May 24, 2022 A Safety Consultant for Shell Just Quit Her Job. Here’s Why Climate Activists Celebrated

Demonstrators outside Central Hall, Westminster, London, as the petroleum giant Shell are holding its annual general meeting. Picture date: Tuesday May 24, 2022. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images
Demonstrators outside Central Hall, Westminster, London, as the petroleum giant Shell are holding its annual general meeting. Picture date: Tuesday May 24, 2022. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images

A longtime safety consultant for the fossil fuel industry has terminated her contract with energy giant Shell, accusing the company of “double talk on climate” by publicly pledging to reduce its carbon footprint while continuing to drill for new oil and gas. The announcement, which took off on social media Monday, is the latest incident to cast doubt on the sincerity of recent “net zero” pledges from oil and gas companies, whose products are the primary driver of human-caused climate change.

“It pains me to end this working relationship, which I have greatly valued,” Caroline Dennett, whose small consulting firm has advised the UK-based company on safety issues for 11 years, wrote in an email to Shell’s executive board on Monday. “But I can no longer work for a company that ignores all the alarms and dismisses the risks of climate change and ecological collapse.”

In a video that Dennett posted on social media along with a copy of her email, she also accused the oil giant of knowingly deceiving the public on its climate commitments and urged others working for Shell to leave the company if they, too, were concerned about the climate crisis.

“Whatever they say, Shell is simply not winding down on fossil fuels,” Dennett said in the video. “If you can find a way out, then please walk away while there’s still time. Do it now.”

Climate activists, who have long criticized oil companies for not taking responsibility for their role in causing global warming, celebrated the announcement, sharing the post thousands of times on LinkedIn and Twitter as of Tuesday morning. 

Several of the world’s top oil companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, have made so-called “net zero” pledges. Those mean that by 2050, at least in theory, the companies would either no longer emit greenhouse gases or they would remove from the atmosphere as much as they release so that their net contribution to global warming would be zero.

In response to questions about Dennett’s post, Shell said in a statement that it was “determined to deliver” on its goal to become net zero by 2050. “We’re already investing billions of dollars in low-carbon energy, although the world will still need oil and gas for decades to come in sectors that can’t be easily decarbonized,” the company added.

But many environmentalists remain skeptical of Big Oil’s goal to reach net zero, saying oil and gas companies are attempting to appease public outcry over climate change without actually changing their behavior. A growing body of research has shown that fossil fuel companies aren’t attempting to reduce their emissions at all, meaning their goals to address climate change have so far amounted to “greenwashing.” And a report released today by the advocacy group Oil Change International found that some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including Shell, are investing in at least 200 new fossil fuel projects through 2025, which could cause an additional 8.6 gigatonnes of carbon pollution—or the emissions equivalence of 77 new coal-fired power plants.

In fact, the stated net-zero “ambitions,” as oil and gas companies generally call them, do not require that greenhouse gas emissions fall to zero at all, wrote ICN’s Nicholas Kusnetz. Instead, they rely either partly or largely on capturing or canceling out these emissions with unproven technologies and reforestation at a difficult scale to achieve. Technologies known as direct air capture would need to suck billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the air every year and then store it for those plans to work.

Dennett isn’t the only former worker for Big Oil to point out these contradictions. An engineer who worked for Exxon for 16 years also quit his job, saying he realized the company had no intentions of seriously addressing climate change. 

While it’s unclear if Dennet’s action will make any change at Shell, she said she hopes it will at least force Shell’s executives to “look in the mirror and ask themselves if they really believe their vision for more oil and gas extraction secures a safe future for humanity.”

But her message has clearly gotten through to others. Shell executives had to delay an annual shareholder meeting this morning after climate activists interrupted the session.

“Stop kidding yourself that you are doing no harm,” the protesters shouted at stockholders, according to CBS. “Think of your children and your family. They will not escape the effects of the climate emergency.”

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That’s how much federal funding the Biden administration has tallied so far being filtered through its Justice40 initiative, a program that aims to deliver more investment to environmental justice communities that bear the brunt of pollution and climate change.