Gundrum and Rocchi: Don't Be Shell Shocked

by Francesca Gundrum and Catherine Rocchi | 5/5/16 5:30pm

In the past week alone, Dartmouth has had seven different climate-centric events ranging from lectures on soil-vegetation-atmosphere interactions to panels discussing water crises in the Navajo Nation. All of these events were open to the public, with just one exception: “Climate Risk & Resiliency for Oil and Gas Companies” with David Hone, climate change advisor to Shell.

In order to attend, Catherine Rocchi ’19 filled out an application and submitted her questions for screening more than a week before the event. Moreover, organizers only disclosed the location of Hone’s presentation three days in advance, and only to those who were officially approved through the application process. We believe — and are certainly not alone in our assumptions — that this exclusivity was a direct attempt to subvert any potential for nonviolent protest. In an attempt to confirm these suspicions, Francesca Gundrum ’17 filled out no such application. Instead, she walked with Catherine through the doors of the General Motors Classroom at the Tuck School of Business just 10 minutes before the start of the lecture — keeping her head down and covering her Divest Dartmouth stickers with post-it notes and tape. Still, an event organizer immediately stopped her and asked if she was an approved student, who she was representing, if she planned on asking any questions, if other undergraduates planned to attend and if facilitators should expect any sort of “audience involvement.” Quick answers and sheer luck permitted Francesca to remain at the event with Catherine. However, they were both encouraged to direct any new questions to an event organizer in writing, rather than towards Hone himself.

In his lecture outlining Shell’s response to climate change, Hone acknowledged that his company possesses a large quantity of “stranded assets”: carbon deposits that they cannot burn while the global temperature rise remains under COP21’s 2degrees Celsius ceiling. However, he dismissed these limits as a “point of discussion” and “too simplistic.” Hone encouraged us to take a closer look at the Paris Agreement: “ way or another, those 12 pages could influence your life.”

This was not the first time we were told to do our homework. An ENVS professor at Dartmouth encourages all of his students to know four numbers: the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when you were born, the concentration now, the human population of the world when you were born and the human population now. In 1996, the average concentration of carbon dioxide was 362.25 parts per million and there were 5.79 billion people on the planet. Today, 403.28 ppm CO2 suffocates our atmosphere and more than 7 billion people share the globe. These are not simply numbers — these values represent nearly two decades of environmental degradation and human suffering. 2015 was the hottest year on record. In Beijing, 20 million victims forever keep their windows shut against ubiquitous smog. In the Pacific Islands, rising sea levels and ocean acidification have already forced the evacuation of maritime communities. Suggesting that the goals outlined in Paris are simply a “point of discussion” is shortsighted, irresponsible and terrifying.

“Nobody wants to talk about this, but we do,” Hone said. Shell’s climate change advisor repeatedly emphasized his desire for a “lengthy debate” after the lecture. However, neither of our questions ever made it to the floor. After two straightforward queries from the audience, the moderator of the event apologized for a classroom time constraint, and Hone’s lengthy debate was, incidentally, cut short. We could only watch as Hone quickly packed his suitcase and tried to make his way past a handful of inquisitive students and professors.

Four days later, Josh Fox held a public screening of his newest project, “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.” The Oscar-nominated director spent a half-hour before the film speaking to students in the first few rows, and after the screening, he refused to leave the classroom before answering every single question from the audience. At the public reception, Francesca found him playing his famous banjo and enthusiastically continuing the discussion. Hone might not play any instruments, but he certainly did not have the time or courage to face the students in that General Motors classroom with the truth.

“We recognize that energy is one of the most pressing issues of our time…[We are] making a difference through the choices we are making about our operations now and into the future.” “The world is watching, and we are proud to be leading the way.” Can you guess which statement came from Shell’s climate change adviser, as he presented a climate change response plan with no mention of renewable energy, and which from Dartmouth’s President Hanlon, as he announced a push towards campus sustainability that did not include fossil fuel divestment? The Big Green Rally’s message was unequivocal: we need to combat climate change with every tool in our arsenal. Let’s see some action.