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Shell "Real Energy Solutions"
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Royal Dutch Shell ran the following advert in Time Magazine of 28 April 2008. We made a transcript and added some pertinent remarks.

"Start from a different place" (Royal Dutch Shell)

"Humans were made to be mobile. We were nomads until we settled in villages, which grew into towns and cities. We learnt to explore the vast horizons of our planet and build a trading system that today powers the global economy. Tourism is now the world's biggest industry, vital to the economies of many of our poorest nations."

"Mobility - for travel, trade and tourism - enriches all our lives. It fuels economic growth, is essential for poverty reduction, and allows us to broaden our experiences of the world, family and friends." ecoglobe> This is factually incorrect. Many lives suffer from the adverse effects of both trade and travel. Economic growth is not "essential" for poverty reduction. Globalisation and liberalisation have led to an larger gap between the wealthy few and the masses of poor people. Poverty reduction can be achieved by redistribution, by paying the poor more for their products and by spending less on luxury goods.

"Fuelling this mobility requires energy, and production and consumption of energy has has consequences for the environment. Today, moving people and products depends on liquid fossil fuels, mostly oil to make gasoline, diesel or kerosine - contributing to greenhouse gas emissions." ecoglobe> This is correct but incomplete. Fossil fuels are also needed for agriculture (fertilisers, tractors), industrial production (machinery and consumer products), and heating. Temporarily abundant oil allowed mankind to reach present population size - 6.7 billion - and high standard of living - for the priveleged 1 billion. This in turn led to all sorts of environmental problems and resource scarcities.

"But it's not just carbon emissions that cause concern. All that mobility together with the burning of coal and gas for lighting, heating, cooking and appliancesare some of the main causes for local air pollution, especially in the large cities. ecoglobe> The air pollution is much wider spread. The pollution drifting over from East Asia can be felt in California. There is a huge seasonal cloud of smog hanging over the Indian Ocean, which also seems changing the climate by its mere presence.

"The United Nations predicts that half the world's population will live in urban areas by the end of 2008 and about 70% will be city dwellers by 2050. There are expected to be more than 27 'mega-cities' - each with more than 10 million people - by 2050." ecoglobe> This is a straight extrapolation of present trends, assuming that all other things are remaining equal. This, however, will not be the case. After 'peak oil' - long before 2050 - the world oil extraction will drop. This will lead to less food and less industrial production. Oil scarcity will become permanent and increase form year to year. In combination with the floods and droughts caused by cllimate change, this will disrupt our present ways of life and roll back globalisation and disrupt transportation. It may lead to huge famines and many environmental fugitives, people displaced from their lands and cities. People may leave the cities and their squalor caused by pollution and collapsing services.

"More crowded cities means more fumes, more noise and more smog. So. What do we do?"

"At Shell we believe the solution is a combination of cleaner fuels, cleaner engines, better public transport and better urban planning. We are doing our best with fuel improvements." ecoglobe> Shell believes in technology. Shell does not see any need to stop the trends of growing population and growing consumption, which are the root cause of increasing environmental problems.

"We're also working with coalitions of vehicle manufacturers, governments, urban planners and the C40 group of mayors of the world's largest cities to seek joined up ways to address the challenges."

"In terms of fuel improvement, we work to reduce the environmental impact of gasoline and diesel. Shell was one of the first to provide lead-free and low-sulphur fuels. We have also developed special additives that can help run engines more efficiently, and an innovative formula designed to help reduce fuel consumption at no extra cost to the driver. We give our customers tips to help them maintain vehicle efficiency, and drive in more fuel-efficient ways."

"But the future is not just oil. We'll need fuels from lots of different sources to meet growing demand. So years ago we set our scientists a challenge: start from a different place. Find ways to make liquid fuels from something else. Find ways to reduce the environmental impact of mobility." ecoglobe> "Growing demand" is not questioned. No hint at the finiteness of the world and its "lots of different sources". Shell simplistically believes that we can find something else". "Challange" hints at ingenuity. Brain power is supposed to replenish lacking physical resources. Now that is a challenge!

"After decades of research and trial, we think we have solved this part of the puzzle."

"Today, Shell is producing a synthetic fuel made from natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel. Gas to liquids (GTL) reduces sooty emissions and can be used in existing diesel engines. Our new GTL plant in Qatar will be capable of producing enough GTL fuel to power the equivalent of all buses and taxis in up to 10 megacities, helping to improve air quality." ecoglobe> This suggests that the GTL fuel will be used by those buses and taxis. However, are the engines of these vehicles compatible? Is the price affordable? Could it be mere propaganda for Shell?

"We also work on lower carbon fuels. Shell is one of the world's largest distributors of ethanol and biodiesel made from made from food crops. The rapid growth in food-based biofuels poses dilemmas and risks - higher food prices and issues over biodiversity, land use and human rights. Moreover, the CO2 benefit is variable." ecoglobe> Hinting at the problems does not mean changing the biofuel policy. It suggests that Shell would be a socially responsible company.

"So we are working with partners to develop non-food biofuels that could have around 90% lower emissions than gasoline, using feedstock like straw or woodchips. We are seeking very tight quality controls and appropriate measures and systems for sustainability, land use and CO2 production." ecoglobe> All biofuels require nutriants to grow. Who can claim that straw or woodchips are not used for other purposes? "Sustainability" is a state of our society that can carry on unchanged for a long ltime. Humanity has overshot sustainable levels of resource consumption by far. We can't hope to sustain our present level of mobility and speeds. Independent of the CO2 emissions problem we have to reduce in many sectors of our exuberantly luxureous lifestyles.

"We are investing in long-term solutions like hydrogen fuel. While there are many technical hurdles to be overcome before hydrogen delivers its potential, Shell is already starting to add hydrogen storage capacity and fuel pumps into some of our retail sites in Japan, North America and Europe. " ecoglobe> Hydrogen is not a fuel. It has to be produced by solar power and compressed before it becomes an energy carrier. The energy input-output ratio is very small. Large surfaces of solar panels will be required, which requires high investment, all subsidized by oil. In a veritable sustainable energy system, the power that is generated will also be sufficient to manufacture the equipment, in this case the solar panels, the compressors, the transportation and storage before it can be burnt in our cars.

"Over the past century huge advances in mobility have transformed our lives. In the coming century, we need to transform the worlds energy system."

"Starting from a different place means we are making progress on a cost effective investment development path to cleaner transport. The puzzle continues, but solutions are under way." ecoglobe> "Starting from a different place" means nothing. "solutions are under way" means an unbroken belief in future technical "solutions", developments that are "needed" bit for which there is no guarantee that they will come about. It does nothing to deal with the urgent problems of today.

ecoglobe> It's difficult to see how some smart driving tips and "solutions under way" can be real solutions. It sounds like cheap corporate publicity that lures the public with hopes and belief. American coal pblished a nice commercial which simply repeats "I believ" - endlessly.

Helmut Lubbers
ecological psychologist and
environmental scientist
26 April 2008
Human intelligence should lead to a revision of long-cherished paradigms of endless progress. We will face the hard material realities of the end of luxury. This is not a matter of political thought or finding energy sources.
It is matter, that is earth, food, water, the necessities of subsistance, that is important. Either we reduce our consumption or we will perish.
Also see "Hostility to the notion of limits to growth" (with readers' comments)
Environmental developments:
  • The day of "Peak oil", i.e. the highest daily amount of oil extracted, is approaching. It is expected within one to twenty years. Thereafter petroleum will be used for prioritary applications. (compare fossil energy developments)
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