No sooner had Shell CEO Ben van Beurden delivered remarks at the TED Countdown Summit in Edinburgh, trumpeting Shell’s efforts to combat the climate crisis, did a fellow panellist look him in the eyes and tell him he should be “absolutely ashamed with himself.”

Lauren MacDonald, a young climate activist, had waited patiently for her turn to speak. When the microphone was handed to her, the picture she painted of the oil giant told a much different story than the one van Beurden had described moments before.

Shell is the seventh-largest polluting company on the planet, and she noted it is currently seeking a bid to develop the Cambo oilfield, a controversial drilling project in the North Sea. The project is set to extract up to 170 million barrels of oil per year. That, along with the company’s alleged involvement in the murder of the Ogoni nine in the early 1990s and its recent appeal of a Dutch court decision ordering Shell to cut emissions by 45 per cent, made van Beurden an unfit guest for the event, said MacDonald.

She looked the oil industrialist in the eye and said, “I hope that you know that we will never forget what you have done, and what Shell has done.

“I hope you know that as the climate crisis gets more and more deadly, you will be to blame.”

She then left the stage with demonstrators who had positioned themselves below as she spoke, holding up a banner that read, “No Future in Fossil Fuels.” They walked out of the auditorium, urging the audience to join them, with some following suit.

The idea for the panel was to bring together three people who share “commonalities” — namely, the desire to accelerate the energy transition, even if they have differing opinions about how to get there, said host Christiana Figueres, who was the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change during the 2015 Paris Agreement. Van Beurden and MacDonald were also joined by Chris James, co-founder of Engine No. 1, an investment firm that ousted three members of Exxon’s board earlier this year.

The demonstration outside the TED Countdown Summit. Photo courtesy of Stop Cambo

Stop Cambo, a U.K.-based group that organized the protest at the TED conference, said it reached out to TED organizers once they heard of van Beurden’s involvement. Francesca, a campaigner with the group, said the action was necessary to emphasize why they believe fossil fuel companies should never be invited to climate events.

“I hope that you know that we will never forget what you have done.” Climate activist @sunfloweryell0w walked out of a #TEDCountdown panel Thursday after refusing to share the stage with the CEO of oil giant Shell. #TED #COP26 #ClimateCrisis

“It is disrespectful to front-line activists — many of whom were not invited to this event and are unable to attend COP26 due to vaccine apartheid — as their communities are directly harmed by the decisions of these CEOs,” said Francesca.

“Van Beurden’s inclusion as a speaker suggests that these companies are part of the solution, but they are not. They should be held accountable for their crimes against humanity and be dismantled, replaced by a just transition that centres front-line communities, workers, and voices of those who are most affected by climate breakdown.”

Held in advance of COP26, the week-long TED event featured talks from numerous climate players, including Canadian climate activist Tzeporah Berman.

The conference — also known as COP, short for Conference of the Parties — has brought the world together since 1995 to hammer out agreements to reduce global warming. The talks gather policymakers, scientists, environmental activists, climate experts, and news media from the 197 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to set and work towards global climate change goals. This year, COP26 will take place at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.

The involvement of oil and gas companies at climate events, and specifically at United Nations climate conferences, has long been controversial. At the TED event, van Beurden said he recently got “disinvited” from COP26. The Wall Street Journal reported the same in September, noting both Shell and BP would be excluded from the talks because they didn’t have detailed emissions-reduction plans.

“My family is from the Niger Delta, and I know the harm Shell has caused and continues to cause by pushing us closer and closer to climate devastation. This action is the youth saying enough is enough, asking the hard questions, and demanding answers,” said Daze, a climate justice activist and creative director of Stop Cambo.

“We need Shell to commit to stopping the future harm caused by projects like the Cambo oilfield, but also addressing the past harm like the murder of Indigenous activists. Without this, Shell is not part of the future we need.”

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If we descend into finger-pointing and staged dramatics at events meant to enhance collaboration we are doomed. EG: If the young lady is an advocate of e-vehicles, which may be a fair assumption, she is an advocate of significantly expanded mining in countries with few environmental and labour laws. How long would it be before she herself is targeted with similar tactics?

So she should have done nothing? You have a point about other kinds of mining but are you a smoker? Why not? Nine out of 10 doctors prefer the cool, refreshing taste of Greedy's Cancer Sticks!

The top people in Big Oil are far worse than the liars in Big Tobacco who knew for decades their product was addictive and carcinogenic and still lied about it. Big Oil has known for at least 40 years the realities of climate change and instead of warning us all they spent a billion dollars lying to us.

I'm not sure the best way to handle these people - a few of them should definitely be sent to Gitmo - but allowing them to appear at these conferences and get away with more of the same BS it's definitely a bad idea.

So... you're in favour of off-shore military prisons? Nice.

The question is whether the event is really a good-faith effort to "enhance collaboration" or a bad-faith effort to delay change.

