Why Greenpeace took action today?

To enable change in the Autumn.

I agree that it’s a stunt – but it will have an impact on BP – though not in the way that some people might expect. In the world of direct action strategy it is sometimes said that ‘best practice’ is to target a single organisation and they’ve already done so with Shell and Exxon/Mobil on other fronts, so let’s ask ourselves why they have targetted BP at this particular time…?

Greenpeace specialise in direct action. That is their hallmark. They are well researched, well organised, well planned and well managed. They certainly seem to know how to use the media to get their message across. Their ability to mobilise volunteers, often placing themselves in danger to make their point, and sometimes breaking local laws in the process with a personal risk of punishment, demonstrates the passion that their volunteers feel for their causes. There aren’t many companies whose staff would go to such lengths. Similarly, there are many companies whose staff are quite ill-informed about the two sides of the argument surrounding their products or services. I think you’d find that most Greenpeace activists are quite well informed, even if one doesn’t always agree with their balance. But they don’t often place their volunteers in such a position of personal risk unless an ‘end’ is in sight.

There are other direct action movements whose volunteers DO find themselves imprisoned with little imminent hope of release or where their lives ARE at immediate risk. That isn’t generally Greenpeace’s style.

So what is the ‘end’ that they have in their sights?

Greenpeace raise funds almost entirely through popular support and most of their ’causes’ are already known by reasonably well-informed people to be contentious. What Greenpeace do well is make an issue hit the headlines when it is almost at a tipping point, garnering public support for a different scenario. So doing, they enable public policy makers to act against more powerful lobbies in the direction of popular opinion, and in turn enable organisations to implement change that might have otherwise seemed too substantial or financially risky to undertake alone.

They have adopted this approach with forest products, electronics goods and PVC toys among others. Contentious cause; industry-wide resistance to change; direct action; legislative process; individual corporate adoption.

The issue behind today’s action is the enactment of the EU Fuel Quality Directive in the Autumn.

In this particular case, we know that BP has a well established programme of research into wind and solar energy sources. However, the budget for this under Tony Hayward’s strategy was less than $1bn compared to investment in research on oil and gas of $19bn focused primarily on extracting oil from Tar Sands and Oil Shales even though they are accepted by most specialists as far worse pollutants and with increased extraction risks.

With the announcement that he is to be replaced by Bob Dudley, and given the intensity of negative feeling towards BP, it would seem that Greenpeace’s strategists felt it was sufficiently close to that tipping point for them to scale up their campaign to get BP to switch its focus onto alternative energy and away from the Tar Sands especially.

They have been lobbying (along with other organisations) for the adoption of stricter standards under the European Union Fuel Quality Directive when these are announced in the Autumn. This would preclude BPs plans (under Hayward) to exploit Tar Sands and Oil Shales, and create the right context for them to focus more attention on alternatives.

If they are right, and Dudley switches the focus (enabled by the EU standards) then most other oil companies will follow suit and that will be the result Greenpeace are hoping for.

Let’s watch this space.

Best wishes

The leaders’ confidant, working behind the scenes, helping them to see situations, organisations, themselves, and other people, differently

London (W1 & EC3) – Oxford (OX2) – skype

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