Could the global community simply remove BP from the economy?


For over a decade I have gone out of my way to buy fuel from BP. They’ve always seemed the best of the bad, with their solar business, climate policy leadership and forward thinking culture and people. The other day I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In fact I doubt I’ll ever drive into a BP station again.

Although BP has rather bigger problems on its mind than whose fuel I buy in Australia, while driving past I started considering a potential development that would certainly get their attention. It all starts with BP’s CEO Tony Hayward now famous approach to leadership on environmental questions. He proudly explained his views in a frank speech at Stanford University last year. He said too many BP people were “working to save the world” whereas they should focus on making money because BP’s “primary purpose in life is to create value for shareholders.”

I understand quite a bit about saving the world and about creating value for shareholders. I’ve spent roughly half my working life as an environmental campaigner, including as global head of Greenpeace, and the other half as a business owner and corporate advisor working with the CEOs of a number of the world’s largest companies. The former taught me how people think and act on environmental issues, the latter taught me about the relationship between profits and good corporate citizenship. BP’s Deep Horizon disaster may bring these two issues together in ways that I never expected. As a result Tony Hayward may, ironically and unintentionally, do more to “save the world” than anyone before him at BP. Here’s why.

We live today in a global market which no one can control. It is too complex and too global for governments to effectively regulate. It also has too many inbuilt tendencies and pressures for even the most powerful and visionary CEO’s or investors to push against the tide except in marginal ways.  Yet this powerful beast of a machine is pushing us all towards a cliff, with all key indicators showing the global ecosystem and resource supply, on which our economy depends, is now on the edge of catastrophic, system wide failure – what I call the Great Disruption. The global economic consequences of such failure will be profound, not least of all being the end of economic growth.

As long argued would occur, this has now started with diminishing resources driving us to dangerously drill deeper for oil, dig up dirty tar sands and take more and more risk. In that context, the Deep Horizon disaster starts to look like the beginning of the end, a haunting specter of things to come as we push past our limits in a desperate bid for shrinking resources to feed our gluttonous economy.

With the public now increasingly aware of such challenges, BP’s business strategy under Hayward was seriously misguided. He ignored the clear lessons of decades of global experience in this area by investors and companies: good corporate citizenship boosts profits and companies that do good for the world do better for their shareholders. They attract and retain better people, they get an easier run from regulators, they face less risk, they find investors who are more patient and they are more closely in touch with the values of society and therefore their customers and employees. What struck me as I drove past the BP station was the potential for all those drivers of profitability to be reversed. What would happen if a viral campaign focused the world’s general environmental concern sharply onto BP, as the modern age’s perfect example of the sort of company we don’t want to exist anymore?

What if good people didn’t want to work for BP? If regulators subtly but consistently made life harder for BP, through thousands of little decisions taken by people who didn’t like the company? If nervous investors got worried that BP had a fundamentally flawed culture that made it more risky to invest in? If customers around the world just drove on by to the next gas station? What would happen, if this approach took hold through a viral mind shift around the world, is that BP would quite simply be removed from the economy. BP would become the historic first scalp of a new approach – “Global market regulation, by the people, for the people”.

Hard to imagine? The brutal logic of the market is very powerful. A company like BP lives and is valued on its ability to turn hard assets, in its case oil and gas reserves, into cash. What determines its ability to do this efficiently are its people, customers, regulatory support and capital. If these capacities drop off significantly relative to competitors, the assets are worth more outside the company than within. This translates into the company being valued less than its assets and the company is taken over or its assets are sold. The impact on BP would be fast and simple – it would cease to exist. However, the impact on the broader market and on environmental campaigning might last for much longer and be very deep. What Tony Hayward has done is to create the perfect storm for just this to happen, starting with investors attitudes.

Under Hayward, at the direction of the Board of Directors, BP shifted its focus sharply onto generating cash for shareholders. For BP employees the message was clear – cut corners, cut costs and deliver in the short term. No more saving the world, people, get back to making cold hard cash. In response to this very public shift, the company’s owners, the pension funds and other investors, stood by and watched. They didn’t raise the warning that should have been obvious to any modern investment risk manager. They should have said: yes, we want shareholder returns, but don’t send a signal to your people that protecting the environment doesn’t matter, because if you do, our investment will be at risk. If BP ceases to exist as a result of this chosen direction, no investor will make that mistake again.