I think we have a good faith attempt to bring together various players to do something positive, and the reality that Shell execs have been instrumental in degrading the environment for profit for decades. Of course it's bigger than one guy or 50,000 guys. But when an executioner pulls the lever, he has at least some responsibility for what ensues. "I was just following orders", or just meeting orders for petroleum, does not absolve the execs of responsibility.

I beg to disagree and to point out the flaws in your assertions. The first is that this event was meant to foster "collaboration". Shell and other fossil fuel companies are not interested in "collaboration" because legitimate actions to combat climate change are antithetical to the profits of fossil fuel companies.

Second, were Macdonald's assertions incorrect in any way? No, they were accurate, and we do ourselves no favours by pretending that there is any semblance of benevolence or good intent on the part of Shell, to do so would be incredibly naive.

Third, she did not mention EVs in her speech, and it is a massive leap to equivocate "more EVs" with advocacy for expanded mining. Anyone can easily advocate for fewer gas-powered vehicles, but that can take the form of expanding public transit, making cities walkable/bikable, reducing travel in general, none of which necessitate expanding irresponsible mining practices.

Macdonald did the right thing, and seeing Van Beurden lower his head in abject shame in face of the accusations against him was a good thing. He deserves nothing better, and I think he knows it.

To the contrary. If we descend into deference to the people who not only caused, but are continuing to lobby to be able to keep on causing, the problem in the first place, we are doomed. The point is that there is no collaboration--what there is, is greenwashing, backed up by a whole lot of PR bucks. Indeed, not just greenwashing, but downright undermining of our polities. Half of the impetus for the science-denying somewhat-fascist right wing elements who seem to want to get rid of all elections they don't win, came from these same fossil fuel companies poisoning the grassroots with "think tanks", bots, and nonsensical but social-media-algorithm-savvy media bits. Seriously, the likes of the surviving Koch brother are literally trying to destroy our democracies so they can pump a few more barrels and make a few more billions and fry the planet, causing countless deaths. But because these CEOs aren't personally standing over the corpses they create with a bloody knife, you want to treat them like they should somehow be part of the conversation?

After 33 years of pumping Denial, Delay and Doubt (D3), is it any surprise that Big Oil will send a CEO PR flack to these conferences, and that environmentalists will produce predictably reactionary theatrics? The Shell CEO is highly paid and will take it on the chin as part of the job. Shame won't reduce his seven figure salary, stock option and benefit package, diminish the size and power of the board majority he answers to, or change the philosophical orientation of the class one shareholders. It's all so forgettable once the sound bite and vid are expended on the typical little splash of sensationalism on the nightly newscast.

PR has always been the official front door response by Big Oil, and indirectly funding D3 through oil-slurping "scientific" institutions and more PR flackery has always been the back door approach. This is old hat, standard practice and status quo. Nothing new here.

What would be positively shattering for Big Oil is not more lights-camera-action shaming by environmentalists too young to know where and when Greenpeace was founded and how many PR pros relish the challenge, but a true threat to its economic underpinning. That will be accomplished by disruptive technology, like cheap solar panels coupled with affordable, large-scale battery storage facilities, electric cars (yes, they're still cars, but they do lower demand for Shell's products), not to mention efficacious urbanism, conservation, ramped up climate regulation and so forth. Voting climate activists onto the board is also a sneaky and fairly effective way to grease the slope, but it will not ever be as effective as petroleum demand destruction.

Dramatic techniques to fight climate through shaming may increase the donor pool, but it's like reacting to a dog's bark by yelling and waving your arms in the air. Instead, the approach could be a lot more effective by taking a look at quietly changing or limiting the dog's food source. In the case of Big Oil, that would be its consumer base.

Electrify. Electrify. Electrify. Now that is a slogan that could change the world. But building a legacy of screaming, drama queening and using unfortunate terminology like "vaccine apartheid" (really? during the fourth wave of a worldwide pandemic where the Delta variant is breaking through to the fully vaccinated? what would an epidemiologist say to that?) is not an example this old hippie would ever subscribe to. It's all been done before and it's failed. Time for a new approach.

I bumped on the "vaccine apartheid" comment, too, but I wonder if she was referring to people of the third world who wanted to come to the conference but don't have access the vaccines yet.

I thought it was obvious that that was her point...

If so, then I stand corrected. However, it's not obvious that her comment relates to the lack of vaccine availability in poor developing countries who would never be able to afford the conference admission fees, and who should not be jetting to a climate conference, let alone during a pandemic. That context was not provided in the piece where the quote was made.

The comment could apply just as equally to an increasingly strident anti-vaccine / lockdown and hesitant contingent, even among the left and liberal communities like Nelson BC where one prominent doctor felt it necessary to write an opinion piece in the Globe describing the increasing sense of demoralization among professional medical staff caring for waves of unvaccinated COVID patients in their limited capacity hospital.

Registration for theTED talks at COP is $10,000; if you could afford that, plus the air fare, vaccination would not be a barrier.

