Give us action, not words

Just like Michael Gove, the reality is that oil company CEOs can say whatever they want, without any fear of being held accountable for their promises.

Hearing BP’s new boss Bernard Looney say that the company will be carbon neutral by 2050, without any indication of how this will be achieved or any milestones along the way, sent me out into a gale to plant apple trees in an effort to calm down.

What sort of world do we live in, when virtue is claimed before the hard work and sacrifices it requires are even planned, let alone delivered?

Perhaps we should give Bernard the benefit of the doubt; assuming the worst of someone is a sure way to get the worst from them. But we have been here before. In 2001, under Sir John Browne, BP rebranded as ‘Beyond Petroleum’, with the green and yellow sunburst logo they call ‘the Helios’ (after the Greek sun god), to go with its professed green intentions.

Despite spending more on the rebranding than on renewable energy in the prior year, Sir John said that the new logo signified “dynamic energy in all its forms from oil to gas and solar”. By 2013, Sir John had gone, and BP sold its wind assets in the USA, with a company spokesman saying the decision was part of a continuing effort “to become a more focused oil and gas company…and to unlock more value for shareholders.”

Cardoon flower
‘Climate solutions are doable, but not without leadership,’ says Myles Allen. 

The average tenure of a corporate CEO is five years; about three times the average tenure at the top of Defra. Just like Michael Gove, the reality is that oil company CEOs can say whatever they want, without any fear of being held accountable for their promises. Environmental issues are invariably complex and systemic, requiring courage, meticulous research and a long-term view to deliver solutions.

Sadly, both our political and corporate structures take a short-term view better suited to soundbites and rebranding. The tragedy is that within these structures, there are highly capable and motivated researchers and engineers who could provide the answers, given the right leadership.

As Myles Allen, professor of geoscience at Oxford University, said last week on BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific: ‘An engineer will tell you that the solutions to the climate crisis are doable…but they cannot be done without leadership’. He also said that we need to stop expecting individual consumers to solve problems that can only truly be solved by those with power. It’s available to listen again here – and if you need to restore your faith in humanity afterwards, listen to Ian Wright on Desert Island Discs.

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