Friday, 16 April 2010

Beyond Petulant

On Thursday, I went along with some other folk to BP's Annual General Meeting, to help remind them that launching into a filthy, destructive, and poisonous Canadian tar sands project might not be their best idea ever.

I didn't go into the meeting itself, but a number of critical shareholders did, along with two representatives from the Indigenous communities on the front line of tar sands extraction. Jess Worth describes what happened on her blog:

...most people in the room were listening hard when Niall O’Shea from Co-operative Asset Management got up to make his case.

He talked about how extremely carbon-intensive tar sands extraction is, with significant impacts on water, the local environment and indigenous communities. He argued that BP’s business case didn’t stand up to scrutiny, that the figures presented were way too optimistic, in part because they are based on the assumption that we will continue to pay ever higher prices for oil, whereas in reality high oil prices tend to put the brakes on economies and bring the price back down. Furthermore, as and when they drift higher, this is likely to create demand for alternative sources of energy.

But most importantly, he concluded, there is an ethical question here about the large-scale exploitation of carbon-intensive resources when we as a society need to be going in the opposite direction.

He was swiftly followed by a powerful speech from George Poitras, the former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation which is 240 km downstream from the tar sands region where BP's planned project will be situated. ‘Many characterise tar sands as ‘dirty oil’. But to me, it’s ‘bloody oil’,’ he began, as the row of board members sitting up on the platform feverishly scribbled notes, ‘because we are observing many rare types of cancer in my community. The governments are not coming to our assistance, the Canadian government even charged my physician when he was just doing his job.'
BP's response to all this criticism? They essentially stuck their fingers in their ears and went "la la la", by reading out a prepared statement that didn't address any of the questions they'd been asked.

But my "favourite" fact about BP's tar sands project is that the company's chosen projections for oil demand - the numbers that make the project look economically viable - are based on the "business as usual" energy use scenario in a recent International Energy Agency report - a scenario where no significant climate policies are put into place and global fossil fuel use continues to climb. The selfsame report points out that such a scenario would almost inevitably lead to "the global average temperature rising by up to 6 degrees C" and "massive climatic change and irreparable damage to the planet".

In other words, BP's proposed tar sands project only makes financial sense in a doomsday scenario. They're planning for the end of the world. This was pointed out to them in the AGM by Louise Rouse of FairPensions - and, sure enough, they completely ignored the question.

This is denial on a whole new level - the wilful ignoring of certain undesirable facts from the very report that they're relying on for their whole business strategy. The best comparison I can make is a 5-year-old child responding to facts they don't like:

"Come on now Tommy, we need to head home - it's 5 o'clock."
"No it isn't"
"We need to go - your Grandma's coming round for tea tonight."
"She's not she's not she's not."

This week, BP proudly told its shareholders that it was leading them boldly into the apocalypse - and 85% of them cheerfully voted for it. But hey, when we're all scrabbling together for tasty rats amidst the ruins of civilisation, at least those BP shares will be generating a nice return.

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