Shell Canada’s last CEO opines on leadership, faith and values in today’s business climate

Editor-in-Chief Mark Wolfe and AO contributor Paul Nelson spoke to Mr. Mather on his last day at Shell Canada Limited

July 03, 2007

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AO: I heard you speak at the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists’ conference in June and I was interested in your distinction between the environment and our environment. Is there a faith component there?

CM: think you put your finger on something that is not yet well developed. All my interaction with faith-based organizations looking at the environment is that they still have to find a holistic and compelling account. People recognize that in the teachings that we’re given, there is this responsibility for resources, talents, whatever you call it, and that that extends not just to ourselves and to our immediate behaviours but indeed to the environment in which we live. We have to nurture and protect it in the same ways we would nurture and protect our family. I’m working with a couple of organizations on books on this very idea. Our approach is to try to make sense of how Christian teaching interacts with science.

I’ve long been convinced we have a problem. Frankly, I don’t need to see any more Al Gore films. . . . Common sense says we’d better get on with this and faith says this is potentially a day of reckoning if we don’t change. That change is going to be more than simply reducing energy or switching to renewables or whatever. It’s going to have to be behavioural and societal, it’s going to have to come back to family values because we are testing now the limits of sustainability in all directions. I talk a lot about climate change because it’s probably the issue most relevant in an energy context. But wherever you look in the world now, it’s hard to see how we can carry on the way we are.

As I was driving, I was listening to a CBC story today about China and slavery in the factories. The reason we get many of our goods at the price we do – whether these are mugs or plastic lighters – is largely because of China. More and more of the world’s manufacturing of small goods has moved to China, and the conditions in which that manufacturing takes place are pretty shocking by Western standards. This CBC story talked about children being sold in market – that’s a regression of a thousand years at least, and essentially it’s to sustain our lifestyle in the West. Well, this cannot be.

AO: But how is that change going to happen? To effect mass behavioural change, you must have leadership.

CM: I agree, it can come back to leadership because the alternative is a thousand times worse. The alternative is that there will be things happen in society that are so brutal that it will force us to. If you haven’t read A Short History Of Progress, read it: it’s 163 pages of magic written by a guy in B.C. who happens to be a Brit. You know, this whole thing about water in the Middle East now – this was predicted years ago; it’s beginning to happen. We are getting very short of precious resources in many parts of the world and the growth in population is creating tension, which could end by being resolved not through good leadership but by destruction of it.

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