Shell’s climate marketing tricks

3 Nov 2014 anna

Have you seen all these new Shell ads? Billboards on high streets and tube stations celebrate Shell as a champion of climate action and “keeping-the-lights-on”.

When she’s your age

"Let's keep the lights on when she's your age" - Shell advert

What’s the way to keep the lights on into 2050? Burn the rest of the world’s fossil fuels, of course. And look, she’s even got a toy polar bear by her bedside to prove it!

The more insidious work of this picture, of course, is identifying “keeping the lights on” with the safety of home and children. Making a connection between the security of our daily lives and what we love, and “energy security” – the militarisation of oil and gas drilling sites, transportation routes, and borders in the name of securing energy for “us” and not “others”. In this way Shell’s vice president of shipping Jan Kopernicki argued for Britain to send more navy ships to suppress piracy off the coast of Somalia:

I don’t want to be alarmist but I provide transport for essential oil and gas for this country and I want to be sure that the lights are on in Birmingham, my home city.

More on the hidden violence in the “energy security” framing here and here.

This much CO2

Last Friday we stared at the Trafalgar carbon bubble ad and decided to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Shell’s ad professes that the planned CCS project at Peterhead is supposed to capture 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year (or 10 million tonnes over its lifetime as explained on the project’s website). At 0.43 metric tons CO2 per barrel of oil, this is equivalent to the emissions from 2.326 million barrels of oil every year. This is less than the 2.79 million barrels a day that Shell is extracting every single day.

So: capturing that much CO2 annually is equivalent to less than a day’s worth of Shell’s own CO2 emissions. Nevermind the fact that the captured CO2 is used to force out more oil!

Old tricks

Shell’s ad campaign is part of a strategy that oil companies have employed for at least 15 years. BP’s infamous rebranding as “Beyond Petroleum” famously cost the company $100m a year, much more than BP’s actual investments in renewable energy. You won’t hear “Beyond Petroleum” in adverts anymore, but at the same time as funding climate denier groups, oil companies continue to advertise its ‘climate leadership’. As I write these lines, an elite conference on climate change is taking place at Chatham House in London (next door to BP’s HQ). Main sponsor? Shell! While the oil company gets to take part in setting the agenda, people on the frontlines of climate injustice are not even invited.

I will be protesting outside the conference venue tomorrow morning – join me! And you can tweet at the conference hashtag #CHclimate.

Edited to add: huge hat tip to Simon Bullock at Friends of the Earth for this revealing version of the ‘bubble’ ad:

"Imagine creating this much CO2 every hour"

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