Hayward’s approach also sent clear signals to BP’s employees and executives. BP’s leadership role on climate change and sustainability resulted in many of the company’s people becoming passionate advocates on these issues. Indeed, I’ve worked with many BP executives and they are some of the most committed corporate people I know on sustainability. They have felt BP was a place they could make a difference to the world and prove that good business and good environmental performance go together. Under Hayward’s short-term cash focus, many of these people, including top executives like Viv Cox, have moved on while many others will be questioning if they still belong there. Losing such creative and forward thinking people seriously undermines a company’s culture and its value creation prospects.

With the US oil disaster, customer and brand risk will be high on the risk screen at BP. Soon after I left Greenpeace in 1994, the Shell oil company faced a barrage of criticism for trying to dump a disused oilrig in the North Sea. Greenpeace occupied the rig and a largely spontaneous consumer boycott erupted in Germany, costing Shell tens of millions of dollars, every day, in lost sales. With the share price falling, Shell backed off and the consumers returned.

BP will likewise assume any boycott that erupts now will be short lived and will fade once the media and political storm dies down. They maybe right, but they may be very, very wrong.

Environmental groups around the world have historically struggled with boycotts. They were hard work to maintain, draining resources for years before having an impact, if they ever did. But in today’s world two things have changed that should have the risk people at BP scurrying for their web monitoring services.

The first, as outlined above, is that the evidence is clear on how to run a campaign to deliberately undermine a company’s value by mobilising and focusing public concern for environmental issues and corporate responsibility. It is broader and easier than a consumer boycott, instead focusing on employees, investors, regulators and consumers, all targeted at once. This would be modern, market focused, non-violent guerilla warfare. No one has ever organized such a deliberate value destruction campaign, but plenty of people know how to do it if they chose to.

The second and the key to likely success is the connected world of the internet. When I was at Greenpeace we would need to send activists to visit individual outlets urging a boycott, picket offices to engage employees and approach each individual investor. Today a powerful idea can spread like wildfire, recruiting quiet supporters deep inside the global economy – inside investment houses, inside government and most worrying of all, inside BP.

The scary thing for BP is that such a movement may not come from a mainstream environmental group, all of whom BP has relationships with. The threat is more likely to grow through a spontaneous web based, viral movement, probably driven by people they’ve never heard of, like the guy in Louisiana who set up a Boycott BP Facebook page that now has 650,000 supporters. This is scary for BP because these movements are based on ideas and are organized by informal networks of friends. There’s no one to call, no one to negotiate with, just a viral cancer that steadily eats away at BP’s value, until one day it’s all over.

Why would such a movement take hold? Simply because nothing else is working. Despite unprecedented levels of public support, government action and corporate engagement on climate change and sustainability, nothing of consequence is actually changing. CO2 emissions are rising, companies like BP are investing in filthy tar sands oil and governments appear powerless to stem the tide. So with all the old tactics failing, there is a huge vacuum in what is effectively a free market of campaigning approaches. In that context, there could be great appeal in global market regulation by the people, for the people, with a company’s removal from the economy a kind of environmental capital punishment.

BP is perfectly positioned to be the guinea pig. I’m sure the US oil disaster will be shown to be the direct result of cash grabbing compromises on environmental and human safety. So there is arguably no company more deserving of such punishment and certainly no more powerful symbol for the consequences of putting short term shareholder value at the centre of business strategy.

Who knows if such a movement will erupt in this case, but it no doubt will before long. When it does, the world, and the market, will be a very different place. If the Deep Horizon disaster signals the end of the old economy, then a popular movement that brings down BP would be the beginning of the new one.


31 thoughts on “Could the global community simply remove BP from the economy?

  1. Kim Pearson

    Let’s hope that BP is brought down by the common people. This would restore my faith in humanity, and our future on this planet.

  2. I agree entirely. I also thought that B.P. were the best of the bunch moving away from fossil fuels.That remark from the top has definitely made an impact on many. How dare the man brush off, the sentiments of so many, that our planet is at risk,we need all to work quickly in order to get any chance of slowing down this human induced warming.
    Let us seize the day and make B.P. show the rest of those who think in a greedy manner,that their businesses will be undermined be the public reaction.

  3. Wayne Goodwin

    I hear what you are saying Paul and like you I have driven past my local BP outlet. However, the more I think about the fact that the service station is leased by one of my neighbours who I know and see regularly the more of a dilema I face. While not buying the BP petrol would send some sort of signal to the company, albeit a long distance message from here in Tasmania, it would have a much more direct impact in our local community if we all decided to boycott the local servo? Your thoughts?

