That’s the question Sabrina Burns, a petroleum engineering student got from an Uber driver in 2018. She and some fellow students were headed to a petroleum industry banquet, and at the time it seemed a little silly. While many younger people questioned the wisdom of going into the oil industry, conventional wisdom held that the oil industry is a great career.
While students in other majors and other people she knew questioned the wisdom of being an oil major, her parents persuaded her to stick with the oil industry. Her father, who worked as a helicopter pilot, met a lot of successful women working as engineers on offshore oil rigs. On top of that, older generations probably have a harder time imagining a world in which the oil industry isn’t stable, lucrative, and essential to everyone’s lives.
2020 threw these older generations and any younger believers a curveball, though. “We got a slap in the face, an entirely unforeseen situation that rocked our entire mind-set,” said Ms. Burns when asked about her prospects by Clifford Krauss at The New York Times. “I have applied for every oil and gas position I’ve seen, like all my classmates, and nothing really has turned up. I’m discouraged.”
What was once seemingly invincible was now stumbling and couldn’t be counted on.
The biggest blow to graduating oil students was the sudden drop in oil demand due to the pandemic. Oil products like gasoline and jet fuel weren’t needed nearly as much because people worked from home, many businesses were closed, and travel was avoided. With all of this lost demand despite ample supplies, prices tanked.
With such low demand and low prices, the industry took a big hit. Over 100,000 people were laid off. Workers weren’t needed in the field to pump oil that wasn’t needed, and refineries were closed. Some oil companies even declared bankruptcy.
This stands in stark contrast to the better years, when these students started their college careers. The oil industry and the faculties of colleges felt they could promise great careers, with lots of job security and a good income. Under Donald Trump, shale drilling and “fracking” took off, and the United States became the world’s largest producer of oil. There had been booms and busts in the industry in the past, but those seemed to affect less educated field workers, and not people with engineering or geology degrees.
With these prospects gone, and future climate change issues seeming likely to hurt the industry even after the pandemic is over, oil students are looking at other options going forward. Sabrina Burns told The New York Times that she’s looking to intern in a related but different field, and that she may need to go back to school for a graduate degree in Environmental Science to have a better career. She is even considering moving in with family to make ends meet while recharting a new course for her career.
In the same article, Krauss goes on to interview a number of other students in the industry. Their stories are all pretty similar. Some expect the industry to bounce back, and are biding their time. Others are looking to take on a graduate degree while waiting, but are hedging their bets by majoring in something else for their master’s degrees.
One student actually landed a job, but the company is looking at diversifying to avoid future exposure to what could be a failing industry in future years. He is glad to have found a job, but worries that his education and skills he’s building won’t transfer well to other parts of the energy economy.
Some Things We Can Learn Here
Readers of CleanTechnica are probably having an “I told you so” moment reading this. People following the energy industry could see that renewables, battery storage, and other technologies aren’t competing with oil just yet, but have a much brighter future than oil, which isn’t growing. Oil is still big, though, and has a lot of inertia, so it’s not going away now or even in the next four years under Biden and then likely Harris.
What many (even among us) didn’t foresee was how oil’s newfound weakness would leave it more vulnerable to crises, like the one we currently face with COVID-19. Oil is weakening and growth has less potential than ever, but at the same time it wasn’t shrinking. A sudden jolt in demand for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel hit them hard, though.
Few people fully avoided the impacts of the tsunami of COVID, but electricity is a lot more diversified. In my home, we use electricity for heating, cooling, and most of our driving. We use it for lighting, entertainment, cooking, and security. The cats and dog even have toys powered by electricity. When we turn on the tap, electric pumps somewhere else in town provide the pressure. LED street lamps light the street in front of our home.
Sure, I drive a lot less now not taking the kids to school, but our overall power bill didn’t take a huge drop.
On the other hand, our use of gasoline took a HUGE hit. In the last nine months, we’ve spent far less than $200 on the stuff. The occasional trip to the next town makes our Nissan LEAF struggle for range, and we’ve driven there on gasoline power only twice. The prior year, we probably did this dozens of times. Trips to see family, where we need to pile the whole family into the family SUV, are also a lot more rare. A tank of gas used to last one to two months in those vehicles, but now last three to four, if not more.
