Report: 'Leading' Companies Mislead Public on Climate Change Policies

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Common Dreams

Report: 'Leading' Companies Mislead Public on Climate Change Policies

Top 28 publicly traded companies 'get away with misrepresenting science to achieve their goals'

by
Common Dreams staff

Oil company heads during US Senate finance hearing on oil and gas tax incentives, May 2011. (Photo: Getty Images/ Scott J. Ferrell)

Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists released an analysis of 28 'leading' US companies who publicly express concern about climate change but, behind closed doors, support thinktanks and other groups that misrepresent climate science, exposing major differences between what they say and what they actually do regarding climate change.

Looking at 28 Standard & Poor 500 publicly traded companies, the report examines the companies' public commitments to sustainable and green values, in contrast to those same companies' recent lobbying and funding choices, which in most cases favored organizations devoted to discrediting climate science such as the Heartland Institute.

“Corporations' increased ability to influence policy should come with an increased responsibility to let the public know how they are doing so,” said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program and a contributor to the report. “Companies may play a role in policy discussions, but right now, it’s simply far too easy for them to get away with misrepresenting science to achieve their goals.”

“The actions of many of these companies come right from the tobacco industry playbook, where the end goal is delaying sensible regulations that protect our health and safety,” said Grifo. “Companies generally find that complying with new rules is not as burdensome as they first imagined. But that doesn’t prevent them from obfuscating the science to create confusion and delay.”

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who joined UCS in its launch of the report, said that the problem has increased due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, which allows undisclosed money from outside groups to influence elections and policies.

Among the worst offenders examined were Oil giants ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, the electricity company DTE energy, General Electric Company, and Caterpillar Inc.

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Union of Concerned Scientists:
Leading Companies Contradict Own Actions on Climate Science, Policy

“Corporations' increased ability to influence policy should come with an increased responsibility to let the public know how they are doing so,” said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program and a contributor to the report.

Many of the country’s leading companies have taken contradictory actions when it comes to climate change science while pumping a tremendous amount of resources into influencing the discussion, according to an analysis released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The science advocacy group examined 28 companies in the S&P 500 that participated in climate policy debates over the past several years. All of them publicly expressed concern about climate change or a commitment to reducing emissions through websites and public statements, but half (14) also misrepresented climate science in their public communications. Many more contributed to the spread of misinformation about climate science in less direct ways, such as through political contributions, trade group memberships, and think tank funding. [...]

“The difference between what many of these companies say and what they actually do is quite stark,” said Gretchen Goldman, an analyst in the Scientific Integrity Program and a report contributor. “And because we know only limited amounts about their activities, it’s relatively simple for companies to show one face to the public and another to policymakers.”

The report found that companies also utilized their considerable financial resources to oppose climate policy. Lobbying expenditures for energy sector companies increased by 92 percent from 2007 to 2009, when climate change bills were actively debated in Congress. Meanwhile, Valero Energy Corporation donated more than $4 million to the Yes on Prop 23 campaign, which sought to undermine California’s climate change law, but was ultimately rejected by voters.

“The actions of many of these companies come right from the tobacco industry playbook, where the end goal is delaying sensible regulations that protect our health and safety,” said Grifo. “Companies generally find that complying with new rules is not as burdensome as they first imagined. But that doesn’t prevent them from obfuscating the science to create confusion and delay.

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A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

The Guardian/UK: Top US companies shelling out to block action on climate change

"The thing we found most surprising in doing this research is just how all 28 companies expressed concern about climate change"

The disconnect in this instance was especially stark in the researchers' analysis of oil giants ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, and the electricity company DTE energy.

But even General Electric Company, which ranks climate change as a pillar of its corporate policy on its website, had supported trade groups and thinktanks that misrepresent climate science, the researchers found.

Caterpillar Inc, despite its public commitment to sustainability, also worked behind the scenes to block action on climate change. The company spent more than $16m (£10.3m) on lobbying during the study, with nearly five times as much of that spent lobbying to block climate action than on pro-environmental policies.

Other big corporate players were fairly consistent with their public image. Nike and NRG Energy Inc lobbied in support of climate change policy and supported conservation groups.

Peabody Energy Corporation, which produces coal, was ranked the most obstructionist of any of the companies. It spent more than $33m to lobby Congress against environmental measures and supporting trade groups and think tanks which spread disinformation about climate science, the researchers found.

"The thing we found most surprising in doing this research is just how all 28 companies expressed concern about climate change," said Francesca Grifo who heads the UCS scientific integrity programme. "But when we took a deeper look we found that a lot of the actions they took weren't connected to the messages."

The result of the disconnect was growing confusion about climate science, the researchers said. That made it more difficult to push for environmental protections.

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