What’s Going On Here?

On Tuesday morning, fossil-fuel major Shell had the audacity to post a poll on Twitter asking the public what actions they were willing to take as individuals to reduce their carbon emissions, sparking spectacular backlash.

What Does This Mean?

High profile responders included US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg and climate scientists Prof Katharine Hayhoe and Peter Kalmus. A widely shared tweet from AOC stated “I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet”.  

So why the backlash? We know that 20 fossil fuel firms are accountable for over a third of all greenhouse gas emissions through the continuous exploitation of coal, oil and gas reserves, with Royal Dutch Shell being number seven on this list. Not only this, but fossil fuel companies have known since the 1970s that emitting carbon dioxide would lead to climate changes and in response, invested billions of dollars into misinformation campaigns leading to climate denial in order to continue making millions of dollars at the expense of life on earth.

Why Should We Care?

Now that climate change is no longer up for debate, instead of accepting responsibility and retiring fossil fuel infrastructure, these companies have largely changed their tact to a mixture of dangerous greenwashing and misplacing blame on the individual.

For example, Shell is considered a climate leader in the oil industry, yet is falling significantly short of its plans to invest $4bn – $6bn in green energy, which are still just 10% of its overall expenditure, alongside planning to increase spending to $30bn a year on fossil fuel projects into the early 2020s. 

Placing the blame solely on individuals is arguably the most successful and dangerous lie to come from the big polluters. It may come as a surprise to some that the term ‘Carbon Footprint’ was actually popularised by fossil fuel giants BP, who launched their own carbon footprint calculator in 2004 following their campaign in 2000 which put the onus of carbon emissions on individuals, something now being echoed by Shell and other companies.

Even disregarding the complete hypocrisy of these campaigns, the lack of meaningful action on climate change over the past 30+ action is further evidence that individual action alone is not enough.. Of course, our individual actions are still important, but will have little impact without upheaval of the political and economic systems we live in which were formed by and are still inextricably interlinked with the domination of fossil fuel industries.

Be Curious!

  • Support ClientEarth – an environmental charity who use law to hold businesses and governments to account on climate change. 
  • Join your local environmental direct action group pushing for system change. The most well known of course is Extinction Rebellion, but other options include Greenpeace, Reclaim the Power, HS2 Rebellion and local community groups. 
  • Follow blogger @lowwaste.plantbased who regularly breaks down greenwashing within oil and gas industries.