Heroines of our time vs. corporate greed

Hundreds of thousands of children in more than 100 countries are walking out of classrooms on global climate strike.

Growing anger at the failure of politicians to tackle the global climate crisis was the inspiration for Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, who has now been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In 2018, she refused to go to school, capturing the imagination of a country struck by heatwaves and wildfires in the hottest summer since records began 262 years ago.

That image of youthful courage is in stark contrast to the outrageous news that the pay of oil and gas giant Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, more than doubled in 2018 to hit €20.1m (£17.2m) as the company rewarded him for high profits.

Luke Hildyard, director of the UK’s independent High Pay Centre, said: “These very large payouts are indicative of a flawed governance model and warped corporate culture that has made the UK one of the most unequal countries in western Europe.” That’s true, but it also smacks of corporate greed and moral complacency.

At the end of 2018, Shell announced that it would set specific targets for reducing carbon emissions every three to five years, with the goal of shrinking its net carbon footprint by about half by 2050. It also proposed to reward executives for managing a transition to cleaner energy. How much of van Beurden’s hiked salary relates to reduced carbon emissions is unclear: one suspects zero.

Shell is one of the world’s 10 biggest carbon emitters. Following the Paris climate deal, the company outlined “decarbonisation pathways” to move away from dependency on fossil fuels, but environmentalists have noted a glacial pace of change and weak investment in renewables and carbon capture technology.

Recently, TED posted Greta Thunberg’s Stockholm talk of November 2018 in which explained why she decided to skip school and protest. At the end, she said:

“We do need hope, of course we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”

Her words were underlined by Noga Levy-Rapoport, who led a recent London climate strike march and is an organiser of the UK Student Climate Network. In “Isolationism is deadly. Only global collective action can save us” (The Guardian, 15 March 2019), she writes:

“We are going on strike because we are desperate to make the changes necessary for our survival. The only way we can is by cooperating with other countries – particularly European countries, our neighbours, friends, and allies – to legislate new, stricter regulations on the greatest polluters and contributors to global warming, namely, the oil and gas giants, that operate across the continent.”


Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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