What happens when the formidable power of the oil industry collides with the unstoppable force of climate change?
In 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen expounded on climate change to a congressional hearing, and the UN created the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The world had begun to get serious about this problem.
Energy companies took climate change seriously too, in their own way. A group of companies, mainly energy and auto manufacturers, formed a lobbying group, the Global Climate Coalition, to promote doubt about climate change and block, ultimately successfully, the US ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.
Oddly, the petroleum companies themselves took the reality of climate change seriously – for themselves!
While publicly sowing doubt about the science, they accounted for rising seas and more hurricanes in their engineering specifications for their offshore platforms, pipelines and roads. Shell Oil, for example, raised the height of its “Troll” North Sea natural gas platform in anticipation of the rising sea level.
Alas, the group’s lobbying efforts had a deeply polarizing effect on public opinion about climate change.
The Global Climate Coalition disbanded in 2002, satisfied that it had accomplished its work.
Shell Oil knew, told, and forgot
In 1991, Shell Oil produced a documentary film, Climate of Concern intended for showing in schools and universities. With totally modern insight, the film warned of climate refugees as well as extreme weather and famine, and concluded, “Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
And yet, Shell has continued to invest in oil reserves, tar sands, fracking and Arctic exploration. It has made some investments in low-carbon energy, but they are minimal.
Continuing to explore for reserves that cannot be used, or cannot be exploited without catastrophic consequences, is irrational behaviour, surely?
Petition: Keep it in the Ground
The Guardian newspaper and 350.org are collecting signatures on a petition to ask two important charities to divest from fossil fuels. If you agree, why not add your name?