Major corporations, typically in the energy and electric utility sectors, have invested substantial amounts of money in political contributions and lobbying to buy influence aimed at undermining climate science and obstructing the creation of a meaningful U.S. policy for dealing with global warming and climatic disruption. At the international conference on Culture, Politics, and Climate Change being held in Boulder this week, the Union of Concerned Scientists presented a session on the UCS report, A Climate of Corporate Control: How Corporations Have Influenced the U.S. Dialogue on Climate Science and Policy. The report makes good recommendations on corporate accountability, and suggests to us the need for information beyond the publicly available sources.
Earlier post: “Culture, Politics, and Climate Change”
The UCS study [the full report and an executive Summary can be downloaded here], which was published earlier this year, looks at statements and actions on climate science and policy by 28 U.S. Fortune 500 companies. Corporations skew the national dialogue on climate policy in a variety of ways,” UCS says, “making inconsistent statements across different venues, attacking science through industry-supported organizations, and taking advantage of the secrecy allowed them by current legal and regulatory structures.”
The report uses publicly available sources of information to document how corporations – through funding, corporate actions, and public relations – either support or oppose climate science and what UCS terms “science-based policy.” Not surprisingly, the report identifies companies such as Peabody Energy, Marathon Oil, Valero Energy, Occidental Petroleum, and Cheaspeake Energy as supporting what UCS calls “obstructionist” positions, though they may engage in some corporate public relations to the contrary.
Other companies, such as ExxonMobil, Caterpillar, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, and Boeing, are in what UCS terms “contradictory” positions, “expressing concern about the threat of climate change in some venues—such as company websites, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, annual reports, or statements to Congress—while working to weaken policy responses to climate change in others.”
UCS concludes with a set of recommendations aimed at increasing transparency of corporate climate-related activities and funding and promoting corporate accountability.
One thing the report does not do – and can’t do given its methodology – is to identify, beyond public sources of information, the dynamics of how corporate power establishes dominance in framing and constraining federal action on climate change. Thus: How did corporate communication with lawmakers contribute to the death of climate legislation in the Senate in 2009-2010? How does corporate communication with Obama administration officials influence the shift of White House framing of energy strategy away from ‘clean energy’ toward a more fossil-fuel-friendly sounding ‘all of the above,’ with the administration’s current promotion of stepped-up oil drilling in sensitive areas and natural gas fracking?
To strip away the secrecy of behind-closed-doors interactions that undermine government and corporate accountability in dealing with climate change science and policymaking, we need the stories that can be told by inside sources. We need investigative research and we need whistleblowers from inside the corporate-governmental power structure, to establish a narrative for discussing the problem that UCS has framed in outline form through public sources.