BP Thinks You Selfish Pricks Aren’t Doing Enough to Fight Climate Change

The fossil fuel giant wants social media users to "pledge" to emit less carbon. Really?
A "flare" at a natural gas drilling site.
"Flaring" natural gas is just one process BP has been criticized for. Photo by William Campbell/Corbis via Getty

Back in 2010, software engineer Raffi Krikorian estimated that every tweet consumes 0.02 grams of CO2. Sure, that isn't very much, but it's hard to imagine a worse use of that speck of carbon than this missive from the official BP account:

If you followed that link, in doing so consuming ever so slightly more carbon and therefore infinitesimally hastening the heating of our planet, you'd find yourself on a website decorated with drawings of planes and bikes and whatever. You are prompted to answer some questions about your consumption habits—how often you fly, how much meat you eat—and at the end it spits out a number representing the estimated amount of carbon you're responsible for emitting in a year. I love taking online quizzes, so I did this and got 19 metric tons, which is well above the global average of about 5. I was then given the opportunity to promise to change my behavior.


The idea that we all need to do our part to fight climate change is everywhere. NBC News recently launched a project asking for people's "Climate Confessions," which framed everyday activities as lurid sins: "Where do you fall short in preventing climate change? Do you blast the A/C? Throw out half your lunch? Grill a steak every week?" The New York Times has written articles about how guilty you should feel about flying and the most carbon-efficient way to boil water. The assumption you can get from reading those sorts of stories is that if everyone works together and takes the bus and makes sure to turn off the lights when leaving the house, we'll have licked this climate change problem.

The fact that the company formerly known as British Petroleum is echoing this line should be a big, flaming signpost that this way of thinking is missing the forest for the trees. I should definitely stop flying as much and stop eating meat in order to reduce my personal carbon footprint, but my sins don't even remotely compare to the sins of BP's business practices.

An accounting of the environmental damage done by BP would start with 2010's Deepwater Horizon spill, one of the most devastating such events in history. But even as BP has tried to clean up its reputation—for instance by leaving the conservative climate-denying group ALEC in 2015—it has remained a major culprit when it comes to carbon emissions. As much as it has tried to position itself as pivoting to alternative energy sources, it continues to expand its oil and gas operations and maintains wasteful practices like "flaring" natural gas during drilling, burning the fuel away because it can't transport it quickly enough.


And not only does BP contribute to the climate crisis through its everyday extraction and transportation operation, it supports political efforts to kneecap reform. According to a report on fossil fuel companies from the watchdog group InfluenceMap released earlier this year, BP has joined other giant firms in fighting government regulations and donated nearly $13 million to the successful effort to block a referendum on what would have been a landmark carbon tax in Washington State. (That's despite BP claiming that it supports a "well-designed" carbon pricing system.)

There's no field in that BP-pushed website where you can enter how much money you've donated to politicians or causes, or describe your efforts to influence the kind of climate policy we urgently need. But a lot of activists say that the most important thing you can do has nothing to do with consumption habits—instead, they say, you should join the effort to pressure politicians to enact carbon taxes and go further by passing far-reaching legislation on the scale of the Green New Deal.

That type of activism likely makes BP nervous. Calls to move away from natural gas, for instance, are a direct threat to the parts of BP that sell natural gas. It evidently doesn't want to do that. It's easier to tell me that I should stop driving my Prius so much.

I'd be happy to sell my car, and stop flying altogether, go vegan, and go AC-less, even if it meant sweating through the summers—if, in return, BP would stop funding efforts to block climate legislation and begin dismantling its oil and natural gas operations. We can stop, or at least mitigate, climate change if we all work together. Some of us, though, have more consequential decisions to make than others.

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Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.