Big companies are rarely popular but Bernard Looney has become BP’s next chief executive at a particularly touchy moment. The Royal Shakespeare Company has withdrawn from a sponsorship deal with BP, citing the alienation of young theater-goers, and protesters have dubbed its head office in London a “crime scene.”
As Extinction Rebellion activists mounted protests against climate change this week, oil companies are as reviled as banks and tobacco companies. “Your dirty oil will kill us all,” an actress read during its event against oil majors including BP and Eni in July. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist, is tipped to win the Nobel Peace Prize this week.
Given that the world will rely on fossil fuels for decades, even with the most stringent government policies to reduce energy use, oil companies face their own climate emergency. How can they retain social legitimacy when young people protest against them?