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Shell’s Old Files: The Gift That Keeps on Giving (To Climate Lawsuits)

Posted by John Donovan: 18 Jan 24

In a plot twist worthy of a daytime soap opera, newly unearthed documents from Shell’s dusty archives could turn out to be climate attorneys’ new best friends. These relics, dating back decades, have been discovered, possibly hiding under a pile of old oil barrels, and they’re singing like a canary about Shell’s knowledge of climate damages. Cue dramatic music!

Reported for the first time by DeSmog and Follow The Money, these documents, now showcased on Climate Files, are like a time capsule from a more, shall we say, ‘honest’ time at Shell. Take a 1970 industry journal article, for instance, where Shell seems to have had a moment of clarity, accepting responsibility for the harms caused by its products. “Whoops, did we do that?” they might have said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Shell’s publications were all about the “major adverse changes” the “greenhouse effect” could cause. But, in true Shell style, as they were penning these concerns, they were also planning more oil and gas production. It’s like a villain in a movie revealing their master plan while still trying to look like the good guy.

One 1998 report is particularly juicy. It details why Shell bid adieu to the Global Climate Coalition, a lobby group that was to climate science what kryptonite is to Superman. Shell acknowledged the need for “prudent precautionary measures” to avoid the worst climate impacts, yet kept drilling away. Talk about mixed messages!

Fast forward to today, and climate attorneys are rubbing their hands together with glee. These documents are like finding a map to buried treasure. Corey Riday-White, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Climate Integrity, summed it up perfectly: “These internal admissions are valuable sources for litigators… While Shell privately acknowledged the dangers… the corporation publicly sowed doubt about the science and fought efforts to regulate its pollution.” Classic Shell, always playing both sides.

Vatan Hüzeir, the climate activist and doctoral candidate who unearthed these gems, must feel like Indiana Jones right now. His findings show that while Shell was aware of the climate catastrophe brewing, they were busy playing the “let’s emphasize scientific uncertainties” game in public.

Now, with lawsuits flying at Shell like confetti at a wedding, these documents could be the smoking gun. It’s like watching a detective show where the villain accidentally left their diary at the crime scene.

Shell, when asked for comment, referred to a previous statement, basically saying it’s the government’s job to sort this mess out. Because why take responsibility when you can pass the buck?

So there you have it: Shell’s walk down memory lane, where every step is a reminder of “Oh, we knew about that climate thingy all along.” Stay tuned to see how these old files turn into new headaches for our favourite oil giant.

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