Some of America’s top companies are spending heavily to block action on climate change or discredit climate science, despite public commitments to sustainable and green values, a new report has found.
An analysis of 28 Standard & Poor 500 publicly traded companies by researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists exposed a sharp disconnect in some cases between PR message and less visible activities, with companies quietly lobbying against climate policy or funding groups which work to discredit climate science.
The findings are in line with the recent expose of the Heartland Institute. Over the years, the ultra-conservative organisation devoted to discrediting climate science received funds from a long list of companies which had public commitments to sustainability.
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.
The study was focused on the years 2009 and 2010, and looked at the companies’ responses to moves by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions and the failed attempt by Congress to pass a climate change law.
It also looked at lobbying and political contributions surrounding the 2010 referendum to overturn California’s climate change regulations.
But the researchers acknowledged that they were handicapped by a lack of transparency about corporate donations and lobbying, which made it difficult to determine exactly how companies were trying to exert political influence.
“Given the inconspicuous ways in which companies can utilize supposedly independent groups to further their own agendas, the funding of industry groups is an important pathway through which corporations influence the national climate conversation without accountability,” the analysis said.