November 21, 2017

Business must lobby Congress in order to get action on climate change

President Trump has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change — a decision that may be one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our nation’s history. There is no denying the mounting threat of climate change. We observe rising seas, warming global temperatures, and melting glaciers and ice sheets. Yet the president cast aside a historic global agreement forged through American leadership.

Americans now ask what to do next. For individual citizens, my answer is simple: Commit yourself to ending climate denial and take action. Join an environmental group. Support and validate science and scientists. Organize in your community. Make climate change an issue your lawmakers cannot ignore. Every action, big and small, counts.

American corporations must also act and, unfortunately, they have been AWOL in the politics of climate change. That is why, corporate America, I have a separate message for you: First, know that you are hugely influential. You touch every corner of American society and command extraordinary attention in our political system. This gives you a unique power against the Breitbart fake news spigot, the shameless fossil fuel industry, and Charles and David Kochs’ climate denial operation, all of which enabled the president’s fateful decision.

Job one is to reconsider your decision to take no action, or virtually no action, to engage politically on climate change. So many of you — from Apple to Facebook, Pepsi to Coca-Cola, General Mills to Cargill — have sound positions on climate change. Clearly, you know this is serious. Trump has betrayed you, so now is the time to align your industry’s political engagement with your position on climate and come off the sidelines. Engage collectively in strength commensurate with the seriousness of this issue.

If we pitch ourselves and the world into the present worst-case climate change scenarios, it will become hard to defend our American system of democratic government against charges of corruption, and our system of market capitalism against charges of indifference, particularly as global suffering mounts. For companies that benefit from a world order where liberal democracies prevail, the stakes are very high.

For too long the American business community has stood idly by while your fossil fuel compatriots worked their wicked way with Congress. They have suborned your major trade and business policy organizations to their purposes. You have tolerated their dark-money machinery. Your silence has been deafening.

Now it is necessary that you organize with other like-minded corporations and use your collective political strength to press our political discourse toward a solution. There are many Republicans in Congress who will notice and react if they see the business community make a convincing effort. Absent that, the government of the United States will remain under the controlling thumb of the fossil fuel industry, whose conflicts of interest in this question are obvious and enormous.

The political mischief of the fossil fuel industry and its front groups will leave a lasting stain on the democracy we treasure. It is time the decent and honorable business community played a meaningful role in setting this right.

By: Sheldon Whitehouse