The company once known as British Petroleum now wishes to be called BP; in a rebranding effort that’s been a long time coming (at a temp job in 2000, Redfox helped put together an identity guideline kit for their helios logo). They’ve been running some commercials touting themselves as "Beyond Petroleum", and Slate’s Daniel Gross is unimpressed. He feels their move "inspires no small amount of cognitive dissonance"; the subhead of his critique claims their ad campaign "makes no sense." Gross is almost certainly correct that cynical, possibly hypocritical, self-promotion is behind the rebranding effort; that is admittedly quite often the basis of ad campaigns. John Browne, BP’s chairman, comes off as one smart cookie; if a veneer of social responsibility provides benefits to BP, Browne seems like he’ll pick up on that fact. Further, while I have some issues with it as a design movement, I find something very reassuring in science fiction writer’s Bruce Sterling’s Viridian capitalist thought experiments. America hasn’t shown any desire for a Manhattan Project-style undertaking to ween ourselves off fossil fuels, so I’m all in favor of Sterling’s notion of market-driven environmentalism: driving environmental policy through the creation of gadgetry that consumers want, thanks to pricing, novel features, or desperate hipness (or potentially all three — link via Boing Boing) which also advances the state of the art in environmentally efficient disposable consumer culture. Sterling loves BP; a major player in the world petroleum market actively trying to make a buck on renewable resources is a good thing, assuming they’re better at staying in business than some folks. Gross is right that solar power isn’t going to be more than a blip on BP’s earnings for years, if not decades, but I don’t think they’re in it for their health. I think BP thinks it can grow to be a leader in the solar and hydrogen (via its immense natural gas extraction capabilities) markets of the future, but if they can’t, they can at least get their money’s worth in good publicity. There’s a second factor worth noting, because BP Solar may never be a factor within the company’s vast balance sheet. The fossil fuel industry is filled with companies that do and have done simply terrible things, among the least of which is funding a wide array of lobbying efforts, political action committees, and scientific research establishments dedicated to the proposition that everything about the fossil fuel industry is just dandy. The coal industry, for instance, bankrolls the Coalition for Affordable and Reliable Energy, which trumpets the "strong commitment" of the coal industry to a cleaner environment. Sterling has a particular loathing for an industry group called the Greening Earth Society; he’s been chortling as their united front begins to fall apart. BP may never appease its critics (1, 2), but as long as John Browne keeps talking the talk, it’s almost irrelevant whether he walks the walk. I’m not a scientist of any stripe, much less a climatologist, but it’s apparent to me that, although there’s a range of reputable scientific opinions, the views of most people who are attempting to investigate potential global warming don’t coincide with professional greenhouse apologists. The era of fuel cells, wind farms, and photovoltaic shingles is almost upon us; someone’s going to make these things into viable options, even if they’re never as immediately cheap as non-renewable resources. BP may help bring them to us and they may not, but right now they seem to be promising to at least stay out of the way. They’re even going to try to make a some spare change off being less awful. How is that not a win?