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I’d like to begin my brief remarks with a story about cause and effect... or ripples...
When Communist rule fell in the former Soviet Union, Russian leader Boris Yeltsin was asked what inspired him to lead the change. His answer was Lech Walesa in Poland, a laborer who rose to drive a revolution. When Walesa was asked who had inspired him... he noted that it was the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. And who did Martin Luther King Jr. credit for his inspiration? He pointed to Rosa Parks, a small woman with huge courage... who was determined to make a difference.
Is it too much of a stretch to say that Rosa Parks started the ripples which helped to bring down communism?
The passion to create change and work for good generates ripples
that can only be judged through the span of a life... and the
progress of the years. It is this exciting prospect that you can
make a difference over time... that should fill your world with
enthusiasm. I ask you to begin creating your ripples today...
and to do so with a view formed from your experiences and studies...
and with an appreciation for the increasingly global nature of everything
that touches us.
I spent four years living in London and traveling the world from Asia to Africa to Australia... and I can assure you that my views and the lenses through which I make decisions were forever changed. In this age of instant communication and information flow... and truly global interdependent marketplaces... you will need global knowledge, understanding and perception to appreciate the ripples of future events on a business as well as a personal basis.
Today, for instance, the price of oil... and therefore gas at the pump... as well as nearly every product made or moved, is no longer influenced by the oilfields of Texas, or even solely by the geopolitics of the Middle East. It is the huge new demand coming from China that has fundamentally changed the Global supply and demand balance. The same is true for many other facets of our lives, from the electronics we buy to the call center we dial up. If you were told to go West today you would want you to keep going... until you reached the Far East.
China and other emerging economies are causing ripples that are
dramatically changing our world... and your future.
Let’s focus on energy, which should come as no surprise to you, is my passion. I believe that the career opportunities in the global energy sector are greater than they have ever been, because the world’s need for energy is greater than ever.
When I talk about energy, I will naturally focus on coal. But I will always begin by emphasizing the paramount need for balance. By balance... I mean that we need to ensure the development of sustainable, environmentally friendly, low cost forms of energy of all types... coupled with... promoting energy efficiency and conservation. You must understand... that if we are to keep the lights on at home and provide energy and power for the rest of the world.... we must responsibly develop and utilize all energy fuels. We are paying painfully high prices today for gas and oil because we lost our focus and passion for balance.
As the CEO-elect of the world’s largest coal company, my
personal energy is spent ensuring that America, and the world, establish
the necessary balance.... and have the best possible access
to abundant, low-cost, environmentally friendly energy sources.
Consider that today, 1.6 billion people in developing countries lack access to electricity. Nearly 2.4 billion people rely on primitive biomass fuels for cooking and heating their homes. Expectations are that these numbers will be very similar decades from now... unless we help them to responsibly develop the energy sources necessary to assist them out of poverty. Coal is abundant and low-cost. And its increasing usage is essential to providing an improved standard of living for the people of the world.
China, once again, is the best example of such change. Between 1985 and 2000, China connected more than 700 million people to low-cost... coal-fueled electricity. Today, 98% of its residents have access to power. This has been a major factor in the Chinese economy growing at a stunning 9% per year over the last decade. Time has a way of shifting conventional wisdom... and several decades ago I recall that "Made in China" held a far different meaning than the economic powerhouse that the country represents today.
Nations like China and America are leading the world in economic growth, and coal is powering that journey. World coal demand has grown by 25% in the past three years, while oil, gas, nuclear and renewables have all grown at less than 10%. China and the United States are very similar in our energy resources. We have enormous coal reserves... and very little oil and natural gas.
Over 50% of all the electricity in America comes from power plants using coal...and because the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal, we can continue to generate low-cost electricity from our abundant coal resources for more than 250 years. And America can even turn coal into natural gas and fuel for cars, through what I call "Btu Conversion" technologies. These include coal gasification, coal liquefaction, and ultimately even hydrogen production to power fuel cells.
America’s business leaders and engineers are advancing these technologies every day. And as a result, coal’s environmental profile is good and getting better. In fact, America has tripled the use of coal for electricity generation since 1970, while emissions have been reduced by approximately one-third. And I expect that new technologies will continue to provide environmental improvements as coal use grows. For instance, the planned FutureGen Project, a next generation coal-fueled power plant being jointly developed by government and industry, will generate electricity, produce hydrogen, have near-zero emissions, and even capture and permanently store carbon dioxide.
The field of energy offers a good life lesson as you create your own views of the world. As you observe the media, public debate on climate change lead some to say that fossil fuels... oil, gas and coal are bad... that nuclear is dangerous... that hydropower is past its prime... that renewables aren’t economic. But when people suggest that we can continue to grow and do without any of these energy forms, I would encourage you to use your critical thinking skills to form your own opinions.
As I mentioned, the FutureGen Project is one of many examples of technology creating a path to allow us to meet our energy, environmental and economic objectives. We need to demand balance and develop all forms of energy... and we need all forms of conservation. Then... just maybe... we will have enough power to meet growing global needs.
The successes that have occurred in energy and the environment are the result of ripples started when my generation sat in your chairs years ago. I hope many of you decide to pursue exciting careers in coal and energy. Or, you may decide to latch on to some less-glamorous pursuit, such as technology, research or biotech.
Either way, please understand that the decisions you make... the ripples you create... and the personal energy that you expend, matter greatly. Your actions will decide how the next generation lives... and what messages you are able to send when you someday stand where I am today.
I leave you with a quote from Sir Winston Churchill, who once gave a commencement address not far from here in Central Missouri. He knew full well the importance of acting locally, but viewing life from a global perspective. Churchill was quoted once as saying, "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it." And he did write it... after he helped to create it.
Congratulations to each and every one of you...your graduation today is a major life accomplishment. So go... create history... write history... and return to someday reflect on the ripples of progress and goodness as you move through your career.
I wish you a long life, full of energy... and full of happiness. Thank you very much.