Polarization as strategy – No other way to interpret activist loathing of Shell’s voluntary “Drive Carbon Neutral” plan
How low can environmental/energy dialogue go? No one really knows. Every week, we set another all-time low.
Anyone involved with energy on a practical level -that is, anyone that is part of energy solutions rather than political machinations – knows full well how challenging it is to move away from a global hydrocarbon-based system. Due to the fact that our entire society is based on cheap hydrocarbons – all aspects of it – there is no “let’s abandon that one and build a new one” solution. Even incremental change is hard, and, perhaps for that reason alone, incremental change should be celebrated. Particularly if it’s a voluntary change.
That may be true in many realms, but not if you’re in the hydrocarbon business. No, if you’re in that business, the only thing that will win approval from the “far side” is for hydrocarbons to…roll over and die.
Want proof? The other week, Shell announced a plan to allow consumers to pay an extra two cents per litre of gas as part of “Drive Carbon Neutral” plan. Customers can opt to throw in an extra two cents per litre which will be funneled (initially) to a tree-planting program run by The Nature Conservancy.
Great idea all around – sensible, voluntary, with a clear beneficiary (as opposed to the “administrative shrinkage” many green schemes/charities seem to suffer from). Shell commented: “We see a lot of demand from customers to start helping. How can a customer who maybe can’t afford to buy an electric car, but wants to do something to help the environment, get involved?” Excellent! Additionally, an Indigenous group that would benefit from the program was a notable supporter; Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman for the Tsilhqot’in National Government, chimed in: “The reforestation project is an opportunity for economic growth within our nation,” he said. Even more excellent!
The celebrations were, of course, not universal. Here come the hate-club. “Insidious” and “pure-greenwashing”, said Environmental Defense spokesman and Death Eater Keith Brooks (don’t laugh, Harry Potter’s darkening world of swirling doom is coming to life). The program, in his eyes, is not just unacceptable but terrible. The option “puts the onus on the individual consumer instead of a massive polluter like Shell,” Brooks seethed electronically into the big dumb ears of the media, because it allows Shell to get off the hook for continuing to provide gasoline.
Where do attacks like that leave us? There is no joy in going after the likes of Brooks or Environmental Defense. He/they will never change his/their mind; they want to end society’s usage of hydrocarbons any way they can. They don’t want middle ground, they don’t want incremental progress – they want to slay a dragon. They refuse to acknowledge any good that Shell might do, because, as Brooks puts it, Shell is trying to “stymie and scuttle climate policy” through membership in CAPP. And that’s just one example; Brooks mocks any effort by Shell that does not get people off hydrocarbons (interesting to note that Brooks invokes religion in his attack, their 2 cents program “offers them the chance to seek absolution for their climate sins.” I don’t think that’s a mistake.)
But on the other hand, there is negative value in ignoring Brooks’ comments; those comments find their way directly into mainstream media (by invitation). To say nothing against them is to be as ineffectual as that CAPP demon that Brooks so badly wants to exorcise from this earthly world.
That’s the sorry world we live in. Try to do things better, and sure enough, here come the pitchforks. Try to defend against this activist army whose only job is to fill the airwaves with such vitriol and we’re “polarizing the debate”.
This shouldn’t be polarizing: Observe what you do, and your footprint. Make things better when you can, when you can afford them. Businesses, make incremental steps for the better, however you can. Shell hits the nail squarely, exactly, and precisely on the head. The program is stunningly clear in the choice it offers consumers too – as they pull up to the pumps, and ponder this contribution, they can’t help but ponder the size and luxuriousness of what they pulled up in. The program even has Indigenous support.
But incremental, voluntary, progress is unacceptable to some, if the “enemy” is allowed to live. Polarization is a now a profession. Energy in the media isn’t a dialogue now, it’s blood sport, leaving one feeling dirty for participating. To even write a commentary on and about the binary righteousness of the likes of Environmental Defense makes me want to throw up.
Any sane person’s head will want to split open when reading something like the attack on Shell. There is no onus being put on anyone. There is an option. There is an option that may make a person think about what they are driving. Individual consumers are, as is self-evident, the consumers. It could just as easily be read, by any civilized person, as a pointed wake-up call from Shell for people to realize their very own footprint. In other words, possibly a way to get people to think about reducing consumption.
But such positive possibilities cannot exist when polarization is a bedrock of activist communication strategies. There is no other way to interpret it. Progress, to Brooks’ ilk, is unacceptable, if the “enemy” is allowed to continue to provide the fuel that civilization requires to keep 7 billion people alive. That contradiction can only be hidden by turning the conversation into a comic book narrative; a villain must be created to stir emotions and distract from reality. It’s pathetic, and it’s everywhere.
The irony is that all the bluster and ferocity won’t help, it will only hurt. Governments will not, when faced with economic reality, kill off the world’s fuel source. We are going to be in a hydrocarbon based world for decades. All we can do is recognize what’s going on: people and groups that can’t conceive of how to govern and how to keep the world turning are being paid to advance an agenda that cannot succeed without the full cooperation of the world’s oil companies. Eventually, most will see that, and Brooks & co will move on to the next well-paid fight against the next villain. Until it is obvious that the only remaining villains will be the ones they create.
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