Archive for June 11, 2009

Strange Bedfellows?: Chevron vs. Sierra Club

Dave O'Reilly and Carl PopePenned by Carolyn

Last night, Christina and I attended a debate between Carl Pope (Executive Director of the Sierra Club) and Dave O’Reilly (CEO of Chevron). Given scheduling and, I imagine, some dragging of feet from both parties, it took the Commonwealth Club and the Wall Street Journal a full year to get this event organized.

On the bus home, a couple thoughts on the event stayed with me.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I worked with the media team in Sierra Club National Headquarters for a couple semesters while I was in school. One of the first things I learned about pitching a story was, of course, that it has to have a hook. One of the most compelling of these hooks is a “strange bedfellows” story, where two groups that wouldn’t traditionally be lumped together that share a common cause or campaign (such as Sierra Club’s “Blue Green Alliance” with the United Steel Workers or their work with hunters and anglers to preserve wildlife habitat).

Last night’s event had some shade of that type of hook – which is probably why it seemed like half of San Francisco was in attendance. This is not to say in any means that Sierra Club and Chevron are in cahoots – in fact, Sierra Club has long made the oil giant a target of campaigns around environmental justice and destruction. However, at one point in the conversation, Dave O’Reilly (consciously or not) conceded that he believed the coal lobby in Washington was too strong for natural gas to have a real chance of being implemented on a large scale. Carl Pope jumped on the opportunity to invite O’Reilly to join him in DC to take a stand against the coal lobby – and the two men shook on it. I’d guess Sierra Club will try to hold O’Reilly to this promise — which he may not be able to wiggle out of, given that the event was swarming with local and national media and will be broadcast on NPR.

Beyond this potential lobbying duo becoming “strange bedfellows,” I think it symbolizes a larger movement towards cooperation between the large non-profits and environmental lobbies and the companies they’ve long been harshly criticizing. At Sierra Club, this move follows last year’s launch of the “GreenWorks” line with Clorox — another case of unprecedented cooperation and dialogue between big industry and the Club.

For us at Bright Green Talent, this is hugely energizing. We too believe that there’s no longer any way to tackle the world’s environmental problems without everyone’s cooperation – this is, for example, why we’ve chosen to work with Wal-Mart to help them grow their sustainability team. Many of the giant green non-profits – Conservation International, EDF, NRDC – are pursuing similar private-public partnerships.

But don’t worry – we’re not letting Chevron off the hook just for shaking hands with the opposition. Pope also called for Chevron and the other large oil companies to set aside 10% of their profits for 10 years to create a fund that would clean up all the communities and ecosystems that have been devastated by oil development over the past century. And we side with Pope and the Sierra Club as they call for ambitious and significant decreases in carbon emissions (80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050), rather than allowing industry to hide behind claims that those goals “just aren’t realistic.” We still need people and organizations to stand up for communities who don’t have a voice — such as the protestors who stood up last night to bring awareness to Chevron’s hand in environmental contamination in Ecuador.

Most significantly, where there used to be a thick wall over which each party hurled insults and accusations, there is now a live and potentially constructive, dialogue. Strange bedfellows or not, it’s time to act together and move towards a prosperous low-carbon future.

Want to see it for yourself?

Watch for the event to be rebroadcast on NPR; here’s a video from San Francisco local news. Sierra Club has posted some thoughts and will add video highlights.

Reuters also picked up the story, with a great exchange:

Pope criticised U.S. energy regulation for not forcing utilities to buy more low-carbon electricity. “Well, if you can get the government to move faster, then good luck,” O’Reilly said.
Pope replied, to applause: “It would help if you would get out of the way.”

Photo from Sierra Club

June 11, 2009 at 5:19 pm 1 comment


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