Oil company Shell has joined Exxon-Mobil as one of the big oil giants that knew about the dangers of global warming decades ago, and, like Exxon, subsequently worked to bury the issue. An educational video produced by Shell in 1991, titled Climate of Concern, has resurfaced courtesy of the Dutch climate news website, The Correspondent, that comprehensively outlines the human impact on global warming, the dangers the phenomenon poses, and potential solutions to the problem. After the video was produced, Shell followed suit with the rest of the oil and gas industry, increasing investments in carbon-heavy projects and government lobbying intended to stifle climate change programs.
The video itself is remarkably prescient, and wouldn’t seem out of place alongside modern informational videos on global warming. Despite being 26 years old, Climate of Concern could still be used as an educational primer for the issues being faced today, including the impact of consumer and industrial emissions on carbon levels in the atmosphere, and the effect of even a marginal rise in the average global temperature on both human coastal habitation, and famine caused by sea-level rise and increasingly unstable weather. The video also outlines the need for the development of sustainable energy sources like solar and wind; the need for increased energy efficiency to lower energy demand is addressed; and the video even discusses emerging technologies designed to improve the efficiency of then-existing energy sources to lower their carbon output, while waiting for alternative energy technology to mature.
“It is amazing it is 25 years ago. Incredible,” exclaims professor Tom Wigley, whom had been head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in 1991, when the university helped Shell produce the video. “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.” According to Wigley, Climate of Concern’s predictions for global temperature and sea level increases were “pretty good compared with current understanding”.
But despite the remarkable amount of awareness regarding the issue illustrated in Climate of Concern, the years following the video’s production saw Shell continuing to push its product, knowing full well the impact that the resulting pollution would have on humanity’s future. They invested heavily in tar sands oil extraction, an extremely dirty source for crude petroleum, and continued to lobby against government action regarding climate change.
“The film shows that Shell understood that the threat was dire, potentially existential for civilization, more than a quarter of a century ago,” explains Jeremy Leggett, an entrepreneur in the solar power industry. Leggett is also a former geologist, having researched shale deposits using Shell and BP funding.
“I see to this day how they doggedly argue for rising gas use, decades into the future, despite the clear evidence that fossil fuels have to be phased out completely,” Leggett continues. “I honestly feel that this company is guilty of a modern form of crime against humanity. They will point out that they have behaved no differently than their peers, BP, Exxon and Chevron. For people like me, of which there are many, that is no defence.”