  4. Paul Gilding

    Wayne – re your question on boycotting local BP outlets. This is a tough one as real people are involved who had nothing to do with BP’s problems.

    Ultimately in all such cases, some people will suffer whichever way we go. So if we don’t address the underlying issues here, many more will lose their livelihoods through a collapsing economy. The local BP franchisee is of course focused on his/her smaller and immediate picture, and fair enough. My approach is to look at the system and decide what’s best, acknowledging there’s no easy way here. So for example, an effective boycott would drive franchisees to switch brands but in reality they wouldn’t do until they felt some pain first.

    It is an issue discussed at one of the BP Boycott sites

  5. As I have just received an email from the Wilderness,I wonder if this is not another way to bring the B.P. thing home.The Wilderness tells us that many of these mining companies have been given the go ahead to explore off the Kimberleys Just at the time when mother whales will be spawning their young. Good one Eh?

  6. Steve Phillips

    Re: boycotting BP. Sounds great, but who will you transfer your petro-dollars to? Shell? They have been accused of polluting the Niger delta with, on an annual basis, worse spills than we are seeing in the Gulf of Mexico, yet the world does not seem to care as much if it is not happening in the U.S. Is Shell better than BP?

    Mobil? They are owned by Exxon, remember them? The Exxon Valdez oil spill has still not been cleaned up properly. Alaska still suffers 21 years later…

    Maybe Caltex? No nasty overseas links that I can think of. Maybe we can all feel better by buying the poison which is polluting this planet from Caltex???

    Do you also realise that once it is sucked out of the ground the crude oil is sold around the world and mixed to suit the different refinery requirements, and then once the products are refined they are distributed locally where possible, so what is sold in WA almost exclusively comes from the BP oil refinery in Kwinana… even if you buy from Caltex or Shell or Mobil or (in most cases) an independent? BP is also split between Exploration (the division that drilled the Deepwater Horizon well) and Oil (the division that refines and sell the products) so you will be boycotting the the retail arm but may have minimal effect on the exploration arm.

    Don’t get me wrong, a boycott will send a strong message, but the message is likely to be reduced to “please don’t pollute our western nations, we would much rather you did it somewhere else and not in our own back yard.”

    There can be no better protest than boycotting oil products altogether (a tough ask I know). Failing that, demand direct action, like a price on carbon, from the federal government, something which they were elected to do and promised to do but have failed dismally to introduce. And we the voters are to blame. Not the goverment, not the politicians, but we the voters.

  7. glenn

    Yes – I will drive past BP petrol stations from now on. BP needs to go down . The message should be clear. Its synoymous with crimes against humanity and the environment.
    Next how do we target the bastards in . Nigeria – Shell etc – bigger oil leaks than this one apparently. ??

  8. Steve Phillips

    Sorry to be a devil’s advocate about this – but what if the only local station is BP? Are we to drive further, pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and more particulate pollution into the air, in search of a better alternative than BP, such as maybe those all round good guys at Shell or Mobil?

    But, yes, a strong message to BP is better than no message at all.

    P.S. Electric cars reportedly available here in Australia from this year. Even if the power for these comes from fossil fuel generation, they are still far cleaner and more efficient on a power-station to tail-pipe basis than the internal combustion engine.

  9. salamander

    A boycott is a good idea, but I would prefer it was a boycott of all petrol companies. The fact that we cannot live without it, is frightening. BP, Shell and the rest have removed our right to choose by their campaign of ensuring that petrol is still the only option for most. The move to renewables would have been much further forward, if not for the campaigns of these companies who only think of the bottom line. Some may be a slightly greener shade than others, but they all have a very long way to go.

  10. Unfortunately, Australia like the US has become a country where the politics of both major political parties are run by a coalition of mineral and fossil fuel exploiters, their financiers and government – a type of regime that in 1930, Mussolini defined as Fascism.

    BP’s CEO Tony Hayward is doing exactly what he’s been told to do by the BP board led by a new Chairman, who have all been told by the investing institutions to forget ‘all this environmenta stuff and get on with the business of giving us a good financial return’.

    The more this happens with such consequences, the more people globally are remembering that,- even with the planet at stake – big multinational corporate business can never be trusted to subordinate their financial interests to anyone, ever – including the rest of humanity and the planet – on which their very existence depends.

