After another week of mass shootings and police murder of unarmed Black men and boys; of despicable voter suppression laws; of political cowardice; and of corporate doublespeak, I’ve had it. For how much longer are we going to pretend that profound inequities can be addressed without profound change? That Tweeting Black Lives Matter while donating to politicians that vote to disenfrenchasise Black voters is anything but disgusting? That we can solve the climate crisis without treating the fossil fuel industry as the existential threat to humanity that it is? Enough.
Last week, as reported by HEATED (a fantastic climate newsletter), a number of “high-profile figures in the climate movement” attended a “multi-day, virtual climate conference” sponsored by such renowned pro-environment entities as the “oil and gas industry’s largest trade group” and “tobacco giant Philip Morris International.” By sponsoring events such as these, polluters get to greenwash their names–pretending to be in favor of sustainability even as they fight tooth-and-nail against climate action. No one interested in a livable future should lend credence or respectability to polluters.
It’s not just the oil and gas industry that’s playing this game–profiting off catastrophe while selling the public an image of corporate responsibility. Consider Rainforest Action Network’s 2020 Banking on Climate Change report, which found that “In the 5 years since the Paris Agreement, the world’s 60 biggest banks have financed fossil fuels to the tune of $3.8 trillion.” When a bank says that its goal is to become carbon-neutral by 2030 while investing hundreds of billions of dollars into the Dakota Access Pipeline or Canadian Tar Sands, well, that’s not just a steaming pile of bullshit–it’s also one of the reasons why humanity stands on the precipice of calamity.
Let’s think about this another way. Scientists, insurance and fossil fuel companies, and governments have known for decades that rising greenhouse gas emissions imperil us all. At the same time, the solutions have always been in our grasp; solar panels, for instance, have been in production since the mid 1950s. Why are we at a point where the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at the highest level in four million years? It is entirely because big business and other powerful interests like the Koch Brothers have funded climate disinformation and used their wealth and influence to block meaningful legislation, especially at the federal level.
Think about that. We are in this mess, not because it was inevitable, but because a lot of people got really really really rich creating it. Yet even now, it’s not enough. Do Bank of America, Chubb (the world’ largest insurance company), or the four largest advertising agencies need to invest in or support fossil fuels to be profitable? Absolutely not. It’s just that they want to squeeze every last dollar out of the Earth, consequences be damned.
Similar dynamics are at play when it comes to mass shootings and police murder. Corporate America spends billions of dollars every year lobbying state and federal elected officials on all manner of policies: taxes, regulation, subsidies, budgets, and more. Every time protests are sparked by a killing of a person of color, many of these companies put out statements denouncing racism, promising to diversify their boards and leadership teams, and expressing solidarity with marginalized communities. Cool. But how many of these firms are also leveraging their significant influence to demand that Congress pass the For the People Act, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, or the Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing and Registration Act? Imagine if instead of tweeting lamentations, they spent money on ad campaigns to educate their customers and to build support for policies that actually address the issues they claim to care about.
That big business doesn’t do this comes down to a simple fact: the elected officials that pass the cuts in taxes and regulations they desire don’t take kindly to this kind of corporate activism. And in fact, despite promising to pause donations to those who voted to overturn the 2020 election, Toyota, Cigna, JetBlue, and others have already resumed them. (Here’s a full list of who has broken that promise.)
We shouldn’t be surprised. Just look at how Republicans responded to Major League Baseball’s decision to withdraw the All Star Game from Georgia over that state’s awful voter suppression bill: they are trying to punish the League by ending its antitrust exemption. They are also looking to retaliate against Delta and Coca-Cola, who, after initially staying quiet about the law, spoke out against it a week after it was passed. Yet even this cowardly stance has led “Republicans in the Georgia state legislature to [float] the idea of increasing taxes” on the companies. Better to say nothing and keep those taxes low, I guess.
Still, you can count on Delta and Coca-Cola to quote Dr. King on MLK Day; just don’t ask them to step in front of Black disenfranchisement before it becomes law! Enough. This hypocrisy isn’t some minor annoyance. No, there is a direct link between the powerful milking the system for their own benefit and the system murdering unarmed Black men and boys and causing a climate emergency.
Corporate America needs to either shut up about being a force for good, get out of the way, or realize that being a true ally of activists and communities requires sacrifice, including of profits. It is incumbent on all of us to be clear-eyed about corporate social responsibility. Real change can’t be Tweeted or enacted via an ad campaign or press release; this is as true for businesses as it is for elected officials, neither of which is terribly interested in giving up its power.
The sooner we get over grandstanding as a means of ending inequity, the sooner we can take the fight to those standing in the way of the world we all want to live in–and win!