I still haven’t been to Venice, Italy.
So in the next few years, I plan to buy a pair of waders and visit the historic city.
Yes, I’ll need to pack waders.
You see, high tide in Venice oftentimes floods the city, meaning there’s a decent chance of spending a few hours per day in ankle-deep water.
Heck, the locals have adjusted, so why can’t I?
My children’s children, however, might not be so lucky.
The sea is expected to swallow Venice whole by the year 2100.
You can thank greenhouse gases for that.
New York, Shanghai, Sydney and London will disappear soon thereafter.
In Manhattan alone, dangerous waves are now 20 times more likely to overwhelm the seawall than they were 170 years ago.
So when I discovered that Shell had produced a film in 1991 called Climate of Concern, detailing the reprehensible harm its products do to the Earth…
I wondered why it then spent millions of dollars lobbying against the doom it so brilliantly predicted 25 years prior.
The answer is more disturbing than you could ever imagine.
The Inconvenient Truth
The answer is quite simple…
Americans simply didn’t care enough to do anything about climate.
You see, we are all for protecting the climate and reducing greenhouse gases, but only when it’s convenient.
Let’s travel back in time to see just how America felt about climate change at the time Shell’s damning video was recorded.
Take auto sales, for instance…
In January 1991, we entered the Gulf War and emerged victorious before the end of the next month.
The average price of gas had dropped to $1.10, down 20 cents from the previous year, according to Statista.
In 1990, annual car sales declined 5.1% from the year before.
So by ’91, Americans were looking at rock-bottom gas prices, heavily discounted auto inventory and falling interest rates.
In other words, the perfect opportunity to buy a car!
That message was sold hard by automakers and the Bush I administration. And the oil industry LOVED it.
So the American public was happily buying and driving cars with a clean conscience.
And why not?
What was good for the domestic auto business was ultimately good for America.
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The very last thing on our minds entering the 1990s was fundamentally changing the way we power everything we do.
The truth was out there — but no one cared enough to pay attention.
With everybody happy and making money, it’s no wonder Shell did nothing about climate change.
Greed Trumps All
In 1970, economist Dr. Milton Friedman posited that the sole purpose of a business is to generate profits for its shareholders. Period.
In other words, there’s no motivation to be a good citizen, unless, of course, it coincides with maximizing profits.
So while I’d love to say Shell’s self-contradictory behavior is an anomaly, it’s not. I’m afraid the business annals are full of examples of greed trumping all else.
And I know it firsthand!
Take Aera Energy LLC, for example.
Aera is a major natural gas, oil exploration and production company jointly owned by Shell Oil Co. and Exxon Mobil. (Yes, Shell is involved in this too!)
In 2014, the company signed a multiunit purchase agreement to install a new emission-reducing technology on essential operating equipment, known as once-through steam generators (OTSG).
That is, after Aera completed a successful field test demonstrating the technology could produce ultra-low emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) of five parts per million (ppm) or less.
Well, not only did the technology meet expectations, but it exceeded them, reducing NOx to as low as three ppm.
But guess what?
Aera permitted the company behind the technology and installation to play up the benefits in press releases, as well as industry presentations. However, Aera was simultaneously downplaying it to regulators, based on my findings from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Why the disconnect? Because reducing emissions doesn’t immediately boost Aera’s profits. In this case, it could actually cost Aera significantly.
You see, if Aera brags about the technology too much, regulators could pass more stringent emission requirements, thereby forcing the company to retrofit all 240 or so of its OTSGs. Doing so would cost upward of $30 million.
But by keeping a lid on the much-needed technology, Aera can keep avoiding a massive profit-reducing capital expenditure and instead keep polluting and paying a measly $2–3 million in annual fines.
Well, this “cover-up” continues today. Meanwhile, the Southern California region where Aera is headquartered continues to suffer from the worst air pollution in the country.
This proves once again that if there’s no economic benefit to being a good corporate citizen, corporations certainly won’t be one!
Ahead of the tape,
Chief Investment Strategist, Wall Street Daily