    We will also start to remember that strong, independent and democratic government is the only way to guarantee that a sustainable balance can be achieved between the environment, the economy and social justice.

    What had happened to the mantra: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”? Some say it was lost when we took our eye off the ball in the pursuit of ‘stuff’.

    I agree with Tony, we need to up the ante. I’d love to see a political movement get underway before this next election that would ensure that only MP’s get elected who believe the climate scientists and publicly commit to pass the legislation required by the science.

  11. Paul
    Tony Hayward grew increasingly confident in his oil-and-gas-first approach even as world leaders grew serious about emissions curbs. He argued, “there are no silver bullets” for energy security and independence and mocked the “headline grabbing” offshore wind projects proposed by the British Government.
    The question is, do others in the oil industry write Hayward off as rogue element, or do they learn from his example that pursuit of deeper, tougher to tap oil leads to disaster?
    Green Energy Reporter

  12. BP has managed its public relations spectacularly well. They have channelled everyone’s anger onto Mr Hayward. Once the spill is contained, they’ll pay him off, and replace him with a new, unsullied, figurehead. Their petrol sales will return to normal and they’ll spend a few million refurbishing and whitewashing their corporate image. This is not cynicism: political parties do this all the time. The problem, of course, is not solely BP. It is big business and government together who have worked to subsidise oil extraction and oil consumption: they manipulate the so-called market and the regulatory environment to favour the big and global over the small and local.

  13. Oil giants, like banks, are all of one set. BP for a long while had much better PR than did Exxon-Mobil, but the above comments about picking and choosing are substantially correct. If we expect to drive and we want to fill up our tanks then we are aiding and abetting the global collapse that is becoming more and more evident.

    Our complicity, even if we are largely victims of the corporate state, is not something we can ignore. Our own lifestyles are more than the planet can bear. In the long run we need to do what we can to boycott them all, and re-learn to use our legs and bikes for all those short trips – purported to be (on average) 50% of our car driving miles.

  14. G’day Paul,

    I’ve been on this planet for just over 49 years and I’ve heard so many ‘good’ people say so many ‘good’ things and what I have seen is a gradual decline at an exponentially increasing rate of knots (or ‘nots’) in the well being of most people and the world. (Insert Roger’s Comment here)

    I try to imagine myself in the position of someone whose life is the epitome of the ‘benevolent dictator’. Where I have an army of erstwhile minions doing the work and me reaping the rewards. Where the minions have been convinced that it’s perfectly reasonable that I (and not they), am afforded the protection of a non-corporeal entity with legal rights and as such bare little if any direct legal responsibility let alone consequence. And where my culture applauds me for being in this position. And then I ask myself, would I give all of that up to ‘do the right thing’ (having spent many years believing that I already am or have been)? I don’t expect them to do so.

    I live in a culture that apparently considers it reasonable to have millions of people starving and/or struggling to survive across the world for 100 years and to let not-for-profit charities deal with the mess; and yet within 18 months of an apparent Financial Crisis (another one), to cough-up 3 or 4 trillion dollars to save a bunch of non-corporeal entities with legal rights…many of which are commonly referred to as ‘Banks’.

    And we are expecting something to change because 1 company gets it’s wrist slapped? (Insert Roger’s Comment again here).

    Isn’t it a reasonable strategy for ‘company’ to liquidate it’s assets to amass a rapid influx of energy, to commit suicide and then reappear somewhere else? Isn’t that the beauty of being a ‘non-corporeal entity with legal rights’? It’s not constrained by physical reality. So what’s to stop a ‘non-corporeal entity that makes its own laws’ from doing the same thing…or at least trying?

    I think Steve Phillips is correct…if not in detail at least in principle. The identities of these non-corporeal behemoths are so blurred and obscured by legal complexity and immunity as be without physical meaning…only financial and legal.

    Our story tellers and artists and historians have been warning us for ever…long before our scientists even had the necessary knowledge and equipment to verify their outlandish conspiratorial and doomsday fantasies.

    Imagine that you are part of an elite group with the means to influence a global culture…not so difficult with one so fragile as to be completely dependent on 1 or 2 things. Is a ‘blank slate’ strategy entirely inconceivable? Grab as much money and power as possible at the last minute…whole-up and wait for the minions to turn on themselves, and then re-emerge with ‘the way to salvation’ for those that remain. I could remake civilisation in my own image. Or does history not repeat itself?

    Don’t get me wrong…I’m with you in principle. Even if Peter Garrett has forgotten his own songs, I haven’t. I’ll go down swingin’ as I always have. So far, I have always got back up again too…but even ‘lowering the threshold of fear’ by offering token gestures of hope has had it’s day don’t you think? Your ‘One Degree War Plan’ is not a token gesture…why wait? :-)


    Stephen G

  15. Jefferson Galt

    BP happened to draw the short straw.

    It happened to other companies in other technologies – that’s why, for example, we have double-skinned oil tankers.

    The BP incident could have happened to any one of dozens of oil companies in any one of dozens of locations around the world.

    We should not pillory BP individually, but the whole system – including the political system – that requires ever greater quantities of oil and more new sources in the name of “energy security.”

  16. Paul Gilding

    Thanks for all your excellent comments. One I wanted to respond to, made by many of you, is that this is a system problem and taking BP out of the economy wouldn’t change the system e.g. Exxon, Shell et al would just take up the assets. Technically this is true but I’m not so convinced it wouldn’t change things at a deeper level. The message it would send to the system (govt, corporate, the community as a whole) would be clear, that when the people get focused they can decide what happens. So this is not a practical change strategy e.g. reducing consumption of all, but rather a political/transformation strategy e.g. changing the way people think. Of course the big question is could people who care about the issues mobilise in this way? What would trigger such a shift and how could it be organised as a viral campaign?

  17. Other posters have touched on the reality that ‘exterminating’ a company like BP would have some unintended consequences or involve ‘collateral damage ‘ or some such “Westmorelandian ” outcome (for clarification –General Westmoreland -Vietnam War –“we had to obliterate the village to save it from the Viet Cong’)
    My father ran a BP service station near Mildura in the 1960s and I pumped their fuel for pocket money — maybe that makes me a war criminal in the eyes of some of the greener than green brigade . The first dominoes to fall would be the struggling servo operators through no fault of their own . Hayward could retire to sail his yacht,- not that that is suddenly the mark of the devil either . The problem in the Gulf of Mexico is fundamentally a technical issue — and can only be solved by sober technical expertise rather than demonizing . Possibly requiring a full technical evaluation of the proposed means of ensuring that the ‘worst case’ can be eliminated –by a government body with the expertise to know what it is looking at . The example of an agency like the US FAA -Federal Aviation Administration — is what I would think is needed — engineers on both sides can talk sensibly in regard to the setting of appropriate standards and then ensure they are met . Every time you fly in a polluting oil fueled Boeing or Airbus etc airliner you know that the technology involved has been thoroughly tested – to failure and that the people on both sides of the certification have the same qualification . For the blow out mechanism involved in the failure here I would ask whether they had in fact simulated the conditions pertaining in this case — ie has the check valve been thoroughly tested at the same conditions of pressure etc ? Is there some overlooked factor ? for example the effect of temperature on the O rings for the solid rocket boosters on the Space Shuttle . It now looks like there were amazing parallels in both these disasters — competent engineers DID warn of the likely mode of failure but got shunned and even blackballed (the very thing recommended )
    There is a considerable body of aerospace engineers who predict a catastrophic outcome for the new carbon fiber 787 whose fuselage has little of the energy absorbing capacity of the usual metal — in a decent crash it might just shatter like an eggshell if they are correct –no full scale crash test has been done but instead computer simulations are being relied upon . Feel like protesting about something ? NO -not to ban the act of flying but to target the precise problem and in a way that ensures we can get the benefit without boycotting the overall activity . As an aside I used to manage the patternshop for a firm that made “tapping bands” which are what allow you to connect a watermain to an individual house or to plumb in a whole subdivision from a feeder pipe –it allows to cut a hole in the main-pressurized– supply and to connect a new take off pipe without it becoming a “broken fire hydrant” scenario –somewhat like the oil piping case I would guess.

    There is an ‘anti technology’ undercurrent behind a great deal of the ‘environmental’ movement — demonizing man’s upstart impudence to think or act beyond his natural state of living without any artificial materials or in any way altering nature . All the plastics and thousands of other useful materials are derived from crude oil so next time you need a catheter or syringe to administer life saving drugs derived from oil keep that in mind –if you just BURN the stuff you are just as culpable –or at least if you do it so wastefully as the average motorcar . I already ride past BP service stations and all other brands on my recumbent bicycle but do not gloat over using public transport knowing that masses of polluting brown coal is being burnt out of sight to get the trains running.

