Green Energy & Corporate Greenwashing
Updated: Oct 28
The opening night of the 2019 Student Energy Summit there is a very long ceremony highlighted by a heartwarming performance from a local orchestra. I receive a tote bag filled with useless swag, and a notebook. The tote is stamped with sponsor logos, including a large BP Oil logo. I quickly realized this summit will not only focus on green energy. After the ceremony, the delegates mingle and participate in various activities.
The first activity involves arranging items to reflect the level of emissions required to produce them. The items include an apple, a book, a bottle of wine, and a plastic bag. Apparently, the production of the plastic bag releases the least amount of emissions. I wonder who set up this game and how they chose the criteria. Did they think of the value of a book compared to a plastic bag? Did they ask if the plastic bag is replaceable or necessary, where the food items are not? Did they think about the lifetime of a plastic bag, how it will persist in the environment for thousands of years, harming wildlife and sensitive biomes?
“How strange this game is", I think to myself, and “Who is this game designed to benefit? Surely not the planet.” I remember the conversation I had with a local, while on the train to London. She had told me many of these large international student summits need big sponsors, leaving few options for charities such as Student Energy to host their grand events.
BP Oil, Schlumberger, Shell Oil, and Equinor were the sponsors that had contributed the most to SES2019. They all want a part in the youth change maker’s agenda, they are all fighting to influence the future of energy, and they are willing to pay big money to push these interests. Of course it makes sense they would sponsor the 2019 Student Energy Summit. What I want to know is if Student Energy should be willing to compromise the future of our planet by permitting these large polluters to take part in forming the minds and careers of future energy workers and innovators. Is there really such a paucity of options for event sponsors?
I will put forward the advice my team at Pitch It Green received from April Hossain, Managing Director of Now Creative Group. She urged us to choose our events and projects wisely, saying it is better to host one well organized, successful, and inspiring event rather than compromise our brand by arranging many sort-of-ok events. At the end of the day, it comes down to being true to your brand. I for one, cannot see how a charity whose mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable future” can justify accepting sponsorships from oil and fracking corporations who have shown the world time and time again that their pursuit of profit outweighs the human right to clean air, water and land. In sponsoring SES2019, these polluting companies became the partners of Student Energy and were permitted to take part in the discussion of the transition to a sustainable future.
BP Oil and the Senegal Scandal
The next morning we were subjected to a talk from Dr. Brian Gilvary, CFO of BP Oil. He argued BP and the oil and gas sector is not that far apart from Greenpeace and Extinction rebellion, since they all agree that the planet is on an unsustainable path. They all agree that humankind needs to decarbonize the planet at a rapid rate and that by 2050 we need a net-zero emission rate. Dr. Gilvary went on to discuss a quote from Lord John Browne, which stated that “Humankind has not, for a long time, understood the full price of providing itself with energy. It has paid not only with its treasure, but also with damage to our planet.” I thought back to the game with the plastic bag I had played the previous night and wondered if whoever had designed the game had considered the full price of providing humankind with commodities made from oil.
Dr. Gilvary went on to make the case for an “evolving transition”, where oil production is still required to balance the demand for energy with the availability of sustainable energy. Showing a world map coloured by energy consumption, he showed Canada on average consumes over 300GJ/person, whereas Senegal uses only 10GJ/person. BP’s CFO then noted the economists’ argument, that to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement we must consume below 100GJ/person for the whole planet. However, we have a growing population, a billion people who have no electricity, 2.5 billion more people are wanting access power in the next 20 years and the average energy consumption per person rising. He argued that those who want to keep the average consumption below 100GJ/person would thus be asking for billions of people to stay without energy while the rich prosper. Bringing in what is called “the dual challenge” of the Paris goals, to eradicate poverty and lower greenhouse gas emissions, BP argued that oil needs to be part of the energy mix as we reduce our energy use and tackle poverty.
This makes perfect sense right? BP wants to ensure the poorest of nations can access what rich countries like Canada take for granted. They’re really in it for the betterment of humanity. They want to eradicate poverty, which coincidentally requires the use of oil and gas, and ease our transition into a world of green energy. Dr. Gilvary had made a convincing and touching argument that, in my opinion, is all just a load of corrupt greenwashing. Why is it that the Senegalese have access to such a small portion of the global energy use when their land is richly abundant in natural resources? Is it because they need great companies like BP to raise them out of poverty? Or is it because companies like BP are robbing the country of these natural resources and selling the scraps back to citizens at an inflated price? Why not enable the Senegalese to set themselves up from the very start with a self-sustaining system. Why put them and many other regions into the infrastructural carbon lock in that will inhibit the introduction of the green energy we so desperately need?
