A Free-Market Energy Blog

Shell’s “Rational Middle” Campaign: Petroganda plus Futile Appeasement

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- December 14, 2022

“Working together is the only way we are going to reach net zero by 2050. That’s why Shell supports Rational Middle’s latest docuseries on Net Zero. Bring your skepticism, bring your questions & join the conversation.” – Shell, Rational Middle 

Greenwashing, greenhushing, greenwishing–it’s all a mess as the anti-CO2 lobby and woke companies confront the reality of energy density and consumer requirements.

“Big Oil” companies that bought into climate alarmism/forced energy transformation have a tiger by the tail. Shell and BP most of all. And guess which two companies are on the firing line the most with the climate activists? Shell, in fact, finds itself in some legal trouble for ceding the moral high ground, rather than making a strong intellectual defense of energy density and the social good of affordable, reliable energy. They could and should have done differently, as I have stated:

Lawsuits against “greenwashing” are greeting companies that promised the most, such as Shell by ClientEarth. And uncovered emails at some of the oil majors indicate as much. It is a ruse that could have been avoided by firms being truthful and intellectually courageous by taking the moral high ground on the connection between fossil fuels and human betterment.

ExxonMobil has done its own greenwashing (biofuels, a bust to date; and carbon capture and storage, a bust to come). BUT, ExxonMobil did not make Net Zero promises, for which it is looking relatively pretty (yesterday’s post).

Now, mighty Shell is trying to square the circle by finding a “rational middle” in the climate debate. It is not going to work. The climate bullies will scream “greenwashing,” given what to them is a now-or-never (but somehow always) predicament. And the free market, energy freedom crowd will highlight Shell’s rent-seeking and fake-it-until-you-make-it support for not-so-green energies.


Shell’s squaring of the circle is more than a decade old. “Back in 2012,” Drilled’s Amy Westervelt noted, “Shell commissioned a film series that focused on the ‘rational’ trade-offs required to make the energy transition work … for oil companies.” She continued:

Researchers Geoffrey Supran and Ben Franta were post-docs at the time and wrote about how shocked they were to see the film screened on Harvard’s campus.

The university promoted the event as “Finding Energy’s Rational Middle” and described the film’s motivation as “a need and desire for a balanced discussion about today’s energy issues,” they wrote. “Who can argue with balance and rationality? And with Harvard’s stamp of approval, surely the information presented to students and the public would be credible and reliable. Right? Wrong. The event’s sponsor was Shell Oil Company. The producer of the film series was Shell. The film’s director is Vice President of a family-owned oil and gas company, and has taken approximately $300,000 from Shell. The host, Harvard Kennedy School, has received at least $3.75 million from Shell. And the event’s panel included a Shell Executive Vice President.

Shell had of course tasked its PR firm Edelman with creating the series. Now it’s back with new episodes, (that debuted at SXSW?!) hosted on the Rational Middle’s website. In a weird twist, half of the Rational Middle website is devoted to Shell’s net zero by 2050 campaign while the other half is focused on Immigration, giving the whole package a vaguely ecofascist vibe.

Think the climate alarmists and forced energy transformationists are impressed with Shell? Hardly. The more Shell does in the Net Zero space, the more the anti-CO2 crowd will just say–not enough, and end the misdirection.

It’s time for a new approach, a mid-course correction, working from energy reality out rather than magical thinking in. “In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win,” noted Ayn Rand. “In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

One Comment for “Shell’s “Rational Middle” Campaign: Petroganda plus Futile Appeasement”

  1. Kevin Balch  

    I see annoying Rational Middle ads coming up frequently on YouTube.

    The inclusion of immigration in Rational Middle’s (Shell’s) messaging is peculiar and would appear to be a distraction from it’s energy message. It is a wishy-washy compromise like their energy message. Perhaps Shell recognizes that most of those concerned about climate change are also advocates of open borders. Which is itself paradoxical because environmentalists concerned about CO2 emissions surely must realize that a poor person from a poor country that moves to the US probably increases their carbon footprint by at least a factor of 2. On the other hand, Shell realizes, like all corporations, that increased immigration increases consumer demand for its products which is especially important when the population would fall without immigration.


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