    Technology is the solution to the problems identified which are basically tragic revelations of design inadequacies — sometimes it is only by such experience that the problems and solutions are found (the Comet airliner first encountered the problem of pressurization fatigue –the lesson was not to abandon flying or pressurization but to better study the problem –starting with a ‘post mortem’ of the failed example –and to eradicate the faults ) Oil is not evil nor is BP nor I think is Mr Hayward –it is a temporary inadequacy of the technology probably including some human failings or even wrongdoing for motives other than wanting to cause an environmental disaster. If you want ENERGY as opposed to OIL then perhaps you might reconsider the Wilderness society, ACF and Greenpeace campaign against developing the most benign of all energy sources available to Australia that is far more practical than the -now – demonized windmills (once the darlings of the green movement ) or the ultra costly Photovoltaics . I refer to the tidal power resource in the Kimberley — a perpetually renewing power source that utterly dwarfs the rain and snow dependent Snowy Mountains scheme or the entire total of all the thermal power stations combined many times over –yet now produces not one mousepower . In 1963 John Lewis, an engineer, was contracted by Rio Tinto to survey the feasibility to tap this immense resource and his report is still relevant –(I came across a copy from a second hand bookshop) –in 1991 the West Australian parliament commissioned a study of developing this resource and they somehow “overlooked” a nearby market of 200 million people in Indonesia (or the use of this power to “mine” (electrowin)
    magnesium from the inexhaustible resource in sea water –and then to use it to create new lightweight vehicles that do not guzzle so much petrol or electricity ) Why was this resource not developed ? –well, in large part because of the concerted campaign by the “green” organizations that lobbied to stop it –so we go back to that deep water oil drilling instead….
    I only heard of the WA govt study from a small piece in the Age headed ” crocodiles damaged” –the ACF et al stated that they opposed the development of tidal power because “crocodiles could be damaged in going through the turbines ” ( I thought you ‘damaged’ things and “injured’ animals ..) –ridiculous in itself but indicative of the ‘nothing less than retreating to the ‘natural’ cave and eating a vegan diet will satisfy us’ attitude.

    Ecoindustrialization is what is needed to maintain or increase mankind’s standard of living and the most well known ‘prophet’ of this movement was the almost forgotten Buckminster Fuller — I would urge anybody feeling despair in the world’s future or turning against science and technology to find and read his published works –maybe if one young person takes up engineering to add to a better world rather than doing an arts degree and protesting everything it would actually help our collective future .
    Now go your hardest in demonizing me for questioning the purity of motives of the ecopponents.

  18. Mike Ives

    Thanks once again Paul for the vital stimulus. It seems the responses to date contain most issues I would raise.
    1. Avoiding BP service stations may hurt the proprietor much harder than BP
    2. Petrol stations more often get their fuel delivered from the nearest refinery whatever brand.
    3. Tony Hayward is likely to become BP’s scapegoat and his replacement may be even worse
    4. BP may well be bought out by Shell or even Exxon Mobil. This may take place following BP’s success with their relief well which still has some 600m or so to go.
    5. A One Degree War or similar seems ‘a must’ but Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) to me sounds to be a potential smoke screen that will prove a long term disaster and at the same time will rob us of the crucial lead time needed for an alternative strategy. i.e. we may well be complicating one monumental disaster by introducing another.

    Quoting from The Federal Department of Resources, Energy & Tourism’s Australian Energy Resources 2010 ISBN 978-1-921672-58-3 available on line:

    ‘The annual solar radiation falling on Australia is approximately 58 million petajoules (PJ), approximately 10 000 times Australia’s annual energy consumption.’

    To supplement our considerable wind energy resources instead of CCS why don’t we consider an Australian style Desertec ( With base load solar now proving practical by the adoption of heat storage banks and the CSIRO’s highly efficient Brayton cycle solar plant development which may require no cooling water whatsoever then the only real big issue I see would be the long distance power transmission.

