Shell neglects its own warnings about climate change

Confidential documents show that Shell sounded the alarm about global warming as early as 1986. But despite this clear-eyed view of the risks, the oil giant has lobbied against strong climate legislation for decades. The Correspondent has made Shell’s 1991 film, Climate of Concern, public again.

Oil giant Shell has spent millions of dollars lobbying against measures that would protect the planet from climate catastrophe. But thanks to a film recently obtained by The Correspondent, it’s now clear that their position wasn’t born of ignorance. Shell knows that fossil fuels put us all at risk – in fact, they’ve known for over a quarter of a century. Climate of Concern, a 1991 educational film produced by Shell, warned that the company’s own product could lead to extreme weather, floods, famines, and climate refugees, and noted that the reality of climate change was "endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists."

Climate change “at a rate faster than at any time since the end of the ice age – change too fast perhaps for life to adapt, without severe dislocation.” That was the startling warning issued by the oil giant Shell more than a quarter of a century ago. Climate of Concern set out with crystal clarity how fossil fuel burning was warming the world and that serious consequences could well result.

“Tropical islands barely afloat even now, first made inhabitable, and then obliterated beneath the waves […] coastal lowlands everywhere suffering pollution of precious groundwater, on which so much farming and so many cities depend,” says the film’s narrator, over disturbing images of people affected by natural disasters and famine. “In a crowded world subject to such adverse shifts of climate, who would take care of such greenhouse refugees?”

The film acknowledged the uncertainties in the computer model predictions at the time, but noted the various scenarios had “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.”

“What they foresee is not a steady and even warming overall, but alterations to the familiar patterns of climate, and the increasing frequency of abnormal weather,” it cautioned. “It is thought that warmer seas could make destructive [storm] surges more frequent and even more ferocious.”

“Whether or not the threat of global warming proves as grave as the scientists predict, is it too much to hope as it might act as the stimulus – the catalyst – to a new era of technical and economic cooperation?” the film concludes. “Our numbers are many, and infinitely diverse. But the problems and dilemmas of climatic change concern us all.”

The film was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities, but is believed to have been unseen for many years. The Correspondent has made the film public, you can watch it here:

This story is the result of over a year of investigative reporting by Jelmer Mommers You can find Jelmer’s original reconstruction here (in Dutch). Jelmer Mommers for The Correspondent. You can find Mommers’ original reconstruction here: