The Gulf Oil Spill: Winners And Losers
- Not-for-profits. Since the spill, many environmental groups have tapped into our fear for the environment to increase exposure, membership, and donations. The National Resource Defense Council's Facebook community has grown by 19% while the Sierra Club has reported record hits to its site.
Whether it's a politician scaring you about the other candidate or a charity hitting you in the face with an image of a starving child, fear motivates. Non-profits rightly incorporate disasters into their communications and marketing strategies to capitalize quickly before the fear dissipates. For example, Oceana's site opens with a petition you can sign to end offshore drilling, followed by the headline "Deepwater Drilling Disaster." With the spill, the organization is likely to generate new revenue and advance its political agenda.
- Cleantech. If ever there were ever a case to be made for increased public and private investment in cleantech, the time is now. Any legitimate source of energy that doesn't come with the risk of polluting the seaboard of half a continent should be extremely compelling, even to skeptics at this point.
From wind to solar to ethanol, cleantech companies across the spectrum should be weighing in on the spill to showcase the promise of a safer energy future. Industry associations should gather their resources to coordinate a sustained and broad marketing campaign taking oil drilling head on to garner public support and generate demand for clean sources of energy.
- The Obama Administration. Conservative observers have called the spill "Obama's Katrina." I wouldn't go that far but I do believe the Administration made numerous communications errors from the onset. The spill was not seen as a priority for the federal government, which seemed quick to accept BP's initial spill (under)estimates.
"Big Oil" already has a poor public image, so the Administration should have been aggressive in demonstrating that it would not trust BP to assess and contain the damage. I'm a big fan of Ronald Reagan's quip, "Trust, but verify." The Administration missed the opportunity to take a leadership role and get tough with Big Oil, and it has been playing catch up ever since.
- Climate Change Legislation. Despite a revised Senate bill introduced last week by Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, many believe the bill is dead. The spill fractured a coalition that had been built around the allowance of expanded offshore drilling in exchange for other pro-environmental measures. That coalition has now fallen apart as anti- and pro-drilling interests have grown farther apart.
Environmental groups and many Democrats are calling for a total freeze on deepwater drilling, while industry and Republicans feel that goes too far and shuts off a major source of American energy and jobs. For the bill to succeed, Senate leaders must communicate to their constituents that America will be even worse off if we allow the disaster to further delay a new comprehensive national energy policy.