  19. John Collee

    I tried to google Tony haywards sanford speech and found, instead, this one from 2007 when he’d just been appointed and seemed to be making all the right noises re climate and sustainability

    I suspect Hayward is no worse and no better than any of his peers. (As I remember the mining boss in Avatar looked a little bit like him, and had a similar personality) All the oil majors are all equally guilty and boycotting one in favour of another won’t really advance us, unless, as you suggest, it makes all of them much more risk averse and environmentally responsible

    For me the historical turning point we are witnessing is a nation (the US) finally demonstrating its superior legal and financial firepower versus a huge multinational. Corporates, we know, act like psychopaths. Democracies represent our broader interests

    So this is a defining battle between white hats (The ordinary people of the US) versus black hats (the oil majors). It will be fought on capitol Hill, on TV and in the courts but its good to see the white hats winning for once because a victory is bound to encourage other nations to have a go (Nigeria vs Shell?) , and American lawyers to start looking for other fights they might win: (Virginia vs Peabody coal?)

  20. Steve Phillips

    Hi Ross, I agree that oil is actually a precious resource and will continue to be required for all sorts of plastics and other uses. My personal view is that due to peak oil we should move away from burning it as soon as possible so we still have plenty left for all those other uses, which at the end of the day keep the carbon out of the atmosphere anyway.

    Mike, re: Desertec, I have heard the suggestion of joining the two electricity grids (east coast NEM and WA’s grid) with HVDC (high voltage direct current) and linking the connection up with solar and geothermal power generation all along the way. That would then be a sort of Desertec of our own!

    One last comment – anyone who thinks we are in a free market is wrong. There is an inherent market distortion which allows pollution to be pumped into the atmosphere at zero cost. To restore a free market we need a carbon price as soon as possible.

  21. Paul Gilding

    In response to John Collee and others re all oil majors being the same. Yes, this is true, but the point remains that because of this our efforts are diffuse, questioning the whole infrastructure of the economy, and as a result, our impact is marginal because the action required is to redesign the economy. My argument, theoretical only, is that while they are all the same, if society focused its environmental action energy on one target – and in this context BP is just unlucky vs say Exxon – then the impact would be far greater because they would then all be scared they might be next. It would empower the owners of the economy, us, to take responsibility.

    btw you can see the relevant parts of the Stanford speech at

  22. Bless your great big heart Paul :-)

    Your faith in humanity continues to inspire.

    Personally I reckon that in light of the fact that we are mostly water, we’ll likely continue to follow the paths of least resistance…pop this into the global blender with our now well matured fear and denial of things like death and responsibility and we may hear a frothy expletive bubble to the top of the collective ferment about 3 seconds after the proverbial hits the solar-powered fan… But prior to that, and without a complete redesign of the economy, what odds would you put on ‘we’ becoming more empowered than giant, immortal, non-corporeal entities with legal rights ? :-)


    Stephen G

  23. Paul Gilding

    Stephen: What odds in 1988 would you put on Nelson Mandela negotiating a peaceful transition to majority rule in South Africa with his negotiating partner the most violent repressive regime in South Africa’s history? Not high I suspect!

  24. Oh! I was kind of waiting for a witty comeback (at least more witty than mine :-)… before we dove into the nitty-gritty…so here goes.

    Re: “What odds in 1988 would you put on Nelson Mandela negotiating a peaceful transition to majority rule in South Africa with his negotiating partner the most violent repressive regime in South Africa’s history? Not high I suspect!”

    Actually, I believe that the thought that your good self and Jorgen Randers et al, put into and articulated in ‘The One Degree War Plan’ is both warranted and commendable, as is your intent and the fact that you are willing to push the envelope of political correctness. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.

    Clearly my rhetorical line of questioning was angling for an opinion regarding the nature and impact of ‘Corporations’ as we know them, and the likelihood of ‘we’ altering their nature and impact via their legal structure. Not a very palatable notion I admit…but then, neither is the current ‘Global Climate’; in which I include ‘Human Nature’.

    I would say that by the time Nelson got to the table with his negotiating partner, that that ‘Society’ was well past ‘Point 2’ as stated in ‘The One Degree War Plan’ – “Society will respond when it perceives a crisis”. And whether or not the transition was peaceful I would say is arguable…at best relative.

    Clearly our ‘Global Society’ has not yet reached ‘Point 2’; yet the violence of the many commercially legitimised ‘regimes’ (or at least the results thereof), though observable are yet perceived as somewhat diffused. However, when collated and compiled into a single observation (as has been attempted by many erstwhile observers including yourself), it is arguably much larger and more violent than South Africa?

