We’re All Going to Die #4

The Guardian reported last week that Ron Oxburgh, chairman of Shell, is “really very worried for the planet”.

In an interview in today’s Guardian Life section, Ron Oxburgh, chairman

of Shell, says we urgently need to capture emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which scientists think contribute to global warming, and store them underground – a technique called carbon sequestration.

“Sequestration is difficult, but if we don’t have sequestration then I see very little hope for the world,” said Lord Oxburgh. “No one can be comfortable at the prospect of continuing to pump out the amounts of carbon dioxide that we are pumping out at present … with consequences that we really can’t predict but are probably not good.”

You can read the full story at Petroleum World here. Lord Oxburgh’s thoughts are a valuable addition to the annals of WAGTD, not least because they demonstrate rather well some now familiar features. We’ve got a reconstructed history. We’ve got the collapse of a complex problem into a simple solution. We’ve got Pangloss playing at Cassandra. And we’ve got yet another example of a now well-worn tactic.

Ron’s company has spent so much money funding the climate change denialists that it’s hard for him to point to his company’s role in it. Instead, he’s concerned to paint the corporation for which, until recently, he was only a non-executive director, in glowing colours. And so he tells us that we’re all going to die. But that Shell can save us.

The man’s science background comes in hand here. He knows all about the carbon cycle, and he’s going to tell us about it. He knows that carbon is being pumped into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, the carbon extracted from the ground and sold, inter alia, by Royal Dutch Shell. Luckily, he has diagnosed the problem. It’s not that there’s too much carbon dioxide being chucked out into the air – it’s that there’s not enough being pulled out of it. His solution then: take the carbon dioxide out of the air and stick it in the ground again. The leaders in carbon sequestration technology? Royal Dutch Shell.

I can’t check, but I remember a similar outpouring of troubled conscience in the 1980s by a couple of firms taking a battering at a time when their social responsibility rhetoric failed to match their actions. Rather like Shell at the moment. And the men who got on stage were usually the chairmen of a couple of blue chip companies. These frontmen seemed never to lose half as much sleep over these issues when they were chief executive officers of these corporations. And you’ll note that whenever corporations do the vision thing about the environment and social issues, the CEOs are never the ones to say the words. Chairmen, vice-presidents for social responsibility, or non-governmental organizations with whom the corporations have a cosy relationship – these are the PR mouthpieces. The CEOs clearly have other things on their mind.