Can BP rebrand? Youth climate activists won’t be fooled by greenwashing.

  • Published on June 12th, 2020

For at least the past four years, we’ve talked about the fossil fuel industry’s concern about climate activists targeting it’s social license to operate (our collective social and legal acceptance of their business) and how the industry’s tried to put “lipstick on a pig” to address the optics of their atmosphere-and-community-polluting profits. This week’s bombshell revelation that someone hired hackers to target #ExxonKnew campaigners is one recent sign that at least someone is scared enough of climate activists that they’re willing to put money into such a morally dubious and legally prohibited environscheme.


By Climate Denier Roundup

But just because we don’t know if it’s ExxonMobil that put money into hacking groups antagonizing ExxonMobil, that doesn’t mean  oil companies aren’t seriously spooked by what were once considered by many Very Important People to be quixotic distractions:the #ExxonKnew or #KeepItInTheGround campaigns.

So let’s find a more specific example, shall we?

Oh look what we have here! Amy Westervelt at Drilled has the inside scoop of BP’s PR efforts, with a leaked package of re-branding documents from an internal workshop that offers new clues to their forthcoming propaganda, particularly when paired with other emails and comments from BP’s CEO Bernard Looney.

One of the main takeaways Westervelt notes is that it “leans heavily on the phrase ‘energy transition’” while at the same time, BP remains committed to burning more and more fossil fuels. Key to their strategy appears to be playing up the public misconception that so-called “natural” gas is clean or renewable, and according to their own materials, seem poised to sell and burn as much gas they can for as long as possible.

They acknowledge the importance of 2030 goals, but set theirs for 2050, and desperately want us to believe they “get it.” The materials, which BP sent to creative ad agencies as part of their rebranding, make it clear, according to Westervelt, that they’re keen “to convince the public that oil companies are the ones best equipped to manage the energy transition.”

Key to their success in that will be turning the public against the climate movement, which has BP terrified. Westervelt points out that it was in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that a BP manager raised concerns about the industry’s social license. Ten years later,  “it’s clear in this creative brief that the climate movement, particularly the work of youth climate activists, has begun to erode that license. And that’s deeply concerning to oil companies.”

Here’s how you know just how scared BP is: “There are more pages on the climate movement in the presentation than on anything else.” And indeed, twelve of the 52 slides pertain to “the challenge,” with multiple slides of youth climate strikers, headline clips of protests and magazine covers showing the importance of the issue, and of course, a smirking Greta Thunberg.

Because what could terrify a massive multinational corporation more than a young woman with moral clarity and a zebel army ready to revoke their social license?

(Crossposted on DailyKos.)

About the Author