Today has been a momentous day for BP. The company announced the largest corporate loss in UK history and revealed the identity of a new CEO whose job it will be to turn the company around. As the details broke this morning, teams of Greenpeace volunteers in electric and hybrid vehicles fanned out across London to close all the BP garages in the city.
Some people might see this as kicking a man when he's down – BP has seen its reputation dive over the Gulf spill while the company faces huge financial losses. But the men who run BP are yet to take the right lessons from the disaster. The Gulf spill is far from an isolated incident, and while BP continues to pursue a business model that focuses on drilling in harder-to-reach locations, in an effort to squeeze out the very last drops of oil, the greater the chances are of more catastrophic spills occurring.
In the Arctic, where BP is investing, pollution has far more serious consequences than in warm waters like the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile the company's proposed increased exploitation of Canada's tar sands would see billions bumped into an operation that devastates both the local environment and the global climate (greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands exploitation are three times as great per barrel as from conventional crude). BP's interest in these high-risk areas reveals the cynical dishonesty behind its "beyond petroleum" branding.
But we believe everyone has the potential to reform, to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem, and it's hard to imagine a better time for BP to do just that. The new chief executive needs to learn from Tony Hayward's mistakes and turn his back on deepwater drilling as well as even more risky projects in the untouched Arctic wilderness and the tar sands. Greenpeace is urging Bob Dudley, the company's new CEO – who once worked at BP's solar and wind business – to take the company in a new direction after his predecessor's concentration on high risk, environmentally reckless sources of oil.
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We're not asking BP to make any sacrifices here – the biggest financial loss in UK corporate history, the huge drop in BP's share price and the associated pension fund problems weren't caused by reckless investments in untried renewable technology, but by what we're campaigning against – the blind rush to prospect for oil from unconventional sources, increasing pollution and the risk of disaster.
For the last two years, global investment in renewables has outstripped fossil fuels, and new energy capacity coming from renewable sources in Europe and the US last year also topped that coming from fossil fuels and nuclear for the second year running. Renewable capacity worldwide is expected to top fossil fuel and nuclear again next year, and in China, of the 178GW of power generation capacity under construction at the end of 2009, more than 96GW were renewable.
Meanwhile, BP intended to spend 19 times its clean energy budget on expanding in the increasingly limited oil and gas sector in 2010. Climate change means we can't afford to wait for the last few drops of expensive, inaccessible, unconventional oil to run out. We need to end the oil age early and move to a clean energy future as quickly as possible, and despite their myopic short-termism, we're trying to encourage BP's directors to take a slice of that future.