If Shell knew climate change was dire 25 years ago, why still business as usual today?

If Shell knew climate change was dire 25 years ago, why still business as usual today?

Climate change “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.” That was the startling warning issued by the oil giant Shell more than a quarter of a century ago.

The company’s farsighted 1991 film, titled Climate of Concern, set out with crystal clarity how fossil fuel burning was warming the world and that serious consequences could well result.

Tropical islands barely afloat even now, first made inhabitable, and then obliterated beneath the waves […] coastal lowlands everywhere suffering pollution of precious groundwater, on which so much farming and so many cities depend,” says the film’s narrator, over disturbing images of people affected by natural disasters and famine. “In a crowded world subject to such adverse shifts of climate, who would take care of such greenhouse refugees?”

The film acknowledged the uncertainties in the computer model predictions at the time, but noted the various scenarios had “each prompted the same serious warning, a warning endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990.”

“What they foresee is not a steady and even warming overall, but alterations to the familiar patterns of climate, and the increasing frequency of abnormal weather,” it cautioned. “It is thought that warmer seas could make destructive [storm] surges more frequent and even more ferocious.”

“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?” the film concludes. “Our numbers are many, and infinitely diverse. But the problems and dilemmas of climatic change concern us all.”

The film was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities, but is believed to have been unseen for many years. It was remarkably prescient, according to Prof. Tom Wigley, who was head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia when it helped Shell with the 1991 film.

“It’s amazing it’s 25 years ago. Incredible,” he said. “It was quite comprehensive on what might happen, what the consequences are, and what we can do about it. I mean, there’s not much more.” He said that the predictions for temperature and sea level rises in the 1991 film were “pretty good, compared with current understanding.”

“What’s really striking is nothing has happened [since] to make you doubt the science as it was stated then,” said Tom Burke, at the green thinktank E3G and a former member of Shell’s external review committee.

But Shell’s actions on global warming since 1991, such as major investments in highly polluting tar sands and lobbying against climate action, have been heavily criticized. In 2015, it was accused of behaving like a “psychopath” by the UK’s former climate change envoy and of being engaged in a cynical attempt to block action on global warming. Even its own former group managing director, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, said in 2015 it was “distressing” that  “remarkably little progress” had been made on climate change by Shell and other oil companies.

The revelation of the film,  obtained by The Correspondent and shared with the Guardian, has renewed the criticism “The film shows that Shell understood that the threat was dire, potentially existential for civilization, more than a quarter of a century ago,” said Jeremy Leggett, a solar power entrepreneur and former geologist who had earlier researched shale deposits with Shell and BP funding.

Source: The Correspondent

Date: March 2017

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