A climate poll on Twitter posted by Shell has backfired spectacularly, with the oil company accused of gaslighting the public.
The poll, posted on Tuesday morning, asked: “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?”
It received a modest 199 votes, but the tweet still went viral – but not for the reasons the company would have hoped. The US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one high-profile respondent, posting a tweet liked 350,000 times.
Greta Thunberg accused the company of “endless greenwash”, while the climate scientist Prof Katharine Hayhoe pointed out Shell’s huge contribution to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is heating the planet. Shell then hid her reply, she said.
Another climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, was more direct, and said the company was gaslighting the public by suggesting that individual actions can stop the climate crisis, rather than systemic change to the fossil fuel industry. Some Twitter users saw irony in this, while others asked if the company was “out of its mind”.
Bill Weir, the chief climate correspondent at CNN, reached for a horror analogy and climate campaign groups also piled in.
In 2017, the Guardian revealed that a “confidential” Shell report in 1986 noted the large uncertainties in climate science at the time but nonetheless stated: “The changes may be the greatest in recorded history.” A Shell film released in 1991 said: “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
However, the company’s recent investments in low-carbon energy have remained tiny compared with its fossil fuel investments. Its plan to become net carbon zero covers only about 65% of the emissions from the oil and gas it produces, according to Follow This, a group of more than 5,800 green shareholders in oil and gas companies.
The climate campaigner Jamie Henn said:
Eight hours after the poll had launched, the company signed off its event sounding perhaps a little chastened.