We don’t use gasoline for anything else, so oil companies are taking a much bigger hit than companies involved in electricity generation, whether they’re renewable or fossil fuel-powered. Even when fossil fuels are used to generate, very few power stations run on oil. Natural gas is far more common, and comes from a related but different industry than oil.
Another important lesson we can find here is that it’s wise to question the prevailing narrative. Yes, oil has been very strong in the past, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be strong in the future. No industry is a sure bet, but this was an area where generational bias caused parents to mislead their children into a bad career move.
This is no trivial thing. Most of the students will go on to find another career, and some will eventually succeed in oil as the pandemic ends. However, they’ll still have tens of thousands of dollars of debt that they wouldn’t have had, and a harder time servicing that debt than they would have had if their parents had been more forward looking.
Oil is Not Invincible
On the other hand, there’s a silver lining. Seeing oil stumble shows us that it’s not invincible. As Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 says, “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”
If you don’t remember the film, Iron Man (a character partially modeled after Elon Musk) is at the top of the world and the top of his game, giving global leaders security with his unique Iron Man suit. He seemed invincible until someone with his father’s arc reactor technology attacks him, only narrowly losing the fight. Once he didn’t seem invincible, a variety of enemies emerged, including business competitors and government officials who wanted to take him down when he seemed weak.
A similar moment is happening with oil. It seemed like a god, but now it’s a god that failed. Its blood is in the water, and the sharks are definitely circling. It might sound too dramatic to use the imagery of sharks here, but imagine being a student $50,000 in debt with no job prospects. The fear is quite real for some.
Don’t assume that oil is some Goliath that can’t be beat. All it took was a rock in just the right place (COVID-19) to bring him down.
Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba
Do you think I’ve been helpful in your understanding of Tesla, clean energy, etc? Feel free to use my Tesla referral code to get yourself (and me) some small perks and discounts on their cars and solar products. https://www.tesla.com/referral/jennifer90562
A piece of News by Priya Shah come to add to the diverse and countless woes of the MENA region. The social media buzz reflecting the general sentiment that Government Corruption Leads to Youth Unemployment is more than skin deep. It is believed that the new vaccine might eradicate the pandemic and all fossil fuels usage but not cure the peculiar condition of most with prospects of lower quality life.
The MENA region where the UAE rated the least corrupt country, per Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 2019 happen to be the least populated areas where Government Corruption appears because of local Youth low levels of Unemployment.
However, in the same region, North African tend to be in the middle of the table with Morocco’s neighbours not precisely to be in a better situation with all current socio-economic upheavals mainly resulting through a generally spread corrupt system of governance.
Algeria and Egypt being notoriously at a much higher level, with Tunisia having the lowest level of corruption could be classed as the most socially street noisy that currently were joined by Iraq and Lebanon. Syria followed by Yemen score worse with significant decliners in corruption diversity.
In the Middle East, Government Corruption Leads to Youth Unemployment
The Middle East boasts one of the largest youth populations in the world. However, corruption and conflict, often instigated by Iran’s influence, have caused economic decline and rampant unemployment. Indeed, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded these problems. Since late 2019, anti-government protests have swept across Middle Eastern nations such as Iraq and Lebanon, seeking to eradicate their corrupt leaders and give rise to a new era of progress and prosperity in the region. However, for this to happen, these conflict-ridden nations must escape from Iran’s expansive influence and invest in economic and social development.
Corruption isn’t a new phenomenon in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon in Iraq, but the rise in anti-government sentiments shows that people have grown weary with their corrupt leaders. Indeed, the struggle to overcome their corrupt institutions and their legacies is proving to be a difficult task. According to Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for the Middle East and North Africa, the Lebanese people demonstrated the highest perceptions and experiences of corruption out of the six countries evaluated. 89% of these individuals reported that corruption in government was particularly an issue in the country, and 68% believed that most or all government officials were involved in corrupt practices in some way. It is, therefore, no surprise that Lebanon scored a mere 28 out of 100 in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, which assesses public sector corruption. Evidently, political corruption has gradually undermined citizens’ faith in the government, eroding the notion of administrative legitimacy.
