Fossil Fuel giant Royal Dutch Shell is one of the leading funders of climate change denialism. The corporation spends tens of millions of dollars each year on efforts to obstruct government action on climate change, mislead the public, and cast doubt on the work of scientists.
Despite this unified front, the company, which operates in more than 70 countries, hasn’t always been so staunchly opposed to addressing climate change.
In 1991, Shell produced a short documentary called “Climate of Concern.” It wasn’t a film undermining the science on climate change by presenting a series of alternative facts. Instead, it was remarkably accurate and candid about the subject — the documentary argues that the climate was changing in drastic ways and countries had to work together to find solutions. It even suggests that carbon emissions should stop rising by 2005.
The narrator of the film says, “Whether or not the threat of global warming proves as grave as the scientists predict, is it too much to hope as it might act as the stimulus, the catalyst, to a new era of technical and economic cooperation? Our numbers are many, and infinitely diverse. But the problems and dilemmas of climatic change concern us all.”
They didn’t stop there, either. Shell even distributed this film to schools and universities to make sure emerging generations were armed with facts. This corporate activism stands in contrast to Shell’s current tactics of funding university-level research that challenges climate change.
“Climate of Concern” was unearthed by Dutch journalist Jelmer Mommers of The Correspondent. He also retrieved many other documents showing the full extent of Shell’s understanding of climate change. Since the late 1970s, Shell began sharing data on climate change with other oil companies.
So what happened? Why did Shell stop raising awareness of climate change and instead focus on undermining that awareness?
Well, Shell is an oil company and climate change action is not good for the bottom line.
It would be hard for Shell to exploit the Arctic tar sands, call for a boom in fracking, and expand its traditional oil extraction business, if it publicly supported strong action against climate change.
Many critics, however, argue that Shell’s reversal is grounds for lawsuits. The company knew that its actions were harming the environment and now the world is paying the price. Critics argue that Shell and other fossil fuel companies should be paying for adaptation and relocation costs for communities around the world.
It’s not like Shell didn’t know people would be displaced.
As the documentary says, “[the climate is warming] at a rate faster than at any time since the end of the ice age. Change too fast, perhaps, for life to adapt without severe dislocation.”