Back in 2014, I asked whether fossil fuel interests understand how unpopular they are. Many commenters suggested that Big Energy just doesn't care. As long as they keep the world dependent on coal and oil, after all, why should CEOs give a damn about their "brand engagement" or other such metrics.
The problem for these folks, however, is that they are entering an increasingly competitive marketplace. And the alternatives to fossil fuels enjoy significant public support.
There are some tantalizing signs that energy executives are beginning to cotton on to their dilemma. Take the recent memo from European coal lobbyist Brian Ricketts which, according to reports over at The Guardian, lamented the stigmatizing impact of the recent climate agreement in Paris. While some execs may breathe a sigh of relief at the lack of legally binding targets, Ricketts believes that this should be little consolation. Specifically, he says, coal will be “hated and vilified in the same way that slave-traders were once hated and vilified.”
Of course vilification, by itself, is of little consequence to traders in commodities. But when entire countries and gigantic corporations start phasing out the use of your product, and when banks appear less willing to lend to you, the loss of moral legitimacy becomes an impediment to doing business.
Divestment campaigners have always said that stigmatization is their goal. That stigmatization is beginning to bear fruit. No wonder oil and gas are so keen to keep their distance.