Two decades ago, a group of researchers envisioned a violent storm ripping through the East Coast with such force that it would transform young people into climate activists, spark lawsuits and cause government leaders to turn on fossil fuel companies.
They were only off by two years. They also worked for Shell Oil Co.
In 1998, Shell researchers wrote an internal memo about future scenarios that could harm their business. They determined that “only a crisis can lead to a large-scale change in this world,” according to the memo, recently uncovered by De Correspondent with a trove of company documents.
The scenario planning process was based on climate science, political realities and economic projections. It suggested that a major storm on the East Coast in 2010 could turn public opinion against Shell and other oil and gas conglomerates, while pushing governments toward strict environmental regulations and investments in renewable energy.
“Following the storms, a coalition of environmental [nongovernmental organizations] brings a class-action suit against the US government and fossil-fuel companies on the grounds of neglecting what scientists (including their own) have been saying for years: that something must be done,” the Shell researchers wrote. “A social reaction to the use of fossil fuels grow, and individuals become ’vigilante environmentalists’ in the same way, a generation earlier, they had become fiercely anti-tobacco. Direct-action campaigns against companies escalate. Young consumers, especially, demand action.”
They came close to predicting Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the East Coast in 2012, killing at least 147 people and causing more than $70 billion in economic damages. The storm hit particularly hard in New York City, inspiring Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to undertake aggressive climate policies. Other states followed. Earlier this year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sued Shell and four other major oil companies as a way to make them “take full responsibility for the devastation they have wrought” for contributing to climate change. Separately, other parties are suing the federal government for promoting oil and gas consumption in a period of rising temperatures. [Continue reading…]