Every step we take to fight climate change matters. But some steps, taken by some actors, are more significant than others.
When heirs to an oil fortune divest from fossil fuels, for example, or when oil companies start leaving ALEC over climate change, the symbolism of that move is at least as important as the specific environmental impact.
The latest such example? The CEO of Europe's biggest oil company just announced that his next car will be a plug-in hybrid. According to Bloomberg, Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden will be trading in his diesel car for a plug-in hybrid Mercedes-Benz S500e in September. Here's how he described the move:“The whole move to electrify the economy, electrify mobility in places like northwest Europe, in the U.S., even in China, is a good thing. We need to be at a much higher degree of electric vehicle penetration -- or hydrogen vehicles or gas vehicles -- if we want to stay within the 2-degrees Celsius outcome.”
True, environmental purists will scoff at this news, and they have a point. After all, the man still runs one of the biggest polluters on the planet which, until recently, was trying to open up the Arctic to oil drilling. So why should people laud his choice of personal transportation? But this isn't about credit, it's about impact. And when oil company insiders—from the top down—start recognizing that the internal combustion engine's days are numbered, that sends signals to investors, policy makers and the culture at large that some pretty big changes are on the horizon.
Oh, and Van Burden isn't the only exec at Shell who's switching over. Chief Financial Officer Jessica Uhl is already driving an all electric BMW i3, apparently...