WASHINGTON — “Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
That was among the many clear warnings that oil giant Shell issued in a film it produced about climate change more than 25 years ago. Many environmentalists, however, argue that the company has largely ignored its own alarm bells.
The 1991 film, “Climate of Concern,” resurfaced Tuesday on the Dutch online news outlet The Correspondent. It’s the latest in an ever-growing body of evidence that suggests the oil industry has long known about the climate risks associated with carbon dioxide emissions — and has actively worked to cover them up.
“The need to understand the interplay of atmosphere and oceans has been given a new sense of urgency by the realization that our energy-consuming way of life may be causing climatic changes with adverse consequences to us all,” the nearly 30-minute video notes.
The film is eerily prophetic, warning of spiraling global temperatures, a sea level rise that could prove “disastrous,” wetland habitats inundated by salt water and ferocious storm surges brought on by warming ocean temperatures.
“What is now considered abnormal weather could become a new norm,” the film’s narrator says.
“In a crowded world subject to such adverse shifts of climate, who would take care of such greenhouse refugees?”
According to The Correspondent, which shared the video with The Guardian, the film was produced for the public eye, particularly for viewing in schools and universities, but has gone largely unseen for many years. In a separate 1986 document reviewed by both publications, Shell reportedly wrote of the uncertainties regarding climate science but noted that “changes may be the greatest in recorded history.”
In an interview with The Correspondent, professor Tom Wigley, the former head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which assisted Shell in creating the film, spoke about the accuracy of its predictions.
“It’s amazing it’s 25 years ago,” Wigley said. “It was quite comprehensive on what might happen, what the consequences are, and what we can do about it. I mean, there’s not much more.”
Along with linking fossil fuel consumption and rising carbon dioxide emissions to warming global temperatures, the film celebrates renewable energy technologies, including solar and wind. Although Shell does recognize climate change and made investments in wind energy, it is also a key player in the destructive and dirty Canadian tar sands.
In an email Tuesday to The Huffington Post, a Shell spokesman said, “Our position on climate change is well known; recognizing the climate challenge and the role energy has in enabling a decent quality of life. Shell continues to call for effective policy to support lower carbon business and consumer choices and opportunities such as government lead carbon pricing/trading schemes.”
But environmental groups aren’t convinced that the company has walked the walk when it comes to acting to combat climate change.
“The fact that Shell understood all this in 1991, and that a quarter-century later it was trying to open up the Arctic to oil-drilling, tells you all you’ll ever need to know about the corporate ethic of the fossil fuel industry,” Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, said in a statement. “Shell made a big difference in the world ― a difference for the worse.”
In the film (which can be seen in full here), Shell warned that while global warming was not fully understood, “many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible.”
“Whether or not the threat of global warming proves as grave as the scientists predict, is it too much to hope that it might act as the stimulus, the catalyst, to a new era of technical and economic cooperation?” the narrator asks. “Our numbers are many and infinitely diverse, but the problems and dilemmas of climatic change concern us all.”