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UK Indymedia: Shell AGM: feedback from within the antiseptic portals of the Novotel H'smith

Shell AGM: feedback from within the antiseptic portals of the Novotel H'smith

Noisy Joe | 17.05.2006 01:20

Here's a report from a London Rising Tider with a single Shell share, who went into its Annual General Meeting, while others stayed outside to leaflet shareholders and passers-by. The main meeting took place in The Hague, with a video feed to London, or the Novotel Hammersmith, to be precise.

I got in, surprisingly, (since I thought they would follow BP's lead and say no way), and took my usual vantage point in these situations, as close to the Chairman as possible, being the second row, as the first was taken up by eager beaver Shell employees in reserved seats. But seeing as the meeting was taking place in The Hague, and the only board member present in London was the rather abandoned-seeming Chair of Shell UK James Smith, there was really no heckling to be done that could have reached the ears of those assembled in The Hague, so I sat through interminable questions about whether the management was overpaying itself in order to have a chance to take the microphone for some gratuitous ranting of my own.

Actually, before I had my turn there were some good interventions from members of fenceline communities (ie. working class often black communities living right next to highly polluting and dangerous refineries and other facilities in countries like the US, South Africa, Nigeria and the Philippines). They exposed the sham of Shell's 'good neighbour' policy, but unfortunately seemed keen only to work with Shell to sort out their particular problems, and didn't take the opportunity to call for a turning away from oil and gas production for the sake of the long-term future of the planet. Of course, it's understandable that working class communities' prime motivation might be to create a liveable locale with decent job prospects, but in this time of planetary emergency, it would be great if Shell's most persistent and high-profile critics (outside the investment community that is) were able to widen their critique to address climatic collapse.

Doug Norland from Pacific Environment, also in The Hague, was very good, as he systematically trashed Shell's activities in Sakhalin island, where it is building probably the world's largest piece of oil & gas infrastructure, which will when completed produce at least 150,000 barrels of oil per day. Malcolm Brinded from Shell picked highly selective facts to back his wobbly case, with Norland able to point out, for example, that Shell was using the existence of a panel set up to look into the safety of the last 100 or so Western Pacific Grey Whales to make itself look good (even taking out ads in financial pages throughout the world featuring the panel), when it was in fact ignoring one of that panel's chief recommendations.

Brinded later said that the reason Shell has not yet phased out the abhorrent practice of gas flaring in the Niger Delta was because the Nigerian government hadn't provided the funding, and this from a company that made £1.5m per hour in the first quarter of 2006!

Hours into the meeting, I finally stood up at microphone 5, trying not to look at my face relayed on the screens, and said something like:
'My name is – – from London Rising Tide and Art Not Oil, which aim to be part of movements for climate justice all around the world whose goal it is to partly dismantle the oil industry.' (Some laughs from the assembled antiquated shareholders.) 'Yes, I thought you'd like that one – you can applaud if you like!' (Several wags applaud for a few seconds.) 'It seems to me that it's all very well Shell talking of its desire to be a good neighbour wherever it operates, but that fact is that Shell is not a good neighbour to the planet. We've been hearing today from Mr. Van der Veer (CEO) about the company's commitment to expanding massively its production of oil and gas, which is the absolute antithesis of sustainability. The government's Chief Scientist said recently that a potential 3 degree rise in global temperatures could result in the deaths of 400 million of the world's poorest people, living in the world's poorest countries. So what we really need is cuts in emissions of up to 90% pretty soon.'

'As well as the threat to the human species, there is the possibility that 1 million species could become extinct by 2050 as a result of climate change. Earlier today Mr. Van der Veer said that he wanted to 'take care of biodiversity', and I wonder if that was meant more in the mafia understanding of the phrase 'taking care of' – making those species an offer they can't refuse perhaps? So I was appalled when I heard that Shell is the new sponsor of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award at the Natural History Museum. We plan to be part of a campaign to convince the Museum to terminate this relationship with Shell, because it smacks of the rankest hypocrisy.'

'I don't wish to hear what the Board has to say on these matters, because I have no respect for it or for the lies, distortions, greenwash and propaganda that their response would doubtless contain.'
And the Chairman in The Hague, bless him, took me at my word, and went straight to the next question. I didn't stay much longer, so missed an 'ethical shareholder' resolution containing some strong evidence from County Mayo, Sakhalin and Nigeria, receive less than 7% of the vote. I was escorted out by two friendly members of Metropolitan Petroleum, who apologised for having to follow me and even, embarrassingly, tried to find my mates who had finally had enough and started heading home.

I'd thought for quite a while that to wait politely and ask a question, however strongly worded, at an oil company AGM was affording the despicable spectacle too much respect, but this time that's what I did, partly wanting to flag up the campaign against the Wildlife Photographer Award sponsorship, and partly wanting to 'bear witness' as to the absurdly inaquequate nature of Shell's response to the climate crisis, not to mention the crisis it triggers on the ground wherever it operates. I've no idea if there was any value in making that intervention, which has to be considered alongside the time it took up, not to mention the hidden psychological damage inflicted by close exposure to toxic levels of greed and greenwash.

But there it is – plenty to mull over about strategies of resistance. All we need now is more folk with more time to dream up new creative ways to react to these and similar events. Either that or leave 'em to rot, and concentrate on building a wall around the allotment while waiting for the collapse…

* There's a campaign brewing about Shell being the new sponsor of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award – can you help out with it?
www.nationalpetroleumgallery.org.uk/shell
www.artnotoil.org.uk

Noisy Joe

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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