Similarly, a comprehensive opinion poll conducted in 2019 found that 82% of Iraqis were concerned or very concerned about the role corruption played at the highest levels of government, and 83% believed that corruption in the country was worsening. While both Iraq and Lebanon have survived numerous conflicts over the years, corruption remains the primary threat to prosperity and stability in the nation.
Both Lebanon and Iraq have been the subject of violent conflicts and Iran’s meddling, exacerbating their stability. Over the past few decades, Iran has sought to expand its influence in the Middle East by embedding itself in domestic affairs, often through the use of proxies. To gain greater control, it utilizes corruption to establish an incentive for those in positions of power to follow the regime’s orders. This has proven beneficial for those in positions of power while leaving ordinary citizens behind. Today, the Ayatollahs have managed to establish a strong foothold of influence in nations like Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, yielding greater instability throughout the already vulnerable region.
In Lebanon, Iran has established deep roots in the country’s political system through its proxy Hezbollah, a Shiite political party and military group that has been a significant facet of the Lebanese government since 1992. While Hezbollah remains a major fixture of the Lebanese political system today, its actions prove damaging to the country’s economy. The terrorist organization has adopted many of Tehran’s geopolitical policies, leaving the Lebanese suffering under the numerous sanction regimes, which have ruined the country’s already shaky economy.
In Iraq, Iran saw the apex of the Islamic State insurgency as a prime opportunity to insert itself into the country’s domestic affairs. By aligning itself with Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shia paramilitary organization that forms the backbone of the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), it has been able to obtain significant control over Iraq’s political, cultural, and economic life. The Iranian regime has also been able to embed corrupt Iranian intelligence officers in cabinet and military level leadership positions in Iraq. Today, Kataib Hezbollah has been able to establish a sub-state in the country, which undermines the legitimacy of the legitimate state to advance Iranian interests and encourage corruption.
If Lebanon and Iraq maintain corrupt regimes and systems, they will not be able to rebuild their economies and offer valuable growth opportunities for their citizens. Indeed, corruption is a major obstacle to achieving economic growth and development. Corrupt regimes and practices negatively impact areas of commerce, the public sector, and daily life including investment protocols, taxation, public expenditure operations, access to and the quality of health and education services and human capital development and retention. This illicit activity also impacts the employment opportunities that are available to a country’s youth, who are usually the backbone of the workforce. Favoritism and bribes often form the pillar of recruitment processes rather than an equitable evaluation of skill sets. For a government to effectively undo the legacies of corruption, it must invest in social and economic development programs that emphasize education in important areas such as digital skills and English language skills. Without these qualifications, a labor force cannot be competitive in the global economic market.
Corruption remains rife in Lebanon and Iraq and it is time to usher in a new era, one that is free from corrupt regimes and their legacies. However, for these renewal efforts to be successful, both Lebanon and Iraq must work to eradicate Iran’s corrupt influence. The people need leaders who invest in the growth of their citizens and who will establish critical social and economic development programs, rather than advancing their own interests.
The Mediterranean region: America’s presence is fading, while China is investing heavily in the region (Photo above: Flavius Belisarius) with at its southeastern shore Lebanon: Time for a regional EU strategy.
The focus at the moment is – quite correctly – on urgent assistance to help the people of Lebanon. The EU is also right to highlight the need for structural reforms and anti-corruption measures in the country.
But more, much more, is needed – and not just in Lebanon. Even before he rushed to Beirut following the devastating explosion, French President Emmanuel Macron had called for a stronger EU role in the Mediterranean, insisting that “Many crisis factors are coming together there: maritime disputes, destabilisation of Libya, migration, trafficking of arms and people, access to resources.”
A “real” European policy for the Mediterranean was an urgent necessity to resist the growing influence of other powers, Macron said, pointing to the high-stakes geopolitical game – involving Russia, Turkey, as well as Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia – being played out in the region.
America’s presence is fading, while China is investing heavily in the region. The EU has been sidelined in its attempts to untangle the web of confrontation and violence in Syria and Libya.
