Web Only / Features » December 7, 2015
What Corporate America Would Do If It Really Cared About Climate Change
CEOs are professing to care about the climate. But they’re still funding Republican climate-change deniers.
Republican Congressional leaders in both houses know they can continue to lie and deny on climate, so long as the nation's business leaders fail to demand change.
Much as the world must hope that the governments assembled in Paris achieve their objectives, at the very least they have provided an occasion for business leaders of all descriptions to announce their commitment to climate sanity. With sponsorships, pledges and official statements, a long list of major corporations has declared that man-made climate change is real and must be reversed to save the earth—and their profits.
Easy as it is to lampoon the professions of these corporate leaders, there should be little doubt that some, perhaps most, are sincere. They're sentient human beings, after all, whose children and grandchildren will have no choice but to live on this endangered planet. They say that is why they've publicly expressed support for successful negotiations in Paris and promised to reduce carbon emissions while using and investing in clean energy.
According to the White House, many of those firms have made still more stringent vows: to cut emissions by 50 percent, to reduce water waste by as much as 80 percent, to send no more solid waste to landfills, to purchase only renewable power and to stop causing deforestation. All of which sounds marvelous and necessary—but what would American corporations do if they really, truly, seriously wanted to stop climate change?
They would do what they do when they want to influence any important policy change, of course: Deny financing to political forces on the other side, and deploy their enormous lobbying clout against those forces.
Today, that would mean giving not another dime to House and Senate Republicans—or to any Republican presidential candidate who denies climate realities and insists on reversing President Obama's current initiatives.
As a matter of policy, the Republican Party obstructs any serious effort to prevent catastrophic climate change. And because the United States is still the largest carbon polluter per capita in the world—and now the second largest in absolute terms—Republican obstruction has worldwide consequences. Just this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell barked an ominous warning to the world leaders meeting in Paris, saying that the next GOP president could simply “tear up” all of Obama's efforts to diminish power-plant pollution.
The myopic McConnell (whose home state of Kentucky produces dirty coal), has gone even further, sending his aides to foreign embassies with the message that none of America's international partners can rely on commitments made by Obama in Paris. Unfortunately, McConnell's irresponsible conduct is merely typical of his party's leadership.
But the Republican hostility to climate science is a minority viewpoint in the United States, as polling data has demonstrated clearly for years. Two out of three Americans view climate change as a global menace and support a binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. More than half want the United States to lead the world in dealing with that threat. Even a majority of Republican voters understand that an overheating planet is dangerous, and support the power plant regulations that McConnell and his Senate caucus oppose.
Republican Congressional leaders in both houses know they can continue to lie and deny on climate, so long as the nation's business leaders fail to demand change. Although they will always collect millions from ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers and assorted fossil fuel profiteers, they might begin to worry if other economic interests that have traditionally supported them suddenly turned off the money and turned on the pressure.
From Goldman Sachs to General Mills, from Microsoft to Monsanto to McDonalds, scores of major companies have signed the White House's American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge. By doing so they affirmed support for “action on climate change and the conclusion of a climate change agreement in Paris that takes a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future.”
Companies like these have huge lobbying, political action, public relations and advertising budgets—and all of them could well afford to spend even more on such a crucial issue.
No doubt they would risk trouble with the Congressional Republicans if they took strong political action on climate. But they claim to believe their future at stake, along with the future of generations to come. So if they wish to accomplish more than green-washing their reputations, then the time is surely coming when the corporate environmentalists will have to confront the Republican Party—or be exposed as frauds.
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Joe Conason is a nationally syndicated columnist.
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