The Risk-Monger

It is coming up to two months since the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico; oil is still spilling into the Gulf and is now reaching the beaches of Florida. The images of this ecological disaster are outrageous, BP’s callousness is stunning … but where is the outrage? This should be Christmas for the mainstream environmental NGOs (remember Greenpeace’s campaigns against Exxon and Shell). But a quick scan of shows that the last internal BP mention (a small blog entry) was over 60 news stories ago and the only action Greenpeace has taken on Facebook is to ask their fans to redesign the BP logo … cute. WWF has made no mention of the biggest environmental disaster in US history, not even on their marine pages. Friends of the Earth has produced a commercial against the ‘drill baby drill’ mentality … where they ask for donations. In short, Stanley Morton III has done more to express the environmentally-concerned outrage at BP than those organisations who have assumed responsibility for protecting the planet. Why have they been so silent with BP’s behaviour, especially as their members and the public are so furious?

The Economist published a thought-provoking article last week that listed the money that BP has given over the years to environmental NGOs and conservation groups. Has BP been able to buy the silence of environmental NGOs? It looks like BP will get away with this disaster without even missing a dividend payment. Most of the outrage has come from Obama or by spontaneous grassroots movements to boycott BP (a little nuisance to BP that might mean they will have to drop a penny off the price at their pumps for a few weeks). Did the “protect the planet” NGOs drop the ball here (too busy with tuna and tigers) or is there something else going on as we watch scenes of the greatest ecological destruction ever (with the volume turned off)?

Although it is anecdotal, I agree with Frank Furedi, that the emerging net-gen values are low on sustainable commitment to causes (‘Not in my name’ is replacing ‘Hell no!’). Maybe the NGOs have concluded that a boycott won’t work. Maybe the NGOs see little fundraising opportunity during the time of tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico.

How much did this silence cost BP in its “CSR years”?

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  1. Sir,

    it’s easy to shoot on NGOs which you think “have assumed responsibility for protecting the planet”…It’s a pity you don’t understand anything regarding politics (or probably you do but are not brave enough to say the obvious): NGOs have NO responsibility for protecting the planet, they are pressure groups, representing their members and defending the preservation of the environment on which we all rely…the responsibility for protecting the planet is the responsibility of all of us, you included, and first and foremost of the leading decision-makers in our world, i.e. our politicians but since they don’t do their job well and tend to think first about their own interest or the interest of a minority, NGOs took up the job as good as they can. So be honest with yourself to start with…you want to fight poverty, hunger and AIDS? ask the real powerful people in this world for solutions instead of shooting at the weakest who do what they can with very limited resources.

  2. I am afraid you have missed something here Jean. The environmental activists are very successful at lobbying in Brussels, leading the agenda and using certain DGs as their bully pulpit to guide policy debates at the national levels (have you ever heard of the green economy?). You portray them as kind and innocent which makes me assume you have never seen their tactics in action or had a look at their budgets and revenue sources. Wake up Jean – don’t just name call, look with an open mind.
    They have taken on the noble task of saving the planet – the GP slogan is: Greenpeace exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. Perhaps a bit modest in intention, but if you assume then to be the voice of the planet, be consistent. I asked a question: Why have the environmental groups been so quiet on BP (others, including myself in previous blogs, have not been)? The Economist suggests it is because BP has given environmental and conservation groups a lot of money over the years. This would imply something worse than incosistent, it would imply hypocrisy. Greenpeace did in fact lauch a new anti-oil campaign last week – but it was against Shell’s actions in the Niger Delta (somewhere there is a BP executive with a warm fuzzy feeling!).
    Ask yourself this question Jean: Are they really doing the best they can?

  3. Thank you Mark, but it is rather more information than outrage. Unless BP is pushed hard (eg, a sustained global blockade of all of their petrol stations), they will not feel the need to change. The Brent Sparr seems too many generations ago.

