Billboard, television and magazine advertising has been touting green this and green that for a while. I find the ones by companies such as BP and Chevron to be the most questionable, if not outright ridiculous.
In the October 2008 Atlantic magazine, as no doubt in many others, BP runs a full-page ad that says, “Investing in America’s most diverse energy portfolio.” It includes little clip art silhouettes for an oil drop, a gas flame, a wind turbine, the sun and a green plant, triggering our cutesy awwww factor. Then it says:
“Oil in the Gulf. Natural gas in the Rockies. Solar in Maryland. Wind in Texas. Biofuels research in California and Illinois. Diversity starts right here. BP is the largest investor in new U.S. energy development. In fact, over the last five years we’ve invested more than $28 billion in U.S. energy supplies.”
They are providing some concrete details for sure. Now is it true? (And, cynicism aside for a moment, if it is, will it do any good?)
Something that is definitely true is petroleum and gas prices are at all-time highs. And before anybody gets giddy about the idea, assuming it’s true, that BP spent $28 billion dollars in the past five years on “U.S. energy supplies” (note that they don’t say ‘green’ energy supplies), consider this:
Oil companies are reporting record profits — ExxonMobil reported $12 billion in profit for the second-quarter of this year. That’s three months of business, and $12 billion in company profit. And BP was not far behind.
That will mean $40-50 billion dollars in profits for ExxonMobil this year, and something similar for BP. And BP is touting spending only $5-6 billion dollars on the vaguely described “energy supplies.”
Corporate Advertising for a Brighter Future, Better Country
It turns out that companies have been running such ads for quite some time.
In the September 1977 National Geographic Magazine, Caterpillar Tractor Co. ran an advertisement debating the issue of solar energy.
Like a journalist trying to steer clear of opinion, Caterpillar poses questions on both sides of the debate (thus drawing in readers — and potential consumers — from both sides of the matter):
“Solar energy; a practical reality, an expensive dream, which?”
The ad says that enough sunlight falls on New York State in a day to power the United States for a week, and that installations “are planned for schools, hospitals and office buildings.”
Where are these schools and hospitals and office buildings powered by the sun? Did they ever happen? Were there actually ever plans to make it happen?
The ad steps across the fence for a few moments, posing the concerns about jumping onto the bandwagon for this “new, appealing” solar power:
“Others remind us that solar energy is not cheap. Sunshine may be free, but the systems needed to convert it to useful work are cumbersome and expensive. The collector system for an average home could cover the entire roof and cost 20 times more than a conventional furnace. And the furnace is still needed for cloudy weather.”
So, What To Do About Solar Energy in 1977?
The ad continues … (Yeah, it seems people had longer attention spans in those days, and must have actually appreciated informative, wordy advertisements in print) …
“Forget solar power? Definitely not. Today’s biggest energy resources, oil and natural gas, simply won’t last forever. New supplies are harder to find. Domestic reserves are dwindling. The National Energy Information Center says we have about 12 years supply of oil and natural gas at 1975 production rates. We’re importing oil at an unprecedented rate.
“We must manage our energy resources to ease pressure on petroleum products. It will take a realistic, definitive national energy policy to do it. That policy should blueprint rights and responsibilities of consumers, producers and government. It should encourage these bodies to develop and use all energy resources wisely for longterm economic and environmental well-being of the nation.
“Caterpillar makes machinery to mine fuels, prepare energy sites, build pipelines and restore mined lands. We support efficient, responsible development of all our energy resources.”
To Believe It, Or Not?
Some people are well aware of greenwashing tactics, which slap a warm-fuzzy green hue to an otherwise non-environmentally-friendly company and/or product and hope to profit from the associated perception that it behaves responsibly.
Was Caterpillar being truthful? Is BP? And where did the last 30 years of this jibberish lead us?