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BP's 21st Century Strategy? Go Backwards.

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We shouldn't be surprised that BP has ditched its solar division to concentrate on its core business of pumping oil from increasingly risky areas of the earth. We all knew, deep in our hearts, that this company's love affair with alternative energy was never more than a casual flirtation.

By Autumn 2010 the writing was on the wall. Katrina Landis, given the unfortunate job of heading up BP's alternative energy division, said at the time that "you simply cannot compete with China's ability to produce PV panels that have the quality required to satisfy Western customers." For a company that prides itself on finding ways to beat the competition through innovation and engineering excellence, this is a rather humbling statement.

What BP did this week is to admit that it will play no part in what is likely to be the defining energy source of the 21st century. That's quite an admission of defeat. It's like Google deciding in 2004 to stick with just search engines, because Microsoft had already nailed the whole email thing. While other companies -- including Google itself -- place big bets on solar as the growth technology of the future, BP is content to sit at the smoky table in the corner, counting old chips.

So why is BP turning its back when others are piling in? What's the smart, forward thinking new strategy that will take us all by surprise? Pathetically, there is none. Batten down the hatches, ready the drills and make billions for a couple more decades. Develop insanely complex ways of extracting oil from places like the tar sands of Canada, ultra deep water wells in Angola, or perhaps the Arctic. Leave the breakthroughs in clean technology, the electrification of the rural poor, the corporate leadership on climate change to someone else. Make hay while the sun shines, even if that means wrecking the climate in the process.

This would all be fine (well, at least slightly more palatable) if their public messaging began to adapt to reflect this grim reality. If the green 'sunflower' began to slowly be eclipsed by a dark shadow, then we might at least begin to understand what their real values are. I wouldn't hold your breath.

A couple of years ago a colleague and I from Greenpeace UK presented the company with the world's first annual "Emerald Paintbrush" award, to celebrate their breathtaking audacity in the field of corporate greenwash. This giant oil company continues to tell us it is serious about climate change and clean technology. After the latest meek surrender, even fewer will listen.

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