Clearly desperate to improve its public image so it doesn’t end up having to go splitsies with Exxon on high priced lawyers who also defend tobacco from cancer litigation and the NFL from concussion science, Shell has a new “collaboration” with rapper Akon.
It’s a five-minute music video that has the look and feel of a commercial, which makes sense since it serves as part of Shell’s #makethefuture campaign. The video starts with Akon watching a “news” broadcast about energy poverty and from there it’s mostly feel-good scientist stock footage and clips of Akon doing the usual “celebrity among commoners” routine. And in a perfect moment of irony, they even provide a visual metaphor for their greenwashing as astroturf is rolled out over a concrete soccer field (that becomes Akon’s concert venue and setting for even more clichés.)
Selling Shell’s message is hopefully not Akon’s proudest moment, as his Lighting Africa campaign has been widely respected and highly regarded as a successful use of celebrity influence to bring solar power into underserved and challenging markets. (And, to be fair, accusing him of “shilling” is probably a bit harsh since he hasn’t hidden the fact that this musical commercial is a Shell project.) Why Akon agreed to this is unclear, as the fossil fuel giant clearly doesn’t share in his mission to turn up the volume of solar power generation.
If that were the case, Shell's prior cringey attempt to appeal to the youth wouldn’t have been all about how solar is not viable and we still need natural gas. That 80-second spot was about two dyed-hair millennials, “Jenna and Corey, two definitely real young people, living in a definitely real house.”
As part of Shell’s energy poverty PR blitz, the company also released what it thinks would be a possible pathway to limiting global warming to 2°C. Carbon Brief looked into Shell's 2°C scenarios, which contend that it’s impossible to reduce fossil fuel emissions to zero, so we should switch from coal (their competitor) to natural gas (their product). To keep the climate safe, Shell also posits, carbon capture and storage technologies are definitely real and definitely really necessary. Ultimately though, “Shell’s position has not shifted significantly.”
Essentially, Shell's working hard to greenwash its public image while also working hard to prolong our dependence on the dirty fuels that are turning our forests into a charred hellscape.
Hey… What’s that we can faintly hear over the flames? Oh, must be their next hip new musical collab: sHell’s Bells.
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