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Did Shell Release a Short Film About the Dangers of Global Warming?

Claim

Shell Oil Company released a 1991 video about the “catastrophic risks” of climate change that warned about rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, climate refugees, and widespread social breakdown.

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A multinational energy company released a stark warning about the dangers in climate change in 1991, then proceeded to ignore its own warnings until 2021 made them impossible to ignore.

The 28-minute video, “Climate of Concern,” was released in 1991 and reportedly meant to be shown as an instructional film. The film’s narrator describes climate change (also referred to at the time as global warming) as a crisis that scientists had already seen looming for some time even by then, which is true:

What they see is not a steady and even warming overall, but alterations to the familiar patterns of climate, and the increasing frequency of abnormal weather. No two scenarios fully agree. But their strange, mesmerizing images of possible futures have 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.

While it was originally intended for public viewing, the film went unseen for more than a decade, before a report in The Guardian brought “Climate of Concern” back to light in February 2017.

According to the British newspaper, the film was first obtained by the Danish outlet De Correspondent, which showed it to researchers who had either helped Shell develop the film or received funding for their work from the oil company. Jeremy Leggett, who researched shale deposits with funding from both Shell and British Petroleum before going on to found a separate company, Solarcentury, said at the time:

The film shows that Shell understood that the threat was dire, potentially existential for civilization, more than a quarter of a century ago.

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. 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 defense.

De Correspondent further reported that as far back as 1986, a Shell company report included warnings that climate change “would impact on the human environment, future living standards, and food supplies, and could have major social, economic, and political consequences.”

But despite that, the company would go on to join other petroleum firms in forming the Global Climate Coalition lobbying group for its own gain, which pushed against further study and policy initiatives into climate change, before leaving in 1998. And Shell also worked with groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Business Roundtable and American Petroleum Institute, which have fought for years against meaningful attempts to further the spread of energy policies that would not harm the environment.

Shell has claimed on its website that it planned to contribute to a “net-zero world” and reduce its emissions in keeping with the goal of the 2016 Paris Agreement seeking to limit global warming worldwide to under 1.5 degrees Celsius:

We are transforming our business to meet our target, providing more low-carbon energy such as charging for electric vehicles, hydrogen and electricity generated by solar and wind power.

We are also working with our customers as they make changes, including in sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, such as aviation, shipping, road freight and industry.

However, the company has continued to draw criticism for its business practices; Amnesty International joined several other activist groups in June 2020 in calling Shell out for “greenwashing their image” while polluting the Niger Delta and leaving local communities without clean drinking water.

“The discovery of oil in Ogoniland has brought huge suffering for its people,” said Osai Ojigho, who would go on to be director of Amnesty International’s office in Nigeria. “Over many years we have documented how Shell has failed to clean up contamination from spills and it’s a scandal that this has not yet happened. The pollution is leading to serious human rights impacts – on people’s health and ability to access food and clean water. Shell must not get away with this — we will continue to fight until every last trace of oil is removed from Ogoniland.”

In January 2021, Shell was ordered to compensate farmers in Nigeria for damages caused by the subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company between 2004 and 2007.

Update 7/12/2021, 2:56 pm PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here.