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For almost a decade oil giants including Shell funded the Dutch Godfather of climate deniers, Professor Frits Böttcher

EXTRACTS FROM AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF AN ARTICLE AUTHORED BY INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS BAS VAN BEEK, ALEXANDER BEUNDER, JILLES MAST AND MEREL DE BUCK.

This article is part of the Shell Papers, a joint research project conducted by Platform Authentieke Journalistiek and Follow the Money, into the ties between the Dutch government and the oil giant. In April 2019, we filed a total of 17 FOIA requests, demanding copies of all Shell-related documents from nine ministries, three provinces and five municipalities. As of March 2020, the FOIA procedures are still ongoing. You can track their progress here:

For nine years, multinationals like Shell and Bayer funded a prominent climate denier

The personal archives of prominent Dutch climate denier Frits Böttcher (who died in 2008) reveal that he received over a million guilders – close to half a million in euros – from Shell and other Dutch multinationals during the 1990s. The explicit objective: to question human responsibility for global warming.

  • Between 1989 and 1998, Dutch multinationals paid over one million guilders (close to half a million euros) to prominent climate sceptic Frits Böttcher (1915-2008), with the explicit goal of sowing doubts about climate change and humanity’s role in it.
  • Böttcher used the money to set up an international network of climate sceptics. He produced multiple reports, books and opinion pieces. In these he wrote, for instance, that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist and that CO2 is not dangerous, quite the opposite: it’s ‘good for plants’.
  • The doubt created led, among other things, to a lack of political support for regulatory measures with regard to CO2 reduction during the 1990s.
  • Funding for Böttcher’s ‘CO2 project’ finally ran out in 1998 . His 24 sponsors were concerned about public opinion and the climate scepticism lobby proved incapable of stopping the Kyoto Protocol being signed in 1997.
  • This research is part of the Shell Papers, a joint research project conducted by Platform Authentieke Journalistiek and Follow the Money, into the ties between the Dutch government and the oil giant.

This article was published in English on March 3, 2020. Read the original article in Dutch here.

Frits Böttcher would later refer to it as a ‘historic moment’. On December 21, 1989, the retired chemistry professor visited Shell’s headquarters in Amsterdam. That day, Shell supervisory director Jan Choufoer was going to introduce him to the head of the company: managing director Huub van Engelshoven.

Böttcher was highly regarded in the Netherlands. He’d been teaching at Leiden University for decades, and he was on various supervisory boards: Pakhoed, Hoogovens, Elsevier Scientific publishers and 11 others. He was an active member of the VVD [conservative-liberal political party] and – from 1966 to 1974 – he was the President of the Raad van Advies voor het Wetenschapsbeleid [the government’s advisory council on scientific policy] and from 1973 to 1976 he was a member of the Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid [scientific council for government policy]. Choufoer and Böttcher had become acquainted when the chemistry professor acted as one of the permanent advisors of Shell’s research department.

To the general public, Böttcher was primarily known as the co-founder and former chair of the Dutch branch of the Club of Rome. This informal association, founded in 1968 by political, academic and business leaders, had issued a resounding alarm about unbridled economic and population growth, as well as the finite nature of fossil fuels in its 1971 report The Limits to Growth.

But according to Böttcher, the Club of Rome’s worrying conclusions didn’t mean that the whole system had to be upended. On the contrary: he disagreed with the call from left-wing environmental movements for far-reaching government intervention. For example, in the autumn of 1989, he published two opinion pieces in NRC Handelsblad [a Dutch broadsheet], in which he resisted the ‘witch hunt’ on CO2 – a chemical ‘the entire food chain on the planet is based upon’. The title of his first piece: ‘Our planet is not a greenhouse’.

To Böttcher’s delight, this message had also been adopted by Shell’s boardroom. ‘I allowed myself to be persuaded by a number of contacts – generally from Shell circles – to take on a CO2/greenhouse effect project,’ he wrote in one of the countless letters he left to posterity, which are now stored at the Noord-Hollands Archief [North Holland Archive] and which Platform Authentieke Journalistiek was able to peruse. In another note, he wrote about his first meeting with Van Engelshoven: ‘At the end of the meeting, Huub stated that Shell wanted to make 80,000 guilders available for my project.’

Frits Böttcher (1915-2008) admitted that he ‘could never throw anything away’. The whopping 15.9 metres of documents that are stored at the Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem prove that he wasn’t exaggerating. He meticulously recorded all his meetings and conversations, whether on the telephone or in person, sometimes even adding a brief biography of the person he had spoken with.

This article is based on the folders that were organised under the name ‘CO2/greenhouse project’. In the past few months, PAJ has combed through these folders. We did so in the context of the Shell Papers, a major investigation into Shell, in cooperation with Follow the Money. The documentation provides unique insight into the manner in which a considerable proportion of the Dutch business community deployed Böttcher’s name and skills to raise doubts about the causes of climate change as well as the necessity of reducing CO2 emissions.

Some of Böttcher’s notes are handwritten and merely state the name of a company sponsor and the sum donated, while others are extensive minutes of meetings, written out by one of his assistants. The attention to detail is remarkable: there are even documents that note who sat where or which wine was served during a business lunch or dinner.

EXTRACTS END

Reference is made in the article to the role of *John Jennings (now Sir John Jennings) the then Chairman of Shell Transport And Trading Co and a Group Managing Director of Royal Dutch Shell. There are also video clips and extensive further information and evidence.

FULL ARTICLE – ENGLISH TRANSLATION VERSION

  • Note added by John Donovan. I had direct dealings with John Jennings during the relevant period and have the very highest respect for him. He was friendly in face-to-face discussions and went out of his way to an extraordinary degree to ensure that l was treated fairly. If he had not retired, my problems with Shell would have been resolved over two decades ago. In my experience, his successors, including Sir Mark Moody-Stuart and Sir Philip Watts, did not have the same regard for upholding Shell’s General Business Principles. One of them was Mr Malcolm Brinded. Need I say more.
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