At a public talk at the Ted Countdown Summit in Edinburgh last Thursday, participants played to type. Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden tried to look sincere about the oil behemoth’s commitment to fighting climate change. Young climate activist Lauren MacDonald delivered a scathing commentary about van Beurden and his company’s character, then stormed off the stage, refusing to further engage.
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There were four people on the stage. Chris James, co-founder of activist fund Engine No. 1, which has managed to install three new directors on ExxonMobil’s board, was also speaking. Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, instrumental in the 2015 Paris Agreement, moderated. But people will likely most remember MacDonald, a Scot who is part of the Stop Cambo campaign, which is trying to prevent Shell from developing an oilfield off the Shetland Islands.
After van Beurden said all the expected things about Shell’s alleged commitment to clean energy, MacDonald got on the mic. “You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself for the devastation that you have caused to communities all over the world,” she said as the audience cheered. “You are responsible for so much death and suffering.” MacDonald began to get emotional, talking through tears as she went on. “Every single day that you fail to stop making evil decisions is a day that the death toll of the climate crisis rises. You are one of the most responsible people for this crisis in the world and in my view that makes you one of the most evil people in the world.” She accused Shell of spending millions covering up the warnings from climate scientists, bribing politicians and paying soldiers to kill Nigerian activists.
Finally, she got to her question. “If you’re going to sit here and act like you care about climate action, why are you appealing the recent court ruling that Shell must decrease its emissions by 45% by 2030?” Then she asked a yes or no question, whether or not Shell would continue its appeal.
Of course, once van Beurden got the mic back, he was unwilling to keep his answer to a single word. He began equivocating. MacDonald canceled him.
“I will not be sharing this podium with you anymore,” she said. Figueres entreated MacDonald to stay, saying that she knew the audience wanted to hear more from her. But MacDonald slipped off the stage and left them to it.
Lead image via Frankie Leon