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Friday, December 9, 2016
- According to a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) here on Wednesday, at least half of the U.S. corporations under review have actively supported the misrepresentation of the science around climate change.
Many more have offered contradictory statements on the issue.
This despite the fact that all of the 28 companies included in the study have publicly expressed general or concerted support for emissions reductions.
“Many of these companies influenced public opinion and undermined the public’s understanding of scientific consensus around climate change,” Francesca Grifo, the director of the UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program, told journalists on Wednesday.
“They have done so by developing specific strategies to promote false scientific uncertainty and downplay scientific evidence, and by propping up and using front groups to vilify scientists and promote sympathetic experts.”
Grifo says that such actions mirror past approaches by the tobacco industry, “where the end goal is delaying sensible regulations that protect our health and safety.”
The report covers publicly known actions and statements on climate change by the 28 U.S.-based corporations between 2008 and 2010.
These benchmarks ranged from language used on corporate websites to statements made to various U.S. government agencies to disclosed funding to think tanks and NGOs that have known stances on climate change.
According to the UCS, lobbying from energy companies in the United States increased by 92 percent between 2007 and 2009, a time when several climate-related bills were being debated in Congress.
Although the study looks only at actions by these corporations within the United States, researchers note that many of the findings would apply on the international setting as well, particularly surrounding the widely watched discussions at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen or similar international summits.
Much of the motivation for this research came from a watershed 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which found that government restrictions on political spending by corporations are unconstitutional.
The controversial ruling led to record campaign spending during the 2010 electoral cycle in the United States, topping out at some four billion dollars.
Of that money, according to Chris Van Hollen, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, an estimated 135 million dollars in “secret money” – corporate funding that does not need to be publicly disclosed – went into political advertising.
“As a result of the Citizens United decision, we’re seeing a flood of money into advertisements around the country, and increasingly we’re seeing secret money being poured into the process,” Van Hollen said on Wednesday.
“In fact, that seems to be the choice that many corporations and special interests are making as they decide to put money into the political process but do not want to be held accountable for the money they spend.”
Federal estimates suggest that around 11 billion dollars could be spent on campaigning during this year’s presidential election.
“This report shows that the spigots of special-interest money are open in many different areas, from campaign advertising to the funding of organisations that do self-serving science rather than science designed to get to the truth,” Van Hollen says.
“That should worry everybody who wants to see science used to advance important public policies, rather than distorted science used to further a special-interest agenda.”
The UCS researchers decided which companies to study by first choosing to look at large, publicly traded companies, since these are required by U.S. law to be far more transparent than private entities.
They then narrowed the list to those 28 companies, dominated by the energy and utility sector, that had commented publicly on one of two highly visible climate-related public discussions that took place in the U.S., one in 2009 and one in 2010.
The researchers then compared the actions and statements that those companies made while interacting with the public, the government and their own investors. Much of the time, these were notably inconsistent.
“The difference between what many of these companies say and what they actually do is quite stark,” Gretchen Goldman, a lead writer on the UCS report, told journalists while unveiling the study.
“We found that companies were more likely to express concern about climate change in venues directed at the general public, and these same companies were more likely to misrepresent the science in comments directed at the government or through their funding of think tanks or other outside organisations.”
Certain companies came out of the report relatively well, such as the shoemaker Nike and the energy companies AES, NRG and NextEra.
On the other end of the spectrum, UCS also singles several others out as “obstructionist” for misrepresenting climate-related science, including Peabody Energy, Marathon Oil, and Valero Energy.
Van Hollen says that the only way to mitigate the ability of corporate interests to wield undue, unscientific influence over public policymaking on climate change is to require corporations to disclose more fully where any political funding is going.
He is currently sponsoring the only related legislation to come out in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, known as the DISCLOSE Act, which has been pending passage since mid-2010.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, he says, the act is facing significantly strengthened opposition, but emphasises that “voters have a right to know who is bankrolling the campaign ads that are designed to influence their votes.”