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Corporate talk vs. action on climate change

Published on 01 June 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

Occasionally a certain conundrum has crossed my mind: it seems that more and more companies in the United States are embracing the reality of climate change and voicing support to take action against it. Yet despite this, why are there so many politicians and members of the general public who still cast doubt on whether climate change is real and what is causing it?

A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists appears to address this issue in part. The UCS study, ‘A Climate of Corporate Control,’ examined the activities of 28 large, publicly traded companies between 2002-2011, comparing the corporations’ stated positions vs. their lobbying efforts and contributions to politicians and organizations.

The result? According to the UCS, 19 out of the 28 corporations publicly claimed that climate change is a serious concern, while at the same time donated to politicians and organizations that downplay or outright deny its existence.

An example from the report pointed out by Business Week, concerning Chesapeake Energy Corp., highlights the discrepancy: ‘While Chesapeake’s annual report and website cited concern about climate change, the report said the company challenged the EPA’s ‘endangerment finding,’ which allowed the U.S. agency to regulate greenhouse gases.’

It seems that many corporations, especially those in the energy sector, are happy to mouth platitudes about addressing climate change, but change their tune when it actually affects the bottom line.

Not all of the companies in the report showed the same inconsistency, however. The study also pointed out firms that were most consistent with their support of combating climate change: Nike Inc., NRG Energy Inc., NextEra Energy Inc., AES Corp., and Applied Materials Inc.

The UCS advocates greater openness and transparency of corporate political contributions as a way to promote greater consistency, which would be achieved by passage of the 2012 DISCLOSE Act now before the U.S. Congress. But seeing as though the U.S. is currently in the midst of an election year, I suspect that the passage of such a contentious bill would be unlikely.

More coverage here:  New York Times, Los Angeles Times

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