Shell bets everything on a four degree future

by James Turner

October 4, 2012

Today in New York, Shell will co-host a swanky film screening of a series called Energy 2050. According to the blurb on the New Yorker website, Three acclaimed directors tell stories of amazing individuals and extraordinary projects that are leading the way to a solution.

Amazing indeed. But if youre not in the Big Apple but still desperate to know about Shells vision for the future, the company has made a few videos about 2050 already. Take a look at this sleek animation. The key moment comes along at around 1.30.

He sounds like a friendly chap. But whats that hes saying?

We need to be realistic about where our energy will come from. In 2050 its expected that 65% of world energy demand will still be met using fossil fuels. Some of these fuel sources will be in more difficult locations

Hmm. Difficult locations. For Shell, this means drilling in the remote, frozen Arctic. And the tar sands of Canada, which are giant deposits of sandy bitumen which take huge amounts of energy to mine before you can even extract the oil. And certainly Nigeria, where oil spills are a fact of life. But lets examine the premise – that in 2050 humans will still rely on fossil fuels for around two thirds of their energy.

This prediction is based on a future energy scenario that Shell itself describes as scramble. Sounds a bit worrying. On their website, the scramble scenario is one of two options, a pessimistic one in which we do very little to reduce our addiction to fossil fuels, and the planet slides towards a radically different climate. This is a quote from the imagined scramble scenario on Shell’s website:

International discussion on climate change becomes bogged down in an ideological dialogue of the deaf between the conflicting positions of rich, industrialised countries versus poorer, developing nations a paralysis that allows emissions of atmospheric CO2 to grow relentlessly.

Er, that doesnt sound good. So what do others say?

And check this out. The International Energy Agency – one of the most respected energy organizations on the planet – estimates that still using this much fossil fuel in 2050 would lead to around 4C of global warming (1). And these guys are on the conservative end of energy analysis.

This means that when Shell lays down a $4.5bn bet on the Arctic (which is how much they’ve spent getting to Alaska so far) they’re actually relying on a future where the world faces four degrees of warming.

So.. four degrees. No biggie. More pool parties and hula hooping, right? Im afraid not.

Here is a map from the UK Governments Meteorological office, which shows what the world might look like after 4C of warming. Take a look at your country and zoom in, or read the tabs at the bottom. It explains how large amounts of the Amazon rainforest could be lost either due to drought stress on vegetation or uncontrollable fire. Look at Australia – 6 degrees. Southern Africa – seven degrees.

The scientists behind the map also describe Hundreds of millions of people at additional risk of hunger… significantly less water available to 1 billion people… forced migration will be inevitable.

That little animation is looking less fluffy by the minute.

Shells video seeks to assure you that Shell has your back covered. Shell is just doing the responsible thing by charging into the Arctic to find the oil that society will inevitably consume. Problem is, the only thing that is inevitable about Shells strategy is catastrophic climate change.

Save the Arctic: Take Action

Finally, take a look at the estimated temperature rise in the Arctic, up there at the top. According to this map, made by the UK Governments best climate scientists, in this scenario were looking at 16C of warming up there. Just imagine what that kind of change would mean to this snowy, icy region that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. Greenland ice sheet, it was nice knowin’ ya.

If youre Shell, this scenario means obscene profit for a couple more decades. For the rest of us – including the fragile and beautiful Arctic region – its a very dark future indeed. They probably wont be mentioning that over canapes at the New Yorker party later today.

But there is hope. Just this week our movement grew to two million people, determined to replace this corporate profit machine with global cooperation, science and justice.

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