Durban – When Caroline Dennett released a video of her resignation as a consultant for Shell, it quickly went viral. The former safety consultant for the oil and gas giant created the video and emailed it to the company’s executives and over a thousand members of staff to draw attention to the company’s continuing extraction projects and use of fossil fuels, despite pledging a commitment to net zero.
Dennet spoke to Nigeria’s NADJA news outlet about why she quit and her plans for the future.
Dennet was employed by Shell as a safety consultant following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a disaster that killed 11 people after millions of barrels of oil were pumped into the Gulf of Mexico by another oil giant, BP. Shell wanted to understand what was really happening on the frontline and what conditions could make that happen again.
Dennet loved working for Shell and, over the next decade, interfaced with about 20 000 employees, which, she admits, was quite hard to turn her back on in some respects, “because I think the health, safety and environment officers saw me as an ally.
“It took me quite a long time to jump because I genuinely believed there was value in the work I was doing, in protecting people from harm and protecting the environment from leaks and spills,” she said.
Her turning point was gradual. Dennet had followed “green politics” for several years and, in 2019, attended a talk by Extinction Rebellion which covered all the science around ecological catastrophe, and it helped her realise that she knew very little about climate change.
“Over time the distance between my values and Shell’s actual values – not the ones they’ve written on paper because they look good – grew bigger,” Dennet told NADJA.
Dennet realised that Shell had no intention of winding down its oil extraction operations after being requested to work on more safety projects in the Niger Delta, a wetland which has been damaged beyond repair.
“They’ve got this safety programme called Goal Zero, around no harm and no leaks. That seems quite admirable, and they probably do work reasonably hard on an individual person and asset level, but what’s the point in having that safety ambition if you’re damaging the planet on such a scale that we won’t have a safe future?” Dennet said.
Her intention in posting the video was to grab the attention of the chief executive board and help them understand that their talk regarding safety in operations doesn’t equate to the safety of the world.
Dennet said that to people who are “going to stay or if you have to stay because you don’t have a choice, ask to see the plan. Ask for that plan to be as deeply embedded in the organisation as their safety performances, and for it to be tracked and updated. Because it isn’t real, they don’t actually have a plan.”
“In the media response they gave to my resignation they said they have targets and thousands of people working on renewables, and in the same piece said they will continue to extract fossil fuels for decades to come.
“They can’t get to net zero doing what they’re doing now. It is not possible, by anyone’s telling, to get to real net zero by planting trees when you’re starting to open up new fields and plan for new exploration licences,” she said.
But, although Dennet does have bouts of hopelessness and despair, she is generally optimistic about the future, saying that “since I quit Shell I’ve realised that it’s not just the radical movement like Extinction Rebellion, there is a whole world of professional networks and people who are working in green tech. Some of that will be greenwashed or not enough, but many professionals have turned their skills to find solutions.”
“Until six weeks ago I had accepted that humans won’t be around in the next 60 or 70 years, maybe even sooner. But recently, having seen how many people are working on this, and the project I’m working on now, I have hope,” Dennet said.