A Free-Market Energy Blog

They Loved BP and Enron: Climate Alarmism as the Great Environmental Distraction (Part I: Worldwatch Institute quotations)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- June 28, 2010

[Editor note: Part II in this three-part series delves into the reasons that BP tried to rebrand itself as “beyond petroleum.” Part III examines a Harvard Business Review article linking BP’s ‘beyond petroleum’ strategy to special government favor, including drilling on government domain.]

“A growing number of corporations are moving beyond denial to acceptance and action on climate change, some seeking competitive advantage by anticipating rather than responding to future policy changes.”

– Seth Dunn and Christopher Flavin, “Moving the Climate Change Agenda Forward.” In State of the World 2002 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), p. 25.

Just imagine if John Browne had used the time and resources BP spent on climate alarmism and ‘beyond petroleum’ on real safety and environmental issues.

BP might still have a capitalization of $150 billion and not face a potential worst-case scenario of bankruptcy and ruin. And more importantly, the U.S. Gulf would not be in an environmental crisis.

Just imagine if Enron’s Ken Lay had used the time and resources spent on climate alarmism and forced energy transformation on accounting, risk control, and the real things that promote business sustainability. (Lay was a big Christopher Flavin/Worldwatch fan too.)

Enron might still be with us today.

Diverted management attention has an opportunity cost. Left environmentalists lobbied and praised BP and Enron for putting form over substance. A few shouted ‘greenwashing’, but most applauded their coveted split within the fossil-fuel industry on climate and energy.

Enron is no longer around. Instead it has become the poster child of political capitalism run amuck. And the Deepwater Horizon accident–for which, in an effort to save about $5 million, BP will pay tens of billions of dollars–may sink BP as an independent company.

What an irony: fake environmentalism driving out real environmentalism. Climate and energy reality, anyone?

A sampling of quotations from the mainstream Left Worldwatch Institute praising BP, Enron, or both follows.

(Note: It would be useful to find similar praise from like environmental groups and environmentalists for the historical record. Please add such information in a comment to this post.)

Selected Worldwatch Quotations on BP and Enron

“Within the fossil fuel industry itself … some companies such as Enron, British Petroleum, and Royal Dutch Shell are already looking to the future, and beginning to invest in alternative energy sources. Enron’s chairman, Ken Lay, who publicly discusses the need to reduce carbon emissions and to stabilize climate, sees Enron at the heart of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The infrastructure it has built to store and distribute natural gas can one day be used for hydrogen as the solar/hydrogen economy unfolds.”

– Lester Brown and Jennifer Mitchell, “Building a New Economy.” In Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1998 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 180.

“In an important speech at Stanford University in May 1997, British Petroleum’s CEO, John Browne, said: ‘The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are a part. We in BP have reached that point.’ This was a big jump for big oil.”

– Lester Brown and Jennifer Mitchell, “Building a New Economy.” In Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1998 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 185.

“Numerous mainstream energy companies, including British Petroleum (BP, in solar energy), Enron (solar energy and windpower), and General Electric (fuel cells and micro turbines), are investing in [new energy] technologies.”

– Christopher Flavin and Seth Dunn, “Reinventing the Energy System.” In Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1999 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), p. 32.

“Ken Lay, the head of Enron, a large Texas-based national gas supplier with annual sales of $20 billion that is fast becoming a worldwide energy firm, sees his company, and more broadly the natural gas industry, playing a central role in the conversion from a fossil-fuel-based energy economy to a solar/hydrogen energy economy.”

– Lester Brown, “Crossing the Threshold: Early Signs of an Environmental Awakening.” Worldwatch Institute, March 1, 1999.

“Yesterday on television, I saw my old friend Ken Lay of Enron in handcuffs for the first time. [Scattered laughter, then scattered applause.] I don’t know all the problems that led to Enron’s demise, but Ken Lay had a vision. As is well known, Enron has natural gas fields in Texas and a network of oil pipelines going to the Northeast, the Midwest, and one that goes all the way to California.

Another idea of his was, one day, to have enough wind farms in Texas to electrolyze water and produce hydrogen and use that natural gas infrastructure when the gas was gone to distribute hydrogen.

Maybe Ken was too much of a visionary. I’m not sure. But anyhow, this was an idea he had and I think it was a sound one. He had bought two wind companies, one in California and one in Europe, and Enron Wind was one of the profitable parts of Enron. [RLB: Incorrect: Enron Wind was never profitable.] It was bought by GE for $385 million, and what was Enron Wind is now GE Wind.”

– Lester Brown, “‘Plan B’: The Rescue of a Planet and a Civilization,” Edited text from a plenary speech delivered on July 9, 2004, at the Friends General Conference Gathering held in Amherst, Massachusetts.

“Encouragingly, however, developers of power projects fueled by renewable energy are also seeking to enter emerging markets. In one particularly ambitious undertaking, Amoco and Enron are looking for finance for a joint venture to build a 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plant in India.”

– Hilary French, “Assessing Capital Flows to Developing Countries.” In Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1998 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 160.

“Global oil production is expected to peak early in this century. ‘In 20–25 years the reserves of liquid hydrocarbons are beginning to go down so we have this window of time to convert over to renewables,’ according to Harry Shimp, president and chief executive officer of BP’s solar division.”

 – Janet Sawin, “Charting a New Energy Future.” In Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2003 (New York:  W. W. Norton, 2003), p. 87.


  1. Jon Boone  

    That’s for doing this, Rob. Pretentiousness is as pretentiousness does. And faux environmentalism is fake science, foisted on the foolish and gullible by the craven.

    As H.L. Mencken said, “In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell.” He also said, “The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.”

    Finally, here’s a Mencken quote for the likes of Lester Brown, one of the silliest minds around: “The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.”


  2. Kennedy Maize  

    Lester Brown, founder of Worldwatch, is now founder and leader of the Earth Policy Institute, a similar locus of environmental bafflegab.
    He’s long been a Malthusian fool and disciple of Paul Ehrlich. Back in the early 1980s, he used to host a yearly lunch-press conference for reporters, where he would routinely predict the end of the earth as we know it, struck down by famine, pestilence, death and destruction.
    The funniest part of those meetings was not Lester’s bloviating, but that he served fine French wines and cheeses to the ink-stained wretches. I came to look forward to the lunch, knowing I could ignore the Jeremiad.
    His Wikipedia bio is so loving, I think he wrote it himself.


  3. rbradley  

    There is no profit/loss statement for Lester Brown so he can fudge the accounting all he wants.


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  11. more  

    Good way of explaining, and pleasant article
    to take inforrmation concerning my presentation topic, which i am going to deliver in college.


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