Big Oil takes lessons from the left, loses hilariously

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Hello from Chicago! I’m out here in the blustery cold Midwest gearing up for PowerShift and the Capitol Climate Action as well as meeting the many great activists out here who are plugged in with RAN’s campaigns.

I arrived yesterday evening and was plucked out of the brutal cold quickly by the amazing Debra who helps to coordinate Chicago’s RAN chapter. We made our way to a Borders bookstore where a representative from the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying organization that represents the interests of big oil companies, was scheduled to speak about the virtues of off-shore oil drilling. Debra had found the announcement for this event on a meetup site and rallied some members of Chicago RAN to go to this event to hear what the API rep had to say, and to challenge the notion that drilling for more oil will help to loosen America’s addiction to oil. We were excited and weren’t sure what to expect.

When we arrived at the Borders bookstore, there didn’t appear to be any event planned, and a quick scan of the store didn’t turn up podiums of any sort. We were soon a group of four who having disillusions of grandeur thinking that somehow this API speaker had found out that Chicago RAN was coming and was scared off. How wrong we were. We finally noticed a lonely-looking guy sitting at a table by himself in the cafe upstairs with a sign on his table reading “Chicago Energy Forum.” Here was our guy.

We sat down and were soon joined by a sixth person, a man who was with Chicago Peak Oil. We had a surprisingly good, long conversation about the merits and mostly the negative impacts of drilling for oil. But the conversation is not the point, the point is that API hired a guy to advertise on the meetup networks and organize informal discussions about energy policy. They are doing grassroots organizing!!!

The scary part of this story is that big oil has learned from the left the benefits of grassroots organizing – I have no idea how widespread this strategy is, or whether this incident is just a fluke. On the other hand they are using networks and systems traditionally used by left movements, and in this case at least, attracting progressive people who are opposed to their message. Oh the irony.

Has anyone else out there seen something like this? I sure haven’t. Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing.