Shell cynically blocking action on climate change, says ex-diplomat
Shell and its oil and gas peers are narcissistic, paranoid and psychopathic, and engaged in a cynical attempt to block action on global warming, according to the UK's former climate change envoy.
In an open letter to Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden, John Ashton said the company’s promised transformation in response to climate change is in reality “a manifesto for the oil and gas status quo”. The companies justified their strategy, he said, with the unsupported claim that the economic and moral benefits of providing cheap energy to the world’s poor exceeds the risks to the same people from climate change.
Ashton, an independent commentator and until 2012 the UK’s top climate diplomat, wrote the letter, published in the Guardian, in response to a speech by van Beurden in February. The Shell CEO said those calling for “fossil fuels out, renewables in” were naive and said provoking a sudden death of fossil fuels was not a plausible plan to tackle global warming.
Ashton said van Beurden’s speech “was a classic of obfuscation and dissimulation.”
Ashton said: “It is their right to say whatever they want, but it is essential that this prospectus be challenged. Underpinning [the oil and gas industry’s response to climate change] is a cynical calculation that it will be politically impossible to mobilise a truly transformational response, together with an equally cynical attempt to make this self-fulfilling.” Shell declined to comment.
In the letter, Ashton wrote: “You and your peers cannot complain if society increasingly comes to see in your behaviour the characteristic marks of the professional narcissist, paranoiac, and psychopath.”
He said Shell was narcissistic because it was so intoxicated by the current energy system it had helped to build that it could not contemplate the need to build a new one: “You could accept squarely that the days of yesterday’s business model are numbered, that the challenge now is to manage its decline and build alongside it a new business fit for today.”
“The paranoiac fears conspiracies that do not exist,” Ashton wrote. “You fear a non-existent conspiracy to bring about your sudden death.” While current fossil fuel reserves areseveral times greater than can be burned while avoiding catastrophic climate change, all experts acknowledge that coal, oil and gas will need to be phased out over the next few decades.
“The psychopath displays inflated self-appraisal, lack of empathy, and a tendency to squash those who block the way,” Ashton told van Beurden. “All these traits can be found in your [speech].”
Ashton cites the fast-growing and UN-backed divestment campaign, which has persuaded over 180 organisations to sell off their investments in fossil fuel companies, as a threat to Shell. “The divestment movement may still be small but it is rallying young people, has moral authority, and can now make a prudential case as well as an environmental one,” he writes.
Divestment campaigners argue that the business models of fossil fuel companies, which continue to spend billions on searching for new reserves, are endangering the climate. They also argue those reserves would become worthless if the world’s governments keep their word to cut emissions and limit climate change to 2C.
The Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign is asking the world’s two biggest health charities – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust - to divest.
In the final section of the letter, Ashton issues a challenge to van Beurden and Shell: “Stop frustrating ambition. Talk to us about how you will play your part in a [clean energy] transition. Tell us the inspirational story of that transition, backed by your knowledge and experience … And don’t tell us through crocodile tears that this will all take a long time. Tell us what you will do to hasten it.”
Ashton adds: “Stop pretending that gas is part of the answer to climate change, rather than a necessary stage in a transition to be kept as short as possible. Urge your peers to turn their backs on new fracking around the world, as you wisely have in the UK.
“It’s a high-carbon sugar rush and a recipe for political grief. Stop grumbling about renewables and unlock the opportunities they offer. Manage a retreat from the carbon frontiers, especially the Arctic [and] press the accelerator on carbon capture and storage.”