption — and the people behind it in a positive way. Real simple stuff.
The reason why this is such an obvious idea yet an uncharted territory is quite mysterious. Let’s start by simply observing that it is almost impossible to find a single piece of a positive description of the energy sector in the popular culture. Go ahead, close your eyes and think of one. If the best you can come up with is Homer Simpson in Springfield’s Nuclear Facility, you are not so wrong. But then again is it really ‘positive’? maybe, next to J.R. Ewing (Dallas) or Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood (2007), who are not role models great neither.
You could say that Energy is plain boring and there’s not much to see and talk about it.
But if we follow this argument, it is even more interesting when the energy sector is compared to other large industries. We have now come accustomed on both our silver and home screens to see computer / geek heroes (Steve Jobs, The Social Network); Automotive mavericks (Henry Ford, Lightning McQueen); Aviation innovators ( The Aviator, Wright Brothers). Even the weapons industry sends a new piece (albeit rarely its creators) to almost any new production, from Hollywood to Brazil.
You could argue that there are powerful forces preventing energy from being openly and widely discussed. But the conspiracy theory doesn’t hold up, as other industries mentioned here, seem to have greatly benefited from their high exposure. Even the few examples of films directly dealing with energy issues, like Promised Land (2012) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006) showed us that there is an audience, and even producers willing to invest in creative energy projects. As long as they are grim, of course.
Pushing energy issues aside is not that difficult for most of us. First, we consume energy without seeing it, and in many cases without directly paying for it (we typically pay long after it was consumed). We spend more time on comparing prices on ebay, than we do in understanding how our energy bill is calculated. We want plenty of energy, willing to pay almost any price for it and usually think it is someone else’s problem.
For its part, the energy industry is not doing a lot to make us care more about it. Its generation facilities are usually distant, fortified and emitting toxic fumes we rather not be near. Energy corporations are usually too-big-to- follow, traditional, secretive, greedy and have a direct link to politics, or they are state-run monopolies. Energy extraction takes place in remote, strange and not very liberal countries, or at the bottom of the ocean. The environmental impacts of energy production are better publicly acknowledged, but as long as they are distant in time or place (or both), we seem to be Ok with both.
It seems that energy sector public image can be summed up in the 3Ds — Dirty, Dangerous, Dishonest.
So why this needs to be changed? First, energy is as essential to our lives as cars, planes, computers and guns. Second, energy is controlled by a relatively small number powerful players, of which we know very little about; And finally, the energy sector is changing fast. So fast, that the next two to three decades will determine how we will make and consume energy, and what impacts would it have on our planet.
The timing for your next big novel or production couldn’t be better, too. Last year saw the historic signing of the COP 21 which is the first internationally binding agreement designed to deal with climate change. It was signed by almost 200 nations. Needless to say, this has been achieved without the support of the large creative industries (An Inconvenient Truth, was an anomaly and was designed to be exactly this). But the closing ceremony in Paris forgot to mention is that while the agreement may be internationally binding, it still needs national ratification. Leaving the political negotiation aside for now, even if all countries approve, ratify and implement their commitment (one of history’s biggest Ifs), there is still no assurance this would be enough, as indicated by the International Energy Agency.
The global movement of activists and NGOs have made a huge difference and paved the way, literally stone by stone, to make the COP 21 a reality. Making the world governments good on their word won’t be a walk in the park either and quite easily lose momentum with the emergence of more urgent global and domestic issues like ISIS or more refugees waves (and there’s a good argument to be said about how these are also linked to climate change).
So making the energy a more social and relatable issue is very important.
And why bother making it more positive? It seems that the negative energy fueling the global campaign against Climate Change has run its course. As impressive as it sounds, mobilizing literally the entire international community to sign on a single agreement, probably signifies that is very diluted, full of holes or back routes. It’s probably as good as it could have been, though we cannot be sure that it’s the ultimate solution to prevent a dangerous Climate Change. So all should be on guard here, not just the die-hard activists.
On a more technical level, innovation in energy is highly dependent on big money from governments and large corporations which, for obvious reasons, tend to be pretty conservative. Private investors and venture capitalists love the idea of renewable and clean energy, though to a much lesser degree than investments done in IT, for example. It is probably because that in the implementation and scale-up phases of new energy technologies, these entrepreneurs still need state or large corporate buy-in. Thus, instant multi-billion enterprises cannot be created overnight in the energy sector. So innovation in energy, while it is occurring, is very slow, and falls short of what is happening in other technologically-advanced industries, like cars and IT.
But I think there’s a powerful factor missing here, albeit a more transparent one — energy lacks coolness. It lacks inspiration. It’s not a positive thing to do — unlike driving, flying, coding, shooting a gun or even cooking.
So here’s where your creative skills can finally meet their challenge — can you tell us a story of why and how making energy makes us better, more fun, creative and cool? Choose your medium, your audience, the technology, the heroes, but make it shine, fun and engaging. We know you can do this.