Shell survives

Brent Spar is moved but Shell lives to fight another day

THE DECISION by Shell to sink the massive but obsolete Brent Platform in the North Sea was motivated solely by profit considerations, however Shell may protest otherwise. To dismantle on land could cost £50 million, burial at sea £11.8 million. But when a continental consumer boycott reduced Shell’s petrol sales by 30% the company reversed its policy.

Shell UK issued a statement saying it still believes that “the deep water disposal of Brent Spar is the best practicable environmental option.” Chris Fey, chairman of Shell UK, commented, “I am not sitting here tonight knowing where the Brent Spar is going next.”

It was a triumph for ‘consumer power’, but only because it was backed up by massive support from several continental governments. Particularly Germany, where even the police were boycotting Shell products. These governments are worried about the growth of green politics and want to head it off by stirring up nationalistic prejudices against Britain as the dirty little party pooper.

While it is heartening to see what public pressure and direct action can achieve, Greenpeace’s project is ultimately not a progressive one. Environmental pressure groups cannot police capitalism effectively, only profit can do that.

Greenpeace has developed an impressive network of direct action and pressure groups, but environmentalists are like Lilliputians, binding Gulliver with flimsy threads.

Most piecemeal attempts at reform are condemned to futility because they attempt to change society without changing its basic structures. They attack capitalism’s weak points; they do not challenge its strengths. They try to curb profit, not abolish it. The same with competition, ownership of property, etc. So they end up recreating what they want to abolish. Often they are happy to leave cultural, legal and political matters alone, without realising that these are a reflection of the attitudes they are trying to combat.

Only communism aims at transcending the crisis-ridden reality of today’s capitalism by developing its theoretical, technical and cultural triumphs while negating its destructive power.

Arthur Lawrence