Words have power, words are power, words could be your power. Those are not my words, but the words of Mohammed Qahtani, in his seminal Toastmasters International talk that made him a world champion in 2015.

He also says the following:

Words when said and articulated in the right way can change someone’s mind, they can alter someone’s belief.

If you have not watched Mohammed’s video then I strongly encourage you to do so. It is a masterclass in public speaking.

This week I was planning on writing about the Flybe rescue deal and how it is one of the greatest mis-allocations of capital this country has ever produced.

But then I came across something on Thursday that shocked me. I am not someone who is easily shocked.

It jolted me from me seat and made me think deeply about how manipulation like this could be used on an industrial scale. This is only the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t seen anything yet.

What I came across on Thursday was the Shell slogan “Drive Carbon Neutral.”

Drive carbon neutral

When I heard it for the first time, it was over the radio, and then in every advert break I heard it over and over again. Surely this couldn’t be correct, an oil company couldn’t be making such claims? But they were.

Further research uncovered that they have a product Go+. Quoting from their website, they claim:

With Shell Go+ any fuel purchase made will automatically be offset by Shell on behalf of the customer.”

This is the thin end of the wedge and if you ask me, the Advertising Standards Authority need to step in, because these claims are fantastic.

I will refer my readers back to Kevin Anderson’s Nature article: The inconvenient truth of carbon offsets.

 To quote the most memorable phrase from the article, he says the following:

Carbon offsetting is without scientific legitimacy and is dangerously misleading.

The inconvenient truth of carbon offsets

What worries me is that people will see advertising like this by Shell, see that it has obviously been sanctioned by the Advertising Standards Authority and so assume it is correct.

What Shell is implying, is that by buying this product, you will drive, with 0 carbon consequences. As their slogan dictates you will “Drive Carbon Neutral.”

Further investigation reveals that their plan is to:

Balance out the carbon emissions from the production, distribution and use of fuel.”

This is better than I would have expected, as they could have just covered the use phase. But it is nowhere near enough and driving is responsible for a whole host of carbon and non-carbon related problems. None of which are healed by this offset.

There are carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing of vehicles, the building and maintenance of roads and non-carbon impacts such as deaths from road traffic accidents and air pollution. The mere act of covering some of the carbon emissions associated with the vehicle’s fuel with an offset does nothing to address these.

In 1984 George Orwell wrote: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.

I fear that this is what is about to happen with claims from corporations with carbon offsetting and carbon neutrality. The general public is not set up to be able to verify such claims.

I believe we are only at the beginning and I expect to see a lot more of these claims coming out which promise sustainability, with no need to change your behaviour, lifestyle or technology. Anything that sounds too good to be true, almost always is.

What you need to know  

This article looked at a number of things.

We looked at Mohammed Qahtani’s talk ‘The Power of Words’ and if you have not seen this I strongly encourage you to watch it.

Then we looked at the Shell “Drive Carbon Neutral” slogan with their Go+ fuel and what the implications of this are.

We looked into Kevin Anderson’s Nature article: The inconvenient truth of carbon offsets.

 We looked into George Orwell’s quote: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words” and how this might foreshadow how language can and will be manipulated by corporations eager to conceal the true nature of their sustainability.

It is my opinion that we are only at the beginning of what will be a deluge of greenwashing and half true information from companies that will promise the same product as before, but with 0 guilt because of offsetting.

We are in a war for information and sadly, the first casualty, when war comes, is truth.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about carbon offsetting schemes?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby


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