The need for a strategic rethink of the EU’s out-dated and under-performing trade and aid-focused “neighbourhood policy” is truly urgent.
Years of development assistance and piecemeal trade benefits have done little to bring economic and political stability, security or peace to the region. The impact of COVID-19 and climate change are set to make an already-difficult economic environment even more precarious.
Viewing the Mediterranean solely through the distorted migration and security prism has led to an emphasis on restrictive border measures and controversial deals with Turkey and Libya.
But migration flows from the region are likely to continue. More favourable conditions at sea as well as the deteriorating situation in Libya have led to an increase in the number of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
Life for the 1.6 million Syrian refugees sheltering in Lebanon is also expected to become harder in the wake of the explosion.
The short-term focus on building ever more migration barriers has blinded the EU to the Mediterranean’s economic potential and geopolitical importance.
But if Europe is to succeed in its Green Deal and the new One Africa strategy it must first bolster its southern neighborhood.
A revamp of Europe’s policies towards the Mediterranean must not be about re-engineering outdated perceptions, practices and policies.
Instead, the EU must think more long-term, focus on empowering women and, despite the challenges, create the conditions for real region-wide economic transformation.
First, this requires that EU works with governments and business leaders in the Mediterranean to invest in the power of regional trade and value chains.
China has its ASEAN markets embedded in its value chain and North America has Central and South America. The EU should be similarly co-producing in the Mediterranean.
If calculated to include the area from Spain to Cyprus, the Balkan rim of the Mediterranean, Turkey, and so-called MENA countries, (Middle East and North African) the region counts 500 million people who produce 10 percent of global GDP.
At the moment, global trade flows through the region with little national or regional impact and only a quarter of the trade is intra – regional.
Given the post-pandemic discussion on the need for proximity to value chains and production capacity, the EU should use the opportunity to build sustainable value chains in its Mediterranean rim with a focus on up-skilling and good governance.
Second, more attention must be paid to empowering women in the labour force.
Although most countries have made progress in girls’ enrollment in primary education, some of the world’s worst performers in women’s employment are in the region.
For example only 11 percent of women in Algeria and 24 percent in Morocco and Tunisia are in the work force, compared with a global average of 45.6 percent.
The poor performance can be attributed to lack of proper data collection in capturing women’s contribution in the economy – formal or informal – or because existing legal codes, and social services prevent women’s access to decent income and social safety nets including pensions.
In any case, it is a serious obstacle in achieving much-needed sustainable development, economic growth and equal rights.
Third, the EU and Mediterranean states must step up their cooperation to fight climate change.
With oil and oil products currently the main exported and imported items trading across the region, both Europe and Mediterranean countries need to reflect on what this means for the EU’s Green Deal and their climate change commitments.
Questions to be considered include just how capital is allocated for investments in the production and distribution of renewables.
European financial institutions in the region like the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development must work harder with national agencies and governments to ensure there is a significant reallocation of capital and skills from fossil fuel dependent economic models to a new modeling based on the EU Green Deal.
Finally, EU attempts to redefine its interaction with Africa by pulling the different regions into one and focusing on relations with the African Union, should go hand in hand with equally strong relations with the continent’s regions, including the Mediterranean.
This is critical given that culture, resources and priorities differ across regions. EU relations with the Mediterranean states therefore should not be sidelined in the pursuit of a policy focused on “One Africa”.
Past EU actions in the Mediterranean have under-performed for a variety of reasons. It is now time to change course.
The tragedy in Lebanon, conflicts in Libya and Syria and the region’s worsening economic situation should spur a serious EU reflection on crafting a strategic new “neighbourhood” policy which recognises the Mediterranean’s economic potential and geopolitical significance.
Shada Islam is an EU commentator who is also founder of New Horizons Project, a consultancy firm. Cleopatra Kitti is founder of The Mediterranean Growth Initiative, an economic think-tank
I love Qatar tells us about how and why Qatar National Library (QNL) hosts discussion on illegal trafficking of manuscripts across MENA region.
