Relabeling it as 'greenwashing' reduces the climate fight

Relabeling it as ‘greenwashing’ reduces the climate fight

Much has been written about how our 24/7 cycle of news and social media can be harmful.

In those areas, incentives are more favorable to those who are loudest than those who work together to get things done.

Unfortunately, we are seeing a game changer in the environmental space, where a certain group of activists are working to discredit and undermine climate progress in the private sector rather than support the actual climate movement.

While this may be useful for raising profiles in Washington DC or attracting more money from donors, it is unfortunately a bad idea for the goal we all share: to deal effectively with climate change.

A successful climate plan must be balanced and comprehensive. It should bring everyone involved to the table. And energy firms are important stakeholders to have at this table – in fact, they are essential.

Now, these companies have invested in about 80 carbon capture and storage projects that will soon allow energy operations to capture and use carbon dioxide instead of releasing it. This intense focus on carbon capture has already elevated the US ahead of Europe, with American jobs capturing 23.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, nearly nine of our European counterparts.

More solutions are being developed as well, with Occidental Petroleum’s Oxy Low Carbon Ventures announcing this year a $200 million commitment to low carbon projects. ConocoPhillips has earmarked a 25,000-acre site in southeast Louisiana for a carbon capture and storage facility, while Chevron Technology Ventures is investing in a $300 million fund focused on “industrial decarbonization, increased mobility, distributed energy and economic growth.” of carbon.

You’d think every environmental activist would applaud the news that this big investment is creating meaningful results. And many do. But, unfortunately, some responded with public condemnation and lawsuits instead.

In February, activists accused Shell of greenwashing in a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission, claiming that the energy producer had exaggerated its “financial commitment to renewable energy sources.” Shell joins a laundry list of companies including Coca-Cola and Nestle that some activists have marked with a red “G.” The campaign doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon, either.

By polluting the public debate about climate, the greenwashing label has found its way into state and municipal climate bills. Greenwashing is not a tort, but plaintiffs try to use it when suing energy firms. Weather suits may quickly snowball following the Supreme Court’s decision in April to allow plaintiffs to sue in federal courts for fraud.

Environmental groups cannot have it both ways. Critics of energy firms first vilified them for not taking enough action on climate change and now dismiss their robust discussion of climate plans as greenwashing. In other words, when energy firms make climate-driven investments that activists want, they get sued for it.

These lawsuits and related claims of “greenwashing” may be designed to raise the profile of certain activists and DC groups, but they are not worth the money. In fact they present a very serious threat to legitimate efforts to advance climate action. And it’s not hard to see why. They are encouraging energy producers to develop the low-carbon technologies we will need to succeed in the climate. They also create credit clouds for companies that publicly demonstrate the good work they are doing in this area.

All this can only take us back, not forward.

The truth is that environmental groups and energy firms today are natural allies in the fight against climate change. That is why it is so important that both continue to work together for constructive progress and real solutions. Whatever the motivation of a few bad eggs, now is not the time to waste precious time perpetuating the myth that energy producers are not fighting climate change when the record shows they are. After all, as President Biden reminded us in his State of the Union address, “We’re going to need oil and gas for a while.”

The question is how we can work together to build a bridge to our low carbon future as quickly and smartly as possible. This is where everyone should focus. And getting there will require deep collaboration between environmental groups and energy firms.

Sarah E. Hunt is president of the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy and director of policy and strategy at Arizona State University’s Rob & Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service. Previously, he ran clean energy and climate programs at the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Niskanen Center.

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