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sign: the people vs. shell

Social and environmental justice groups opposed to Shell's plans to drill for fossil fuels in Arctic waters organized a protest in kayaks on the shores of Seattle's Elliot Bay in 2015. (Photo: Greenpeace)

After Shell CEO Claims 'We Have No Choice' But to Invest in Fossil Fuels, McKibben Says, 'We Have No Choice But to Try and Stop Them'

With "overwhelming evidence that we are on the brink of climate and ecological collapse," executive's comment elicits intense rebuke

Jessica Corbett

Climate activists and experts underscored the necessity of fighting to urgently end the use of fossil fuels worldwide after Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden claimed Monday that "we have no choice" but to invest in long-term oil and gas projects.

On Tuesday, Bill McKibben, co-founder of the global environmental advocacy group, declared that "we have no choice but to try and stop them."

The 61-year-old fossil fuel executive's comment was part of an exclusive interview published Monday by Reuters. According to the news agency:

A defiant van Beurden rejected a rising chorus from climate activists and parts of the investor community to transform radically the 112-year-old Anglo-Dutch company's traditional business model.

"Despite what a lot of activists say, it is entirely legitimate to invest in oil and gas because the world demands it," van Beurden said.

"We have no choice" but to invest in long-life projects, he added.

Shell, which is headquartered in the Netherlands and incorporated in the United Kingdom, is among the world's largest energy companies. Last year, the publicly traded company's revenue was $388.4 billion.

Based on an investor presentation from June, Reuters reported that "Shell plans to greenlight more than 35 new oil and gas projects by 2025."

On Twitter, biologist and activist Sandra Steingraber highlighted Shell's plans for the future—plans which directly conflict with global scientists' warnings that the world needs to rapidly transform energy systems, replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources, to prevent climate catastrophe.

Dharini Parthasarathy of Climate Action Network International (CAN) called out van Beurden as a "climate criminal" who refuses to abandon oil "despite the overwhelming evidence that we are on the brink of climate and ecological collapse."

Patrick Galey, a global science and environment correspondent for Agence France-Presse, posited that "when the trials of oil and gas executives come, this interview will be Exhibit A."

As Common Dreams reported in July, "lawsuits that aim to push governments to more ambitiously the address climate emergency and make polluting corporations pay for the damage caused by their sizable contributions to the global warming are growing in popularity around the world."

Examples include the state of Rhode Island's ongoing lawsuit that aims to make 21 fossil fuel giants—including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell—pay for knowingly "causing catastrophic consequences to Rhode Island, our economy, our communities, our residents, our ecosystems."

Another legal strategy that climate advocates are pursuing is using courts to force major energy companies to reform their business practices. In April, a coalition of environmental groups who argue that Shell has an obligation under Dutch law to act on the Paris climate goals delivered a court summons to the company in a bid to legally compel Shell to "cease its destruction of the climate, on behalf of more than 30,000 people from 70 countries."

Earlier this month, in response to Shell's latest quarterly outlook for investors, Andy Rowell of the group Oil Change International wrote that "while it may have dipped a toe into the renewable pool, Shell belligerently refuses to dive in to help achieve a livable future, despite decades of science imploring Big Oil to act."

"We do not trust Shell. We now know #ShellKnew, but carried on drilling," he added, referencing evidence that Shell scientists secretly warned company leaders decades ago about the threat that fossil fuel emissions pose to the planet.

"It could act, but it cares not to. At the end of the day, Shell still cares more about its shareholders than it does about society," Rowell concluded. "It cares more about profit than it does people. It cares more about cash than a safe climate. And that has to change, fast, because the hour glass is nearly empty."

The criticism of Shell and its chief executive over the company's continuing contributions to heating the planet come in the middle of a two-week series of protests and civil disobedience, organized by the global movement Extinction Rebellion, to pressure governments to pursue bold, science-based solutions to the climate crisis.

"The past week has been a moment in history: to simply list the thousands of arrests, the many tens of thousands undertaking civil disobedience, would not do it justice," Extinction Rebellion said Tuesday. "We have proven to the world that this rebellion is a truly global movement, growing rapidly within and between nations, and comprised of people with the selflessness, the creativity, and the courage to resist the madness of this ecocidal system."

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