Shell Game

The Forces of Smugness are always upset about something:

Today it’s the news that Shell, the gas station people, will be sponsoring British Cycling:

And boy are people disgusted:

Yes, “brazen sportswashing” indeed, for fossil fuels and automobiles have no place in the world of bikes and bike racing, and never in cycling’s history has anything like this ever happened before:

Nope, not even once:

The business of bikes–which are always good and can only be used for good–and the business of cars and trucks and stuff that burns oil–which are always bad and can only be used for bad–is totally separate. That’s why there isn’t a company called Pon:

No, not Poon, Pon!

Anyway, Pon isn’t in the business of cars, and trucks, and giant construction equipment, and bikes, all at the same time:

They’re also not a huge importer of many brands of car, such as Volkswagen, a company that is above reproach and was never involved in any sort of gigantic emissions scandal:

And they also don’t own all these bike brands:

That’s why it’s totally reasonable to express your disgust over Shell sponsoring British Cycling, and then to blow off some steam by riding your Cannondale. But just make sure you check the air pressure in your Continental tires first.

Of course, as regulations change and technology changes and transportation changes and marketing changes it makes total sense that a company like Shell would want to sponsor a cycling organization. In fact, they’re doing exactly what the Forces of Smugness have been asking them to do, right down to being “inclusive:”

It’s why they’re now making e-scooters:

And e-bikes:

And partnering with fashionable helmet companies:

So how come Thousand Helmets gets to work with Shell and nobody gets upset or questions their commitment to becoming “Climate Positive,” whatever that means?

Seems to me the best way to avoid “causing unnecessary harm to the planet” would be to stop making foam bicycling hats altogether, but as they say, “climate change is complicated,” and presumably their partnership with Shell will help them find “the best path forward.”

Meanwhile, just as it makes sense for Shell to adapt to the zeitgeist, It also makes sense that a cycling organization would want a sponsor like Shell because, you know, money. Unfortunately, most gigantic companies with enough money to give to an organization like British Cycling get involved in all sorts of dirty business–just look at their previous sponsor, HSBC. Extracting natural resources from the earth, transporting them, refining them, making them into stuff, turning them into power, and batteries, and cars, and bikes, and tires, and yes, even helmets, is all sordid and ugly; yet, it’s also where all the money in the world comes from, to say nothing of that kimono you wear:

Moreover, the business of moving that money, and holding it, and lending it, and underwriting all that extraction and transportation and refining and manufacturing is just as ugly, and in a way even more ugly, since oil is useful, but the financial system often creates “value” out of thin air, and then collapses as a result. So accepting some of that money is a tricky business–not because it really matters all that much where it comes from, but because if it’s not done discreetly enough the prudes you’re trying to help get upset. You see Shell’s logo on gas stations and stuff, so eeew. But a bank logo you just see on one of their branches or an advertisement at the airport, so unless they’re actually foreclosing on your home and you see it on one of their notices you don’t really worry about it too much.

Certainly the Forces of Smugness would never complain about Citi Bike:

Even though it’s sponsored by a bank and owned by a company that puts shitloads of cars on the road and is often accused of exploiting its drivers:

Similary, nobody criticizes TransAlt for accepting Lyft’s largesse:

I’m not even saying they should, either. I mean yes, I think the implications and the irony are both worth noting, but at the same time the world isn’t cut and dry, their interests align, and it’s naive to think the exploitative ride share company whose entire business model depends on using our public street space and the non-profit with its own agenda for our public street space aren’t going to find a way to work together to force the hand of City Hall. And it’s similarly naive in my opinion to herald e-bikes and e-scooters and all this other “micromobility” stuff as the savior of humanity:

And to yet act disgusted and indignant that an energy company might want to get involved in a future in which every goddamn thing with wheels needs to be plugged into a power source. Artisans in Portland don’t build batteries and generate massive amounts of power; huge multinational corporations do. Shell is simply not going to say, “We’re sorry for making a mess,” fold their operations, and give away all their money in the name of “equity.” Short of that, if you want to see a world in which people get around on lightweight electric vehicles and there’s an infrastructure to support that, it’s perfectly reasonable to see Shell’s sponsorship of a cycling program as an encouraging sign, and to do so without having any illusions about who they really are–a gigantic company that extracts oil and gas from the earth in order to sell it. Of course it’s “greenwashing”–that’s exactly what you asked for.

And if it really does bother you, just remember, whenever you add another battery to your bike, the power you put in it has to come from somewhere. One bike might not sound like much. But after a billion it starts to add up.

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