"How to Blow Up a Pipeline" Movie Oblivious to Energy Realities of Today

Why How to Blow Up a Pipeline Gets a Failing Grade

If we literally removed the word "pipeline" in this movie's title and replaced it with anything else – skyscraper, hospital, house, mall, university, train, etc. – it probably would not have debuted at the Toronto Film Festival or made its way to theatres across North America.

It's not hard to see why.

But because "How to Blow Up a Pipeline" has to do with destroying fossil fuel infrastructure, it somehow was screened everywhere.

This begs us to ask important questions:

> Are some of us really so oblivious to what cheap, reliable and abundant energy has afforded us in places like Canada, Europe, and the United States? Movies like this make it seem so.

> What countries' interests are served best by giving movies like this centre stage? Because it sure isn't the democracies that we Westerners call home.

At the very least, this movie should have a disclaimer at its beginning letting viewers know that 80 per cent of the world's current energy needs come from oil and natural gas [5], which is transported by pipelines of one sort or another during various stages of extraction, production and consumption.

This disclaimer should then be followed by a 10-minute explainer on why global oil and natural gas demand is still growing to new record highs for years to come and why it is so difficult for modern-day society to switch away from these energy sources to renewables.

global oil demand projections from 2010 to 2050 - WEO 2022

No, seriously. Everyone who chooses to watch this movie needs to know the truth. Perhaps then they could piece together the consequences of blowing up the very infrastructure that plays an integral role in heating our homes, powering our hospitals, fueling our industry, etc.--- the list goes on.

"How to Blow Up a Pipeline," adapted by Daniel Goldhaber, Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol from the political manifesto by Swedish climate activist Andre Malm, sees a diverse group of young American climate activists successfully execute plans to blow up an oil pipeline in Texas [1].

Malm's original book with the same name as the movie argues that peaceful protests cannot achieve the necessary action to save humanity from climate change [2]. Instead, Malm suggests that a widespread campaign to destroy oil and natural gas infrastructure is the only way to save our species from imminent demise [2].

Ironically, Malm has said that the intention behind the book or movie is not wanting to see people go out and blow up a pipeline, but rather "…spur a conversation and make people reflect on what situation we're finding ourselves in and what kind of actions we need to undertake to deal with it," according to reporting by the Los Angeles Times [1].

Say what? The movie's title reads like a YouTube explainer video, does it not?

But breaking the law – and potentially wasting years of your life in jail as a consequence – is not the best way to try and convince others of your cause. Moreover, destroying pipelines as they do in this movie will not make the average person want to do more to fight climate change, especially when the cost of living would presumably skyrocket due to the energy shortages that would ensue.

Cutting off our cheap, reliable and abundant energy would likely have the opposite effect.

Just look at the sky-high inflation rates related to the sky-high energy prices we've seen in Europe, North America and other parts of the world over the past few years where life became unaffordable for millions of people, and still is today. A big part of that was the stoppage to flows of oil and natural gas to Europe through pipelines.

Have we not learned anything from recent global events? When energy is in short supply, it gets expensive – and drives up the cost of just about everything else because energy is used in all aspects of modern society, from transporting our goods to growing our crops to manufacturing our tech.

global natural gas demand projections from 2010 to 2050 - WEO 2022

And, if we can't get the oil and natural gas we need from domestic sources, then we risk jeopardizing our own energy security by having to rely on imports from less responsible producer countries abroad.

That just doesn't make any sense.

Instead, like Malm suggests, how about we "...…spur a conversation and make people reflect on what situation we're finding ourselves in…" and have honest discussions about the global energy realities of today. A good starting point would be talking about how we can simultaneously balance climate action and energy security policies. Additionally, we must acknowledge that we can only focus on the environment because of the plentiful and affordable energy we have – namely, oil and natural gas.

Most, if not all Western nations have abundant energy resources which have enabled them to accumulate immense economic wealth and power through industrial development and the use of machine labour. This prosperity has allowed countries like Canada and the U.S. to invest in new technology and innovation that assist in reducing the environmental footprints of various sectors such as energy, manufacturing, transportation, etc.

> Renewables like wind and solar, for example, allow us to generate electricity to power our homes and businesses with little to no direct emissions

> Carbon capture, utilization and storage provides us with the ability to abate fossil fuel emissions and store these greenhouse gases underground

> New materials allow us to better equip our homes and businesses, improving the energy efficiency of our buildings

Would we have developed any of these technologies and the countless others like them if we still spent our entire days collecting food and water for nourishment – like hundreds of millions, if not billions of people still do around the world? Did you know that:

> There are still 940 million people globally - or about 13% of the world - who do not have access to electricity [3]

> 3 billion people, or 40% of the world still do not have access to clean fuels for cooking [3]

> About 719 million people, or 9.2% of the world lives in extreme poverty on less than USD $2.15 a day [4]

Do these poor, energy-impoverished people have the opportunity to become educated to a level where they can partake in discovering the technologies and innovations of tomorrow?

Most likely not. And it's a shame.

global energy supply projections from 2010 to 2050 - WEO 2022

While some of the billions of poor people globally benefit from the productivity of first-world countries - i.e. charitable help with clothing, food, water, medical care, etc. - there is no substitute for actually empowering these people with the gift of fossil fuels and the benefits that come with.

Anti-oil and natural gas activists in the West want to dismantle the systems that have afforded us immense wealth, a tremendously high standard of living and quality of life, and the ability to develop and invest in the environmentally-friendly technologies of tomorrow. Meanwhile, emerging market economies just want what we have – access to abundant energy.

We don't have to choose between supporting oil and natural gas or renewables. We can do both, and will have to, given how much global energy demand is expected to grow over the next several years -- unless we want to accept and live with the severe and unintended consequences of energy shortages.

Instead of making movies that show us how to blow up pipelines, we should rather focus on providing the entire world with access to cheap, reliable and abundant energy that could improve the quality of life for billions of people around the globe. Doing so could be a new dawn for the human race by providing people from all corners of the earth with improved opportunities to nourish themselves, better protection from nature, and the chance to attain economic fulfillment.

Perhaps then these poor people will finally have the chance to stop labouring all day for food, water and shelter and instead join our brightest minds in helping develop the sustainable technologies of tomorrow required for a net zero world.

Now wouldn't that be something?


1 - Neon buys environmental thriller 'How to Blow Up a Pipeline'. (2023, April 7). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May, from https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2023-04-07/how-to-blow-up-a-pipeline-neon-climate-change

2 - Calgary Herald. (2023, April 17). How to Blow Up a Pipeline film’s reprehensible attempt to mainstream terrorism. Retrieved May, 2023, from https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/how-to-blow-up-a-pipeline-films-reprehensible-attempt-to-mainstream-terrorism/wcm/4c77d702-466a-4a38-aed7-923b90a16dbe

3 - Our World in Data (2020). Energy access [Webpage]. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/energy-access (Accessed May, 2023)

4 -Poverty Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved May, 2023, from https://www.worldvision.org/sponsorship-news-stories/global-poverty-facts#how-many

5 - International Energy Agency. (2022). World Energy Outlook 2022. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2022