    My question was also facetiously pointing to the notions of ‘our’ “ownership” of ‘the economy’ and the likelihood of ‘we’ actually taking any kind of ‘responsibility’. It is my understanding that ’empowerment’ and ‘responsibility’ are not mutually exclusive. It also relates to the likelihood of a ‘Corporation’ becoming ‘scared’.

    My direct response to your question is therefore, that I would have placed much better odds on Nelson’s victory in 1988 than I do on ‘we’ actually establishing any kind of meaningful and/or ’empowered’ ownership of ‘the economy’.

    A Counterpoint:

    Or ‘reductio ad absurdum’… or why you are correct and that there is nothing but ‘faith in humanity’ :-)

    A couple of examples to illustrate that no matter how well meaning we are at the outset or how well we say something, at ‘the end of the day’ we are completely and utterly reliant on whether or not enough people will choose to ‘do the right thing’….

    In 1997 an Australian Comedy Movie called ‘The Castle’ famously raised the issue of “just terms” in relation to the Commonwealth being used as a front for the compulsory acquisition of property by a Corporation(ref: Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia (ACT 1900), Section 51, Subsection xxxi).

    Also in Section 51 of ‘the Constitution’ is Subsection xx. This relates to the Parliament’s right to legislate with respect to “foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth”. “This power has become known as “the corporations power”. (ref: Wikipedia article re: Section 51(xx) of the Australian Constitution. Interestingly this article makes the following observation:

    Regulating the activities of corporations

    In most of the early cases, the question of what aspects or activities of a corporation can be regulated under s 51(xx) was not directly addressed. Some incidental points were clarified in R v Australian Industrial Court; Ex parte CLM Holdings Pty Ltd (1977). That case established that, where the activities of a s 51(xx) corporation were validly regulated, the conduct of individual persons taking part in those activities, such as company directors, could incidentally be regulated as well.

    In Actors and Announcers Equity Association v Fontana Films Pty Ltd (1982), the Court still did not deal directly with the regulation of a corporation’s activities. The whole Court upheld a section which protected a corporation against a secondary boycott. The legislative purpose thus upheld was protection of corporations rather than regulation of them. The case also provided an opportunity for extensive discussion of how far the “corporations” power might extend.”

    Here’s a fairly glaring example on a more scientific note. I use this example to illustrate that 2 eminent scientists can have diametrically opposed views and such starkly different pier-reviewed ‘evidence’ on the same topic that supports their opposing arguments:

    Debate – Does the World need Nuclear Energy?

    Who I think says it best?

    About half way through this round-table interview on ‘Democracy Now’ (16 June 2010), Amory Lovins of The Rocky Mountains Institute says the following in regard to consensus building in the context of ending our addiction to fossil fuels:

    “…it starts a conversation of a new kind in Energy Policy because we’ve always supposed that people have had to want the same things that we’ve wanted in Energy for the same reasons. So if you had different priorities from somebody else then you couldn’t agree on the outcome. What the President (he’s referring to recent statements by the US President), has started to do here is to say lets start focusing on outcomes not motives…and then you can build a strong consensus. Whether you care most about National Security or Environment of Economy, we ought to do the same things about Energy…and if we do the things we agree about then the things we don’t agree about become superfluous.”

    What’s my point then? That I don’t think ‘we’ can ‘own the economy’ or ‘scare’ giant, immortal, non-corporeal entities that already ‘own the economy’, the property and activity rights of which are both legally protected and strategically ignored.

    That all we can do is keep the discussions going and hope that enough people choose to ‘do the right thing’. That the sooner enough people choose to do so, the less people have to suffer. That so far too many people, by their actions, are saying that they actually want other people to suffer and die and too many people condone both their actions and justifications.

    And that when the pooh hits the fan, most people say the same thing – “Oh God!” :-) So faith is pretty much all we have…and perhaps arguably all we’ve ever really had?

    Always a pleasure :-)


    Stephen G

  25. Jim Thomas

    To me the lesson is that companies have to keep their eye on all aspects of business at all times. BP may have been focusing on “beyond petroleum” at one time and making some good statements about climate change, but they had clearly taken their focus off safety. I lost confidence in the company after the 2005 Texas refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured 170. The further case against BP was made in 2009 when OSHA fined them $87 million (largest fine in OSHA history) for failing to correct safety hazards from the 2005 explosion. That should been enough for anyone to sell their BP stock.

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