Qatar National Library brought together experts from the Arab region to discuss the fight against the illegal trafficking and smuggling of manuscripts heritage items across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Qatar National Library is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Preservation and Conservation Center (PAC) Regional Center for Arab countries in the Middle East, the opening speech at the event was given by Dr. Hamda Al-Sulaiti, Secretary General of the Qatari National Committee for Education, Culture and Science.
Director of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Preservation and Conservation Center (PAC) Regional Center at Qatar National Library, Stephane Ipert, said “Documentary heritage is particularly at risk for trafficking, as its less likely to be protected by national legislation than other artefacts, and is easier to move illegally.
“For several years, trafficking and smuggling of heritage items from libraries and archives have been rising. In the MENA region in particular, this phenomenon is greater due to the number of nations suffering from conflict, upheaval and impoverishment.”
General Director of the National Library of Tunisia Dr. Rajaa Ben Salamah said “Libraries play such important roles in the preservation and restoration of documentary heritage and forgotten treasure. We can help by building a network and raising awareness of the pricelessness and cultural value of artifacts, and making them available to all through digitalization and publishing, as well as preserving the originals.”
General Director of the National Library of Tunisia, and Dr. Alsharqi Dahmali Member of the Advisory Council of the International Council of Museums in Morocco also participated in the event. The event was moderated by Maxim Nasra, Coordinator of IFLA PAC Regional Center at the Library.
As a PAC Regional Center, Qatar National Library aims to create a professional network of collaborative assistance to exchange knowledge and share successful experiences toward the preservation of documentary heritage throughout the region.
Randy Rivera, Executive Director of FinTEx, a member-led community focused on promoting innovation and collaboration within Fintech in Qatar and the MENA region, has said that his organization continues to work with international financial services industry participants.
During a June 23, 2020 virtual panel discussion (hosted by the US-Qatar Business Council) on “Qatar’s Growing Fintech Sector & Business Opportunities,” Rivera stated:
“We [aim to] … match talent with opportunity and what is going on in Qatar fits as an attractive platform not just for the Fintechs involved but for the Qatari market and the Middle East overall.”
“The design of these programs reflects thoughtfulness, broad participation and commitment of the right mix of leaders who can affect change and attract the talent to make that change uniquely impactful, not just to the market, but to the regional fintech community as well.”
Qatar is now a major financial hub in the Middle East. The country’s human development index (HDI) value is around 0.85, which puts it in the “very high” human development (and quality of life) category.
Qatar is ranked at 41 out of 189 countries and territories. Its HDI value has increased from around 0.75 to 0.85 in the past two decades – which indicates that the living standards of its residents may have improved significantly due to its booming economy.
As mentioned in a release shared with CI, Qatar aims to further support and develop a strong business community and a competitive environment that will help local SMEs while also attracting foreign SMEs.
The release revealed:
“Qatar has advanced 18 spots in the national level of entrepreneurial activity, securing the 15th rank globally and the 2nd in the MENA region for the Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) index, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report 2019/2020.”
Amy Nauiokas, founder and CEO at Anthemis, a VC investment platform with over 100 portfolio firms, believes Qatar provides “a promising environment and set of opportunities for Fintech growth.”
Nauiokas, whose company supports an ecosystem of over 10,000 investors, incumbents, and high-potential Fintech firms, globally, stated:
“We look forward to solidifying some key relationships in Qatar as Anthemis further builds our MENA strategy.”
Mohammed Barakat, MD of US Qatar Business Council, who also attended the webinar, said:
“Considering Qatar’s large payment processing and remittance market and its strategy to become a regional gateway for a huge market, I foresee rapid growth in Qatar’s FinTech sector.”
The US-Qatar Business Council aims to support trade and investment between the two nations and to also build strategic business relationships.
As noted in the release, there are over 120 wholly-owned US firms operating in Qatar, and over 700 U.S.-Qatar joint projects currently active in the Middle Eastern nation.
As reported recently, the Qatar Financial Center will launch “Fintech Circle,” a co-workspace for qualifying financial technology firms free of charge for a year.
The United Nations (UN) celebrated on May 10th, 2021, the first edition of the International Day of the Argan Tree, an endemic tree in Morocco.
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