ExxonMobil would like us not to think about energy. Check their latest commercial.
You don’t need to think about the energy that makes our lives possible. Because we do. We’re ExxonMobil, and powering the world responsibly is our job. Because boiling an egg isn’t as simple as boiling an egg. Life takes energy. Energy lives here.
Re-read “You don’t need to think about the energy that makes our lives possible.” It’s the imperative mood disguised as the declarative—a command wrapped in a soft, paternal, and ominous suggestion.
“Powering the world responsibly is our job.” Our job. Not yours. So stay out of our business.
“Boiling an egg isn’t as simple as boiling an egg.” You’re dependent, and helpless without us.
“Life takes energy.” No energy, no life. So leave us be.
The overall subtext: Relax. You’re off the hook. Energy is just too big, too structural. Leave it to the priesthood. Don’t act against our interests. Because if you do, you might starve.
It’s Mafia phrasing: at once a reassurance and a threat. It makes us an offer we can’t refuse.
It works as rhetoric because it’s grounded in truth. The energy infrastructure we’ve evolved over the past century is in fact necessary to enable the levels of consumption we now enjoy—or as ExxonMobil puts it, “our lives.” (Our very lives!) And it is largely out of sight. It’s inside pipes and wires and behind walls. Energy in our society is as ambient as oxygen. Flip a switch: light. Turn a knob: heat. No thought involved. No effort.
The message is also grounded in fear. Not be able to cook a simple egg?
But we do need to think about energy, and very deliberately. The era of regarding it like the climate is over, because energy is changing the climate. Fossil fuels are an endowment. We can’t continue to use them thoughtlessly, like trust fund brats strip-mining our own future.