Surely Ms McDonald's point was that the oil companies are not "partners" in combatting the climate crisis. Greenwashing doesn't make them partners. Does a crisis not call for dramatic techniques? When the house is burning you don't sit down with the pyromaniac and expect to put out the fire. As for your objection to the term "vaccine apartheid", that's another (but related) issue she threw in, pointing out the divide between the Third World and the developed world. Do you realize that many of the poorest countries have rates of vaccination below 10%? Wouldn't an epidemiologist lament that? The "apartheid" comes from poverty, not policy, but it's a huge divide. Many Third World countries are also feeling the effects of the climate crisis more acutely than us because we have the money to adapt and rebuild. As for your comment about electrification, ok, but just be sure not to electrify using natural gas as the energy source, as the Ontario government wants to do.

So who here is talking about "sitting down" with Shell Oil to fight climate change? Certainly not I. I didn't attend the horrifically expensive TED pre-COP 26 party and had nothing to do with setting the invitation list or writing the agenda. In my view everything could have been done -- and far, far more -- through video conferencing and high-quality, impeccably researched digital submissions, not by jetting, schmoozing and dramatic on-camera stagecraft during the twin crises of the climate breakdown and a world wide pandemic.

That is hypocrisy on a stick.

My point that while drama is over in a flash, intelligently promoting the destruction of the demand for oil with green tech is a far more effective way to crack Shell's shell than screaming in the highly paid CEO's face, even with the truth.

While it is very encouraging to see youth so motivated, knowing that they will vote in accordance with the feeling they no doubt have that previous generations left them with the legacy of a seriously screwed planet, there are more effective methods.

The guy linked below does it several times a week from his home without resorting to theatrical anger or by becoming a climate mercenary with a jetsetting lifestyle and a donor pool willing for fork out the reportedly $10K registration fee. I would rather contribute to his Patreon account than or any number of other climate fighting sites with jetting members because after over 50 years of being a protestor, screaming and all in the early years, I find his rational approach using knowledge to be way more powerful.

I also am very encouraged by former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney who has very recently almost single handedly convinced Canada's six Big Banks to commit to net zero in their investment and lending portfolios. Also, these institutions have responded (not fast enough, though) to their client's increasing demands to shift their retirement finds into ESG funds, funds with a green heart. No dramatics, but lots of power of persuasion when money is involved.

Will this not result in some divestment from Shell?

We need a policy landscape to shift toward net zero with cooperation to implement the policies that engage energy producers, the financial sector, workers, and local communities. Pretending that the oil companies cannot or should not be partners is as silly as denying climate change.

I don't think most of the positive steps you're talking about will ever see the light of day if there aren't some serious ruckuses made. I find it odd that you don't discount the effectiveness of oil company PR, but dismiss the effectiveness of activist PR. I think it's unwise to leave the playing field uncontested, so the oil company PR flacks can just score all the goals. For both sides it's a drip-drip-drip kind of thing--one dramatic effort by an activist is a momentary thing that will be forgotten, much as one smooth PR media placement is a momentary thing that will be largely ignored.

But the cumulative effect of many such things shapes our environment, and what we perceive as the conventional wisdom. If every time an oil company PR flack tries to do a soothing bit of greenwashing, some activists steal the show with some flashy drama that underlines the seriousness of the crisis, then sure, maybe one, or two, or a dozen times many people will say to themselves "Oh, those protesters" and not think about it again--but over time the general atmosphere will be "Oil company PR is controversial rather than accepted normality".

Incidentally, I am from Vancouver, where Greenpeace was founded, and they were a bunch of wild-eyed hippie protester types who made their mark by doing grandstanding dramatic protests.

Why critic the young woman or the CEO, attacking either party in this argument? The change is already underway and will ultimately result in the increasing decline in the "need" for fossil fuels. I happened to witness an advert on television yesterday wherein CADILLAC announced that they are now EV. That says it all. How about the new Mustang? I have been operating an EV for the past two years. This industry (EV) is beginning to explode in the same way that the model "T" did 100 or more years ago. I believe it is important for the younger generation that cares about the future to have a voice like Ms. MacDonald's. I would be far more concerned if there were no such individuals speaking up in today's rapidly changing world.

Ms. MacDonald sets a good example for others because she resides in Scotland and did not have to fly for 20 hours there and back during a pandemic to attend a climate conference only the wealthy (or those with a generous donor pool) can afford. That much is in her favour, along with protesting the development of the North Sea Cambo oil field and her awareness of Shell's long ago and well-published violations of human rights. Many kudos.

It will be informative to watch Ms. MacDonald's philosophical evolution over the years until a hopefully net zero 2050 happens along when she'll be only 49 years old. Perhaps by then she'll discover just how much more powerful and devastating the cool, calm and collected pen, info-packed video and self-directed savings funds are than the very momentary sword of yelling on TV.

CORRECTION: "... published long ago human rights violations."

The violations may still be ongoing.