Beware of geeks bearing warnings: Part I

September 13th, 2007
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It’s always interesting when captains of industry weigh in on questions of public policy, especially when that policy affects them. Readers may wish to peruse these recent remarks by the outgoing CEO of Shell Canada Limited as a case in point.

As the Global Warming cum Climate Change furor spread in 1990’s, it was instructive to see the reaction of various oil and gas companies to the charge that they were prime culprits in the destruction of the Earth. Not surprisingly, reactions varied from jumping on the green bandwagon to holding the line with scientific counterarguments.

In his most recent blog entry, MrK criticized the political, rather than scientific positioning of the federal government on climate. Not surprisingly, much of industry responded to the green challenge with political maneuvering rather than science. The furthest down the green bridle path was BP, as alluded to in this piece by MrK. Shell ultimately landed on the green turf as well, running a series of ads showing their employees essentially as globe-trotting environmentalists. On the other end was my alma mater, Exxon, almost alone in doggedly fighting the climate change rhetorical juggernaut with its own version of the facts.

How did the enviro-cats respond to the different positions taken by the companies? Well, Exxon was reviled, but then again Exxon is always reviled. And the rest? Let’s just say they haven’t received the green seal of approval. Based on this report, BP was named “one of the ‘ten worst corporations’ in both 2001 and 2006 based on its environmental and human rights records. In 1991 BP was cited as the most polluting company in the US based on EPA toxic release data. Greenpeace International named BP one of Scotland’s two largest polluters in 1992.” So much for “Beyond Petroleum”.

Shell has fared little better. Here’s the reaction to their green PR efforts.

Exxon, despite having done a little bit of “caving” on its own, still has some very reasonable sounding verbiage on their website. I quote:

“Climate remains today an extraordinarily complex area of scientific study. The risks to society and ecosystems from increases in CO2 emissions could prove to be significant – so despite the areas of uncertainty that do exist, it is prudent to develop and implement strategies that address the risks, keeping in mind the central importance of energy to the economies of the world.

This includes putting policies in place that start us on a path to reduce emissions, while understanding the context of managing carbon emissions among other important world priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health.”

Compared to Exxon’s position, Shell Canada’s Mather is a veritable green Uncle Tom. I’ll be analyzing his remarks next time.

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