My friend Jeremy Leggett caused a bit of a stir recently by predicting that one of the big oil majors would, before the end of the year, ‘do an E.ON’, imitating what E.ON did by splitting itself into ‘LegacyOilCo’ – with a portfolio of gradually wasting hydrocarbon assets – and ‘BeyondOilCo’ – with a focus on renewables, efficiency etc. Improbable, as I said at the time, but a good challenge.

Not to be outdone, I have a prediction of my own to offer: that in the final quarter of this year, in the run-up to the Conference of the Parties in Paris, it will be Chad Holliday who defines and articulates Shell’s position on climate change, not Ben van Beurden.

Chad Holliday is to become Chair of Royal Dutch Shell in May 2015. Ben van Beurden is the CEO. In the normal course of events, it’s the CEO that fronts the company, not the Chair. But to be honest, Ben van Beurden is proving to be a bit of a muppet.

In a recent speech to the international petroleum industry, he attacked the whole ‘stranded assets / unburnable carbon’ hypothesis as ‘completely misguided’, accusing campaigners and politicians who buy into this hypothesis as ‘naïve’.

This is really not smart. Even BP has given up on this line of attack. Its most recent ‘Statistical Review of World Energy’ (seen by many, for some extraordinary reason, as the definitive global energy forecast, even though it has wilfully misrepresented the importance of renewables ever since it first appeared) acknowledges that if we continue on our current business-as-usual track of rising greenhouse gas emissions, the planet will cook. Not BP’s fault, of course; that’s down to conflicted governments that haven’t got the guts to recalibrate energy markets to secure much more rapid decarbonisation through a global carbon tax or similar measures. But definitely a bit of a challenge for any oil company!

Ben van Beurden knows this as well as Bob Dudley, BP’s CEO. But he chooses to frame it in a very different way: as a conflict between two equally compelling moral imperatives – on the one hand, decarbonise as fast and furiously as possible to avoid cooking the planet (if we’re lucky); versus, on the other hand, ‘keep on drilling’ to ensure that the poor world has enough (hydrocarbon-based) energy to fuel the economic growth they so badly need. As B van B put it: ‘The issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change.’

Oh really! Providing for the energy needs of today’s poor countries is clearly a moral imperative. Providing for those needs in such a way that those very same countries will be right-royally screwed as a result of cooking the planet is clearly morally repugnant.

Which is why I found myself entirely unpersuaded by Christian Toennesen’s response last week to my article about the moral dilemmas faced by employees of all oil companies – not just Shell and BP. After happily but unhelpfully conflating the moral ‘belief systems’ of companies with the moral positioning of individuals working for those companies, coupled with some entertaining side-swipes at the morality of campaigning organisations, he concluded as follows:
‘Returning to Porritt’s thesis that we will reach a stage where it becomes morally unacceptable for oil company employees to carry on with their work, that is never going to happen. It’s not a bet worth taking.’

Is that so? Clearly Mr Toennesen has yet to meet up with any of those employees who have already quit working for Shell and BP because of their growing discomfort at the continuing refusal of the two companies to find a way of transitioning from pure-play hydrocarbon companies into genuinely integrated energy companies.

Which brings me back to B van B and his Chairman-to-be. Chad Holliday is one of the wisest old birds on the circuit, a sincere sustainability champion, and a pretty accomplished media manager. It’s hard to imagine that he would have agreed to take on his new role if he didn’t want to help Shell get its collective head around some rather more purposeful transitioning strategies – instead of dismissing as ‘naïve’ those who point out the blindingly obvious reality that Shell’s current moral framing leads, sooner or later, to untold devastation for hundreds of millions of people.

So step forward, Mr Holliday, asap, and stick B van B back in his box.