are blinkered corporations fixated on little more than seeking out the last drop of oil.
Shell currently makes two scenarios available to a wider public audience. Entitled Scramble and Blueprints, they present differing ways in which the world may change over the next 40 years or so (see boxes). Scramble, as its name suggests, is a world characterised by knee-jerk behaviour, where radical decisions relating to climate change are put off for political reasons; when it comes to energy security, it’s a case of every man, or country, for themselves. While the alternative scenario, Blueprints, doesn’t offer a vision of Utopia, it is rather more optimistic. In the world of Blueprints, governments, cities and international organisations generally react more promptly to political and environmental events – even anticipate them – and secure greater political support from the public for their around in the geopolitical equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider, Bentham’s argument that Shell’s scenarios are ‘probably as influential as they have ever been’ would seem to have some merit. ‘It’s the kind of era where there’s plenty of risk and uncertainty that people need to address,’ he says.
One suspects that Bentham is used to reaching for the hard hat when confronted with sceptics who question just what business an oil company has – other than for reasons of cynical self-interest – in producing long-term scenarios that may influence international policies and frameworks. ‘We’re focused on the things that affect our business,’ he admits. ‘Scenarios have a proven value – many of our investments are multi-decadal. We use them as an approach to make better business decisions.
‘We recognise that the world is a complex and changing environment,’ he continues. ‘There are some things that are
The scenarios are drawn up by a full-time team of up to 400 in-house and external specialists in economics, energy, politics, urbanisation,
demographics and organisational psychology actions. The result is far lower carbon dioxide emissions than are envisaged under Scramble.
Neither Scramble nor Blueprints represents a best- or worstcase vision, and that’s the point, says, Jeremy Bentham, Shell’s vice president for business environment, who oversees the company’s scenario programme. ‘Scramble and Blueprints aren’t extreme,’ he says. ‘They’re not saying, “What happens if nothing changes, or if everything changes tomorrow?” because that’s just implausible. So we map out the most sluggish boundaries of the pace of change, and the most plausible accelerated pace of change.’
p roven value The scenarios are drawn up by a full-time team of up to 400 in-house and external specialists in economics, energy, politics, urbanisation, demographics and organisational psychology. And at a time when climate change, energy security, renewable energy and economic turbulence seem to be flying predictable, but we’re looking at the way people make choices, and how that can shape different pathways to the future. We are trying to get a sense of the likely future landscape so we can test our choices and strategies against different prospects, and identify new prospects and threats that we may not have been aware of.
‘It helps our top decision-makers be aware of the scale of uncertainties, so that they can be more responsive at a deeper level,’ he says. ‘There’s a human bias in assuming we are more masters of our future than we actually are; it’s easy to think that if you put enough effort into an intention, it will turn into an outcome. Scenarios put a greater humility into leadership.’
Shell has drawn on scenarios for the past 40 years, and they helped the company anticipate the 1970s Middle East oil crises ahead of some of its rivals. But they can also go awry. ‘In the late 1990s, we were faced with a lowoil-price scenario and a high-oil-price scenario,’
32 www.geographical.co.uk february 2011