I really like Earth and Sky’s podcast, just not the part about it being a mouthpiece for Shell Oil lately. Sad but true. I’ve been listening to it for half a year on my device, and it seems like nearly once a week, this daily 2 minute podcast, which claims to be heard 100 million times each week, interviews a Shell scientist about how global warming is real and action must be taken.

Earth/Sky never in my experience interviews scientists from any other oil company, and never discloses that Shell is paying them, unless you go to their site, where each Shell interview carries the tagline “This podcast was made possible in part by Shell – encouraging dialog on the energy challenge.” Yuck. And they’re a ‘clear voice for science’? Where’s the dialogue in a one way conversation?

In fairness, they interview lots of scientists working on a range of topics, but to only talk to the team of one oil company about climate change, and the most carbon intense one at that, is unseemly:

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“(Shell) is on track to become the most carbon intensive international oil company because of its focus on unconventional oil resources like Canadian tar sands…The carbon content of the fuel Shell produced in 2008 was broadly in line with the rest of the industry at 33.8 kilograms of CO2 per barrel of oil equivalent, but its total resource base that will underpin future developments contains almost twice as much CO2…” This from a recent Wall Street Journal piece.

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But tuning into the Earth and Sky, you’ll hear soothing fireside chats like this one with Shell Chief Technology Officer Jan van der Eijk:

“Increase in energy demand and also the need to use all kinds of sources of energy will lead to an increase in C02 emissions, and we all know that the C02 emissions are related to global warming. That’s a major concern and also something that calls for aggressive action.”

After detailing how there are some ‘hard truths’ around this, including the facts that renewables will have to grow and fossil energy will continue playing a big role, van der Eijk says that technology can help and launches into a spiel on carbon capture and storage (CCS) which Grist readers know to be a vaporware idea.

Sigh. But Earth and Sky is only the most recent megaphone for Shell’s greenwashing. I complained here in Grist in 2007 about them paying National Geographic to send 5.4 million DVDs to its subscribers, containing a feel-good movie about how awesome and eco-sensitive their drilling technology is.

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Other recent podcasts feature Shell scientists talking about how great renewable energy is, while Shell is doing zippo to help its development, and one this week about how their operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Alaska are manned by Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) to ensure that no whales are present or harmed by their activities, and whom are empowered to halt any such activity if so.

Hey, that’s great, right? Except, as marine bioacoustics expert Michael Stocker of Ocean Conservation Research points out, they’re required by law to employ MMOs, who are empowered also by law to halt those activities. You’d never know it to listen to this puff piece.  

While I don’t condemn Earth and Sky for this, I hope they’ll tighten up their reporting, pursue transparency (that ‘clear voice’), and tell both sides of the story on important issues like climate change. They owe it to their listeners. Too much is at stake.