It was interesting listening to the BP CFO advocate for the poorest of countries, specifically mentioning Senegal, at the very moment the UK Senegalese stood outside the building in protest of the summit. The Senegalese community has been fighting to hold BP accountable for the $10 billion petrol and gas scandal involving Timis Corporation. Frank Timis, of Timis Corporation, has had a history of supplying drugs, violence, bankruptcy, and is under allegations of tax evasion, corruption, and bribing the government. What’s more, those who have worked in his West African mining companies have experienced numerous human rights violations.
Senegal is a country rich in natural resources, yet poverty is persistent and widespread. Due to years of corruption the value of Senegal’s natural resources has been robbed from the state and its people. In 2011, Timis Corporation had obtained control over large oil blocks off the Coast of Senegal through fraudulent and illegal means. In order to obtain these assets, Timis had employed the brother of the Senegalese president, a clear conflict of interest, at a rate of $25,000 per month. BP was fully aware of the shady workings of Timis Corporation before taking the deal in 2017, yet had promised to pay Timis Corporation between 9 and 12 billion over the next ten years. The people of Senegal have been cheated out of billions of dollars from their own natural resources and instead a foreign businessman, Frank Timis, gets rich on the profits of the environmental destruction exacted by BP. The extent of the environmental impact of extracting some 16 trillion cubic feet of gas contained in the oil blocks has not yet been made transparent to the public. Through their deal, BP Oil has helped Timis Corporations to steal from the people of Senegal and from the future of everyone on this planet.
If BP is rewarding the Frank Timis’s of the world, they are not working for the planet nor the people, and they are certainly not looking to eradicate poverty nor to care for our natural resources. BP is a corporation. A corporation whose goal is to make money. They make money selling oil and gas products and they will squeeze the last dollars out of this dying market, working to extend its lifetime as long as possible before they are inevitably crushed by the growing sector of green energy.
The Innovation Jam and the Leaders Fellowship
After the low point of the summit had passed, there was still much value to be gained. In the Innovation Jam, students posted ideas on an online platform to gain support from likeminded peers. Everyone chose a team and helped to develop various ideas that had the potential to aid our transition to a sustainable future. I had chosen to support the idea of a gym where equipment would be able to generate energy through kinetic motion. The energy would be used to power the equipment itself, the building, and any excess would be sold back to the grid. Members would be incentivized to exercise during times of high energy demand and the whole building would have net zero emissions. We called it Zero Gym. In the final presentation, my team was chosen among several other winning ideas. The prize was a bursary to the 2021 Student Energy Summit as well as entrance to the Student Energy Leaders Fellowship program. The fellowship is a 10 month web-based program offering work skills training, energy knowledge, and connections to global leaders. Throughout the project, fellows will design and implement their ideas for a project that will help to create a future of sustainable energy.
I applied with my idea, The Climate Cyclists, a movement improving the health of our planet and its people by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and pollution associated with transportation. In May 2020 we begin cycling across Canada and North America to raise awareness about transportation based climate change solutions. Our journey will reveal the wonders of our Earth and engage citizens in a conversation about the way they play, move, travel, and commute.
If you would like to hear more please stay tuned or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ambition of the Paris Agreement
As Dr. Gilvary had said in his address to the SES2019 delegates, the Paris Agreement’s goal to keep temperature rise below 2ºC is hugely ambition. I would like to add that it is hugely ambitious, but not impossible. If we do not believe we can do it, then it will never become reality. The best goals are those that are challenging. Only then can we grow as a society. This is not to say it will be easy, nor will it always be comfortable, because we will have to sacrifice oil-based commodities, including our precious plastic bags.
However, this means there is a huge window of opportunity for green energy and green products to transform our world. The vast majority of companies existing a hundred years ago are no longer in business. They simply become obsolete. BP and Shell will also be made obsolete if they do not pivot their industry towards the sole purpose of green energy production, because even if the oil and gas industry can be saved, it should not be allowed to exist much longer. If we demand a full transition into a world of green energy, business will have no choice but to follow. We can vote with our wallets. We can talk to our family and peers. We can innovate together and celebrate every step taken towards a world where humanity exists in peace and prosperity.