BP’s new ad campaign is lipstick on a pig (has anyone forgotten the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?)
On April 20th, 2010, the largest marine oil spill in history began at a BP-operated oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The leak lasted for months, leaking nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf. Ultimately, BP pled guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter as well as two misdemeanors and a felony count of lying to Congress.
After a brief and widely-mocked “I’m sorry” apology attempt, the company kept a pretty low profile as far as ad campaigns, for obvious reasons. But that may be changing now. Chloe Farand at DeSmogUK reported this week that the company has just launched its first global ad campaign since the spill.
The ads take the same sort of gauzy, feel-good tone that other fossil fuel propaganda has struck in the past, focusing on cell phones and electric cars, and talking about making “all forms of energy cleaner and better,” with a tagline of “keep advancing.”
As Farand reports, BP is investing a decent chunk of money – $200 million – in solar company Lightsource. But compared to BP’s $16 billion in annual spending, the Lightsource investment and all their other clean energy programs made up just three percent of its business in 2017.
Unsurprisingly, there were some great reactions to this ad campaign. Solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett called it “a ghastly hypocrisy in the face of an existential threat to the planet.” Denial researcher Robert Brulle of Drexel called it “clever corporate propaganda” designed to give a “positive one-sided positive impression of the company’s corporate responsibility.” As Brulle notes, “BP is still investing 97 percent of its business in oil. The rest is lipstick on a pig.”
Chris Garrad of Culture Unstained points out that the soft-focus, feel-good vibe from the ad is hardly new; it’s “a greenwash campaign that could have been put out five to 10 years ago.”
Except five to 10 years ago, no one was seriously talking about nationalizing the energyindustry and utilities, and fossil fuel companies weren’t getting hit with lawsuits from cities, states and countries.
Which may, to an extent, explain why BP’s chosen to reemerge with such a big public branding exercise. The oil industry’s concern about being “under seige” was recently addressed at Davos, Reuters reported this week, with industry representatives reaching a general recognition that they need to address how they aren’t particularly popular these days. As public understanding that fossil fuels are killing us climbs, these companies are increasingly in danger of losing not their literal license to operate–Trump’s clearly not revoking that–but their social license.
The growing demand for the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy clearly represents a problem for the industry. If it can blanket the airwaves with a reassuring message that they’re not the bad guy, maybe they can stave off meaningful regulations on their product.
The fate of humanity, though, depends on the end of their business. Barring a literal miracle in carbon capture and sequestration technology, human civilization is incompatible with the long-term existence of the fossil fuel industry.
And if BP couldn’t handle apologizing for ruining the Gulf of Mexico, it certainly isn’t going to be prepared to apologize for ruining the entire planet’s life support system.
If for no other reason than there won’t be too many people left to apologize to.
(Crossposted from DailyKos.)