How to Invest in the Next Industrial Revolution

Original post

It has often and rightly been said that you never fully appreciate something until it’s gone.

This is particularly true of energy.

We take it for granted when we flick the light switch that we’ll get illumination. Or that the car will start when we turn the key. Or that the room will get cooler when we crank the air conditioner.

It’s only when those things don’t happen that we’re reminded just how dependent we are on safe, reliable energy.

And if we fail to appreciate energy in our day-to-day lives, we don’t adequately recognize how different life was in the past without it.

Imagine, for example, that the Roman statesman Cicero – from 18 centuries earlier – magically decided to visit Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

What would he do?

He would start by sending Jefferson a letter informing him of his intended visit. (And given the quality of the transatlantic postal service 200 years ago, he might easily arrive before his letter.)

He would then take a horse to a Mediterranean port. He would sail on a wind-driven wooden boat to the United States. He would arrive in Charlottesville on horseback. And he would find Jefferson in a mountaintop home heated by fire and reading at night by candlelight.

In other words, almost two millennia had passed, and yet an aristocrat like Jefferson was living just like the citizens of ancient Rome.

This underscores just how mistaken it is to assume that human history has been one long upward-sloping arc of progress.

It wasn’t. Our lives began to really improve only with the advent of science – and the successful harnessing of energy.

Energy powered the Industrial Revolution. And that has been an unalloyed good for humanity.

It made it possible to feed billions, double life spans, slash extreme poverty, and replace human sweat and misery with machinery.

As societies got richer, life was no longer a struggle for subsistence. People no longer spent their days trying to meet basic needs.

Indeed, energy has played an incalculable role in making us richer, safer, healthier and freer than our ancestors.

The folks who work in the resource sector – and the investors who finance them – make our prosperous lives possible.

That is why energy stocks deserve an important place in your portfolio.

Yes, there is a downside to our prodigious energy use. Fossil fuels create waste. They damage the environment. Carbon emissions get trapped in the atmosphere.

Yet some people don’t see the big picture. And I mean really don’t get it.

  • Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben writes, “We need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.”
  • James Hansen, a prominent climate scientist and adjunct professor at Columbia University, says oil company CEOs should be “tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”
  • And in a New York Times review of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Rob Nixon openly laments that we are unable to bankrupt the major oil companies.

This is not environmentalism. It is mindless anti-corporatism.

How will you drive or fly, heat and cool your home, or operate your smartphone and computer without fossil fuels?

I’m not insensitive to environmentalists’ concerns. I’m an outdoorsman.

I just returned from British Columbia, where I spent several days hiking in the wilderness, awestruck by the beauty and majesty of the natural world that sustains us all.

In another two weeks, I’ll be tramping through the woods around Bend, Oregon, with friends.

I understand that climate change is real and that human carbon emissions play a major role.

Yet the voices of some prominent environmentalists aren’t just shrill. They’re counterproductive.

They don’t understand that it is scientific innovation and capitalism that will ultimately solve our climate problems, not self-righteous finger wagging.

Moreover, investors who take advantage of the latest cutting-edge trends in the energy sector stand to make a great deal of money in the months and years ahead.

In my next column, I’ll explain what some of those opportunities are…

Good investing,

Alex