Sometimes, industries die.
Like cherished pets, faltering relationships and bad jokes, entire sections of the economy and their associated ways of life can occasionally just give up the ghost.
It's sad, at times heart-breakingly so, but it is a fact of economic life as old as civilisation itself - there isn't much work for cave wall painters anymore.
Two events this week put me in mind of this sad reality. The first was the news that the US fossil fuels industry is outspending green campaigners by "10 to one" as it becomes increasingly desperate in its attempts to block US climate change legislation. And the second, somewhat bizarrely, was a trip to my local theatre to see a revival of Michael Frayn's 1970's comedy Alphabetical Order.
Characterised by a particularly English mix of comedy, pathos and unrequited love, the play is set in the cuttings library of an unnamed provincial newspaper. Consequently, the most remarkable aspect of the performance is the sense that you are watching a world that in less than 30 years has simply disappeared from the face of the Earth.
At a time when the outlook for local newspapers has never looked more ominous, it is strange to remember that once, not so long ago, every newspaper had a comprehensive library and employed librarians to manage them. A sizable chunk of a global media industry was killed at a stroke with the advent of Google, and one of the many interesting components of Frayn's play is his accurate prediction of its slow decline and eventual demise.
I doubt he took pleasure in being proved right. There is nothing particularly edifying about watching the slow death of an industry. The biggest emotional punch of the play (and if you can spoil the ending of a 30 year old play, this is a spoiler alert) is reserved for the announcement that the paper is to close. Whenever industries become outdated, people lose jobs, communities are damaged; some take decades to recover, others fall into permanent decline. It is undoubtedly tragic, but that will never stop it happening.
Which brings us neatly to the fossil fuel industry's increasingly desperate attempts to head off climate legislation in the US.
You can't really blame them, when you consider how many livelihoods are on the line, but at the same time the whole exercise is a Canute-like denial of their inevitable decline.
The simple fact is that if carbon intensive industries accept the scientific realities of global warming (and if they don't can they just come out and say, so that the rest of us know where we stand) then they must also accept that they are doomed in their current form. They might give birth to cleaner offspring before they expire, but they can not expect to survive in their current guise.
This is not a particularly pleasant reality for the miners, factory workers and pilots whose jobs are on the line (and I write this as someone who is employed in a publishing industry where there are similarly grave doubts about the viability of current business models), but denying the poor medium to long term prospects for these sectors helps no one.
The best those carbon intensive industries lobbying against carbon legislation can ever hope for is to delay the inevitable for a few more years (perhaps for long enough to ensure that the rest of us are doomed to dangerous levels of climate change). Every dollar they spend on lobbying is a dollar that could and should be spent reinventing themselves to cope in a low carbon economy.
Ultimately, regardless of whether or not they are successful at watering down climate regulations, Darwinian forces will win out and it is those who that can't adapt to cope with global warming who will suffer most.
As the final scene of Alphabetical Order hammers home, the cutting librarians with flexible skills would have survived, while those who failed to adapt would have faced the axe.
It's sad, but any industry that refuses to adapt to the changing realities of a low carbon world is simply storing up a whirlwind of redundancies, bankruptcies and heartache for both its employees and the communities in which it operates. In the long term, even the people who the fossil fuel industries argue they are trying to save from unemployment will have no cause to thank the companies that seek to delay the advent of the low carbon economy.
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