Big business is driving justice and climate change. Should we be worried?

Corporations are taking on important issues that Congress has fumbled. Republicans are not happy.

Welcome to EarthWatch, an environmental news and opinion newsletter for people who think you should never turn your back on Mother Earth—written by me, Jerry Bowles, an ancient scribbler who has been around the Sun a few times and doesn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

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Mitch McConnell, bless his heart, must be so confused. For years, Turtle Man has played the same dreary—but effective—game. When his party is in control of the Senate, he gleefully rams through legislation to cut taxes and regulations on businesses and appoints young, conservative, often minimally qualified ideologues to the courts. When the Republicans are out of power, he uses arcane rules and old-fashioned bullying to obstruct everything and then blames the Democrats for getting nothing done.

He is a man oblivious to irony or charges of hypocrisy who doesn’t have a bipartisan bone anywhere within that reptilian shell. This is the guy who ran out the clock on Merrick Garland and hailed the Citizens United case, which held that corporations are pretty much the same thing as people, who have the right to throw as much money at politicians as they like without disclosing that they are doing so, as “a great victory for democracy and free speech.”

But, an extraordinary thing has happened lately. The antics of the short-fingered orange-haired vulgarian who occupied the White House for the past four years, his assault on climate science and justice, his mercurial temperament and fondness for continuous chaos, has forced businesses to choose between holding on to their younger, most productive and socially aware employees and customers or a misguided cabal of older, mostly white Kool-Aid drinkers who don’t buy that much anyway.

The results are in and it’s clearly making McConnell unhappy. Last week, Turtle Man advised “business to stay out of politics” and threatened “consequences” before walking it back when he realized that he was making himself look foolish and pissing off a lot of prospective Republican supporters.

He now may want to walk back his walk back. In a letter to President Biden released this morning, CEOs from over 300 of the nation’s largest companies, including Apple, Google, McDonald’s, and Walmart, called on the administration to raise the Paris Agreement goal of slashing the nation’s carbon dioxide, methane and other planet-warming emissions at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. An excerpt from the letter reads:

“To restore the standing of the U.S. as a global leader, we need to address the climate crisis at the pace and scale it demands. Specifically, the U.S. must adopt an emissions reduction target that will place the country on a credible pathway to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. We, therefore, call on you to adopt the ambitious and attainable target of cutting GHG emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.”

Business signers of the letter collectively represent over $3 trillion in annual revenue and employ nearly 6 million U.S. workers across all 50 states. They range in size from small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to large multinational corporations and represent a number of industries. Investor signatories of the letter collectively represent more than $1 trillion in assets under management.

The new target would nearly double the nation's previous commitment and require dramatic changes in the power, transportation, and other sectors. President Biden is considering options for expected carbon reductions by 2030 ahead of a virtual climate summit the United States is hosting later this month

This bold initiative comes on the heels of a virtual meeting on Saturday in which more than 100 of the nation's top corporate leaders met to discuss ways for companies to respond to the passage of more restrictive voting laws across the country In Georgia, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, and Aflac Insurance, among other companies based in the Peach State, have spoken out in opposition to the new law. Delta CEO Ed Bastian released a statement that said in part:

After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong.

The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.

By March 24, lawmakers had introduced 361 restrictive election bills in 47 legislatures, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which has been tracking the legislation. That's 108 more than in the last count, on Feb. 19.

So, what’s driving the largest sustained campaign of corporate political activism I’ve seen in my lifetime and is it a good or bad thing?

There are many factors at play. One is certainly that leaders of large global corporations tend more and more to be scientists or people who believe in science. They know that climate change is real and that it is affecting their companies’ future survival now. They have the sense of urgency to do something about it that somehow eludes most politicians. They also deal with customers who are under external and internal pressures to clean up their own acts. Even more importantly, big companies have diverse workforces who are more likely to have higher expectations of their leaders on social issues like climate and social and environmental justice.

But, the main reason corporations are suddenly throwing around their political muscle is that Congress has failed utterly to lead, follow or get out of the way. Businesses want stability, not chaos; predictability not culture wars; science, not vulgar insults and crazy tweets. They are filling a vacuum that has been created by years of toxic political leadership and petty politics.

Ironically, they are taking the lead on important issues now because Mitch McConnell and his Republican cohorts and a conservative Supreme Court opened the door for them to do so under the apparently erroneous assumption that after Citizens United they would simply keep their mouths shut and keep funneling money to the RNC. Poor Mitch McConnell must be feeling like a character out of the Godfather who gets a visit from Robert Duvall with a message: “Nothing personal, Mitch. It’s strictly business.”

You are reading a free version of EarthWatch. If you want to be sure to receive all updates and special alerts, as well as read, comment, and take part in the ongoing dialogue, you should subscribe. I’m a senior citizen living on a fixed income.

Dig Deeper

Businesses & Investors Call for Ambitious U.S. NDC (We Mean Business)

Open Letter to President Biden (We Mean Business)

Executives Call for Deep Emission Cuts to Combat Climate Change (NYTimes $

Voting Laws Roundup: March 2021 (Brennan Center for Justice)

Ed Bastian memo: Your right to vote (Delta)

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