  4. Hi David, In your reply, I got the feeling you were trying to provoke some archetypal NGO outrage. This may be good sport, but I’m not playing. I came back to this post to re-post the following rather pragmatic email sent recently by Greenpeace to its supporters. /MJ


    [Greenpeace email to supporters]

    In the wake of the ongoing catastrophe of the Gulf oil spill, lots of people have been asking us how they can reduce their oil consumption in their daily lives. Here’s our top ten:

    1. Carpool, cycle or use public transport to go to work.

    2. Choose when possible products packaged without plastic and recycle or re-use containers.

    3. Buy organic fruits and vegetables (fertilisers and pesticides are based on oil more often than not).

    4. Buy beauty products (shampoo, soap, make-up) based on natural ingredients, not oil.

    5. Choose when possible locally produced products (less transport involved).

    6. Buy clothes made out of organic cotton or hemp – not from oil derivatives.

    7. Use non-disposable items in picnics and summer festivals.

    8. Quit bottled water.

    9. Fly less.

    10. Demand that your government encourage renewable energy instead of oil.

    (11. Register at our new website and add to this list, then forward it to a friend.)


    p.s. Did someone forward this mail to you? Sign up for action alerts and ways you can help here.


  5. We live in a world driven by money, so as long as you have the money you can do anything. In June 2010 BP spent on Adwords Branding campaigns $3.6 million. It’s hard to fight that

  6. Money seems to be king these days. As sad as it is to say, the one with the gold makes the rules. And its the common, everyday folks like us that end up paying for it in the long run.

    1. As somebody who has worked in the chemical industry for ten years and was a lobbyist fighting their issues in Brussels for a further five, I really would want to agree with your points. But after seeing too much first-hand on how reckless BP has been, it is hard to just accept it was an accident (we don’t accept drunk drivers who kill people as just accidents). If they had shown some serious commitment to the CSR claims their PR firms had painted on their image, I would also defend them, but at almost every point, BP have cut back in spending on safety, human resources, industry-led sustainability programmes. Sadly, this episode will not be a case study for business ethics students, but rather further evidence how you can do what you want and bring in the PR and legal consultants when you get caught.
      I suspect this blog has been re-tweeted by someone as it is a bit dated and I have been receiving quite a few comments on it lately. I would recommend you have a look at another blog where I shared some first hand experiences of how nasty BP really is and why I had wished, for all of industry’s sake, that Obama had pushed his boot harder on BP’s throat.

  7. The disaster outrages me and I hate to see that not much action has been taken by the general population to voice their opinions, something needs to be done, ASAP!

  8. Despite this tragedy this won’t be the last time something like this happens. Convenience and profit will always come before the environment.

  9. I think that when it comes to giant companies like this they should pull out all the stops and take ownership of their responsibilities. I makes me mad that with all their power and resources more prompt action wasn’t taken. And of course they just got a slap on the wrist, can’t cut off the hand because it probably has too many fingers in too many other pies.

  10. People don’t blame BP. They seeking justice for all the casualties that this group had already done and biological consequences because of their social irresponsibilities. Good pictures is not the best solution for this. It’s worth more than that! But the real deal here is the family that would be affected by this silent chaos. Little commoners is gradually the more affected.
    Big identities looked on this situation as a short term problem and they’re more interested on the economic consequences. They used this scene as their promotional propaganda for some other personal, business and political purposes.
    Sorry if i’m not that precise. It’s up to you for whom to be pinpoint. Oh, i’ve almost forgot. BP is one of the largest donor for some political campaign on US.

  11. I agree with the other posters that BP should be made to pay for this and unfortunately it is likely not the last time something like this will happen. It is not right that they get all the benefit from these types of operations for years and then when something goes wrong they are not responsible for it.

    We just moved to Vancouver to finally live by the ocean and it is such a wonderful experience and full of natural beauty. For companies like BP to risk that and destroy the coast as they did in the gulf is just horrible. There must be a better way.

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