Newly released documents reveal European oil and gas company Shell has known about global warming for at least three decades – but continued to drill oil and fuel climate change skepticism, even when reports warned that "by the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation.”
The fact that a large multinational company hid inconvenient research to serve their own self-interest while continuing to push their product at the expense of the environment (and, ultimately, their consumers) might not be the most surprising news. After all, in 2015, leaked papers confirmed US energy giant Exxon has been climate-change aware for almost 40 years while spending a fortune disseminating false information and casting doubt on accepted climate science.
But these new documents suggest an industry-wide conspiracy to bury – or, at the very least, play down – the damage being done to the environment from the burning of fossil fuels.
The first of the Shell reports, called "The Greenhouse Effect", dates back to 1988. Not only does it reveal the energy company knew about climate change and that fossil fuel burning was to blame, it shows they were actively investigating the phenomena. Shell set up an internal climate science program before the UN established the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988.
“Although CO2 is emitted to the atmosphere through several natural processes… the main cause of increasing CO2 concentrations is considered to be fossil fuel burning,” the report, now published on Climate Files, acknowledged.
It advised looking at policy options as early as possible, realizing that unregulated climate change could cause sea levels to rise, oceans to acidify, and mass migration to take place as people try to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
“With very long time scales involved, it would be tempting for society to wait until then to begin doing anything. The potential implications for the world are, however, so large, that policy options need to be considered much earlier. And the energy industry needs to consider how it should play its part.”
Later reports also acknowledge that climate change "could have major business implications for the fossil fuel industry" and trigger extreme weather events as early as 2010.
They describe what the scene may look like: "In 2010, a series of violent storms causes extensive damage to the eastern coast of the US. Although it is not clear whether the storms are caused by climate change, people are not willing to take further chances," authors of a 1998 report wrote.
“Following the storms, a coalition of environmental NGOs brings a class-action suit against the US government and fossil-fuel companies on the grounds of neglecting what scientists (including their own) have been saying for years: that something must be done... Young consumers, especially, demand action…The power, auto, and oil industries see billions wiped off their market value overnight.”
This is something we're seeing today.
“Had they merely been candid with the world, we could have gotten to work then, and while global warming would not yet be ‘solved,’ we’d be well on the way," Bill McKibben, a co-founder of the environmental group 350.org, told Mashable. "Instead they appear to have chosen the path of hedging, minimizing, and diverting – and given the stakes, this was both tragic and immoral. Shell knew. And now we do too.”