Joe Lycett vs the Oil Giant is a 2021 documentary in which the comedian and presenter Joe Lycett protested against the oil company Royal Dutch Shell. It sees Lycett produce two adverts mocking the company and its CEO Ben van Beurden for greenwashing, and meet with experts and activists who are critical of the company. It aired on 24 October 2021 to mixed reviews.
Joe Lycett reviews a Royal Dutch Shell advert about their plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, despite few scheduled changes to be made in the 2020s. The academic Mike Berners-Lee is critical of Shell, accusing them of greenwashing by use of adverts that focus on their use of renewable energy, which makes up 5% of their operations. Lycett also consults John Donovan, a man who runs an anti-Shell website for whistleblowers to contribute to, and a lawyer whose research into Shell’s adverts concludes that they have a “real risk of misleading” viewers.
Lycett speaks to the Shell 7, who did £25,000 of damage to Shell’s UK headquarters in order to get tried by a jury, who found them not guilty of all charges. As the UK is hit by a petrol supply crisis, Lycett interviews the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, who says that Shell are continuing to create new oil fields despite IEA opposition. Unable to find someone at Shell’s headquarters to talk to, Lycett leaves a houseplant to be delivered to their CEO Ben van Beurden.
Lycett makes an advert in which greenery is interspersed with images of fire, while overlaid text is critical of Shell’s mostly non-renewable energy production. He gets a response from Shell, who point him to their appearance on the IEA’s The Energy Podcast, which does not answer the questions Lycett asked. Lycett speaks to Darren Cullen, an artist who produces satirical advertising. He has been working on an exhibition: a bus with exterior adverts critical of Shell and interior sculptures that draw attention to the dirty water produced by fracking and other environmental concerns.
After the decline of his first advert by regulators, Lycett produces a second one for social media. In it, he impersonates van Beurden and imitates greenwashed marketing claims as he repeatedly defecates from his mouth. Lily Cole cameos. He premieres the advert on the side of a vehicle outside Shell’s UK headquarters, alongside Cullen’s bus and a group of dancers who perform around Lycett.
In Shell’s reply to the programme, they say that oil is necessary as the world transitions to lower-carbon alternatives, which they are investing in. Lycett sends van Beurden a message encouraging him to take positive action.
The host Joe Lycett was known from the consumer rights programme Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, which featured similar publicity stunts to Joe Lycett vs the Oil Giant. Both programmes are produced by Rumpus Media. Joe Lycett vs the Oil Giant was announced on 7 October 2021. It premiered on Sunday 24 October in the 9 p.m. timeslot, as part of Channel 4‘s climate change-related programming in advance of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).