You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Big Oil Gone Green?

Given the Senate block of the House energy bill, let’s take a look at the home pages of the “global energy companies” (to use their preferred moniker). Though it makes complete business sense, I’m still always startled by big oil’s aggressive environmental rebranding.

On BP’s World Advertising page, almost every campaign pivots on environmental impact or a branch of alternative energy. Green glares from the homepage--and not just in the various foliage shades of font. The prominently positioned “Carbon Footprint Calculator” is an interactive device that enables you to calculate the extent of your environmental assaults, with the hopes of deflecting green-guilt away from itself and onto the viewer. The calculator focuses on “household features” and “lifestyle choices”--Do you switch off lights when not in a room? Leave equipment on standby? Take showers rather than baths? But the calculator takes it real easy when it turns to transportation, asking only what kind of vehicle you use to traverse how many miles. There’s no “Do you walk when you can?” or “Take public transportation when possible?”

Not to be ignored, Chevron is winning rebranding awards. Their current motto, “Chevron The Power of Human Energy: Finding Newer Cleaner Ways to Power the World,” trumpets the power of collective effort, like BP, calling upon visitors to share the weight of responsibility. Before you can spit out the words eco-terrorist, the company has anticipated the accusation and appealed for your help. The web address of their promotional “Energyville Game” says it all:

The game itself is truly bizarre. Playing it, I feel simultaneously educated and indoctrinated (kinda like the way one feels after reading The Economist). First off, the game asks you to name your city--an oddly effective means of cultivating proprietorship. I named mine Lena, after my 89-year-old Italian grandmother, and every time the game told me that Lena needed something, I felt a pang of guilt in my stomach (the organ most affiliated with my nonie).

My admittedly uninformed attempt to rely on biomass fuel and wind and solar power was deterred:

*** “Unavailable! Geographical and other constraints prevent Wind power from providing any more power to Lena.” [eep]
*** “Unavailable! Solar panels are still too cost prohibitive and inefficient to provide any more power to Lena.” [uh-oh]
*** “WARNING! LENA NEEDS PETROLEUM. Though alternative fuels can reduce the need for petroleum, airplanes and a significant number of ground vehicles will continue to rely on petroleum for fuel.” [oh no]

And now, a sampling of the unexpected events that occurred between 2015 and 2030 as I progressed from level 1 to level 2:

*** “A resurgence of terrorist activity reduces petroleum production in the Middle East.”
*** “An increase in the number of cloudy days reduces the effectiveness of solar cells.”
*** “Because of protests and strikes connected to health and environmental problems, coal-fired power plants are shut down. As a result, demand increases for natural gas.”

Who made this game? And what did his or her instructions look like? Say whatever you want! No really, anything!--just so long as you make clear petroleum is necessary. Eh, I scored 654,371,123.

The winner though has to be Shell, who has produced a mini movie--9 minutes and 14 seconds of polished propaganda. Shell will not disclose how much it’s increased web traffic, only that it has, and that John Mathieson, the director of photography, shot Gladiator. In the movie, an attractive journalist wanting to know how Shell plans to deal with the increasing demand for depleting oil supplies confronts Jaap Van Ballegooijen, Shell’s optimistic chief engineer. He whisks her away to the jungle and helicopters her over lakes, ever-eager to take time out of his busy day to disclose all, despite resentful calls from his lonesome adolescent son over in Germany. It’s through the voice of this irritable adolescent that environmental concerns are put on the table--“Which beautiful part of the world are you drilling to pieces now?”--and quickly cleared as nothing but resentment and naivet