Posts Tagged ‘Anchorage’

The Factory of the Sensible …

Quite some time ago now, Dick Olver, London-based head of global production for British Petroleum (BP), flew to Anchorage, Alaska to promote construction of an Alaska natural gas pipeline to deliver Arctic gas from Alaska’s North Slope of Alaska to markets in mid-continent. After his address, the Anchorage Daily News published a photograph of Olver. The man appears seated at a glass table with his hands reaching forward in a cupped-like manner. He grasps at an imaginary globe. The article headline is, “Global Positioning: North Slope Natural Gas Plays into BP’s Worldwide Plans.”

The last part of the headline — “plays into BP’s worldwide plans” — rhymes with the colloquial expression “plays into one’s hands.” It is a play on words stating that development of Alaska energy reserves is at the manipulative whim of BP.

World in the Palm

The photograph is striking. On the one hand, there is a clear image of Olver’s face and upper body attired in jacket and tie. Olver casts an excited grimacing smile. But in a curious display of editing, the full bottom-half of the photograph depicts the mirror image of Olver as he appears on the glass table, upside down. His head appears in Janus-faced expression and blurred by the reflection. Directly at the center of the photograph are four hands. Two of the hands belong to Olver, while the other two hands are those that appear reflected on the table. In a perversion of appearances, Olver has four hands and twenty fingers.

A glass half-filled with water or depending on perspective, half-empty, stands near Olver’s wrist, beside his gold cufflinks. The mirrored reflection from the table gives the water glass the appearance of an hour-glass. The water appears like the sand of time half-poured out. The news article begins by reminding Alaskans about Olver’s last appearance in Alaska the year before. Then, he was fighting for BP’s takeover of ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company). The merger deal would have placed 70 percent of Alaska oil production under the control of one company.

Images of energy industry speak volumes. But it was at this same time, when the entire energy industry was uncertain with how to deal with uncertainty and risk — price volatility, wars, financial meltdowns.

Cambridge Energy Research Associates or CERA, a leading global energy consulting firm, took the opportunity to deal with these crises by framing their CERAWEEK conference through the visuals of a key symbol — the Chess Game.

One Move at a Time

In fact, not only the energy industry was concerned. Everyone required a new symbol — the same symbol — to deal with the times. Thus, the image of the chess game — this Very image — became a symbol circulating more widely across society. I found the image when I returned to San Francisco, in an advertisement for a symposium for Bay Area managers to learn the challenges of leadership in uncertainty.

Returning from the CERA Week conference in Houston, Texas, and I found this credit card application in my mail.

The two identical images are different. The CERA Week image focuses on strategic energy challenges for a changed world. But you can see in the background of the CERA image — there is clearly, an image of the globe.

Reproducible Images For Risk Management

The emphasis on the chess board, the vulnerable one-move wonder signified by the King, as well as the globe was apparent in other sites at the conference, including on one side of an internet smart card available to CERA conference participants.

The other side of this card has more. Here, the transparent globe has moved from the background to become the central attraction and is resting delicately in the hands of a child. In this image, the globe and strategic energy choices about the world’s future — are imagined as belonging to a next generation of leaders, presumably living in Asia, where strong economic growth is linked to increased energy capture, particularly in China. All of this — symbolized through the physiognomy of a child’s eyes…

A transparent globe cradled in the hands — through which to envision the future — taps also into the symbolism of the crystal ball, the fortune teller and practices of anticipatory knowledge, found during this period in advertisements on global communications.

The idea of hands propping up a transparent globe, returns us to Dick Olver — with his reference to Global Positioning. In this instance, strategic moves and foresight are linked to corporate power– that energy companies like BP literally have the world in the palm of their hands.

Worlds in the Palms of Hands

Contrast the above images to that used to symbolize the nation-state’s relationship to global modernity. In this image, the concept of Government emphasizes a lack of transparency — that is, lacking foresight, as seen in this figure of old Uncle Sam. Notice the different hand positioning, no longer in the supportive position, but resting on top of the world, invoking the Dead Hand of Regulation.

There is no mystery here, just aesthetics of the sense-making. Images from the factory of the sensible.

Energy consultants, like those at Cambridge Energy, always argue for global expansion in the industry and that natural gas energy flows through liquefied Natural Gas transport or LNG are suitable. Most natural gas travels by pipe. But LNG is always on the cusp of transforming from a niche regional business into a global industry. Global Gas Development is the watch word.

In short, natural gas can become a globally traded commodity. The U.S. market would become dependent upon these global energy flows. Thus, in these conversations, future U.S. dependence on global reserves of gas energy characterizes an entirely different world society than U.S. reliance on foreign sources of oil. Such things like natural gas imports, creating new economic value, and future global security, are all brought closer together through the reorganization of natural gas market knowledge, under the banner of reaching for the frontiers.

The symbol of this global gas modernity is found in a multi-faceted globe.

Shell Game

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