Shell Canada Is Letting Drivers Pay for Conservation at the Pump
Some environmentalists argue that this effort is “pure greenwashing.”
Fossil fuel giant Shell Canada is now allowing customers in Canada to chip in $0.02 per litre of gas to fund conservation efforts, according to CBC.
Customers first have to download the company’s app, which will calculate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each litre of gas purchased — an attempt to show customers the impact of their personal fuel consumption.
The new conservation program will be free of charge through the end of December, meaning that Shell Canada will cover the costs initially. Come January 2021, customers will have the option to pay $0.02 per litre to pay for carbon-offsetting credits through the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project.
The initiative is part of a boom in carbon offsetting programs that have emerged in recent years to fold consumer behaviours into frameworks of conservation, while nudging people and companies to more fully consider the impact of their choices.
Critics of carbon offset programs say that they give cover to environmentally harmful activities — such as flying around the world or meat consumption — and in turn can reinforce the primary drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Supporters of the programs say that they help steer economies in more sustainable directions in the face of political resistance to meaningful climate action.
Shell’s particular initiative was blasted by environmentalists that spoke with CBC who called it “pure greenwashing.”
"Not only does it put the onus on the individual consumer instead of a massive polluter like Shell, it also offers them the chance to seek absolution for their climate sins, rather than grappling with the fact that we need to get off of fossil fuels, gasoline included," Keith Brooks, program director at Environmental Defence, said.
"And yet more insidious, the green veneer is obscuring Shell's ongoing efforts to stymie and scuttle climate policy through their membership in Canada's regressive climate lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers,” he added.
In addition to the pump-and-conserve project, Shell Canada announced that it will fund a restoration project to plant 840,000 trees on Indigenous land in Canada as part of a global $200 million investment in ecosystem restoration, CBC reported.
These efforts are part of a rebranding effort underway in the fossil fuel industry.
Shell and other fossil fuel companies are notorious for their role in perpetuating climate change and thwarting action on it. A coalition of oil and gas companies knew about the greenhouse gas effect and its repercussions on the planet decades ago and spent years obscuring scientific evidence, funding climate change denialism, and opposing all legislation meant to address the problem, according to the Guardian.
I don’t know about you, but I sure am willing to call-out-the-fossil-fuel-companies-for-knowingly-destroying-future-living-conditions -for-countless-generations-for profit-and-then-trying-to-distract-people-and-prevent-real-systemic-change-through-endless greenwash-campaigns. https://t.co/O3ReJPv81Q— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) November 2, 2020
These companies are now trying to present themselves as key partners in the fight against climate change.
Shell, in particular, has tried to focus on consumer behaviour change in recent months, but has faced pushback from the public who have largely seen it as a classic deflection tactic. In early November, the company posted a poll on Twitter that asked, “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?”
Climate scientists such as Peter Kalmus, activists including Greta Thunberg, politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with ordinary Twitter users, called out the hypocrisy of the poll with scathing remarks.
The journalist Malcolm Harris wrote in New York Magazine earlier this year that companies like Shell are now using their immense wealth, capital resources, political connections, and logistical know-how to enter the clean energy market.
But clean energy initiatives only represent a fraction of their operating expenses and seem to be more “greenwashing.”
“Right now, these companies have to convince governments and their publics to let them run out the clock with fossil fuels, and they’ve decided the best way to do that is to appear to be an essential partner for whatever’s coming next,” Harris wrote.
Harris argues that investments in clean energy can’t be mere window dressing that lulls the public into thinking serious action is being taken. On the contrary, these investments must be rapidly scaled to fully phase out fossil fuels in the next several years.
Otherwise, Canadian customers can buy all the carbon credits they want, but the forests they’re designed to protect may no longer even be around.