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Green as the New Red

Newsweek magazine hires top environmental-research consultants to create Newsweek’s annual green rankings of the world’s largest corporations. The consultants evaluate companies’ green performance in three areas: environmental footprint, management and disclosure (rankings and explanations of methodology available online). The top 20 world corporations for environmental behavior include only one American company, IBM.

The scarcity of environmental champions among American businesses is linked, I believe, to the success climate change deniers have had with public officials and American public opinion. Tonight’s PBS Frontline special “Climate of Doubt” described deniers’ successful recipes mixing lots of money, sophisticated appeals to American values of freedom and hatred of environmentalists’ “leftist agenda,” together with a campaign of disinformation built on the assumption that people will believe what is most convenient and most emotionally appealing. Deniers organize and attend meetings with names like the “Defending American Dream” convention and broadcast themes that human-caused climate change is a hoax, that there is no scientific consensus linking human activities with any global warming, and that the Al Gores of the world threaten their patriotic vision of “limited government and free markets.”

The deniers have won the political battle for today; climate change was discussed as a critical problem in the 2008 presidential election, but not at all in 2012. Environmental-advocate legislators lost to climate change deniers in the 2010 elections, and, as Senator John Kerry puts it, “there is nothing like a loss in an election to strike fear into survivors.” North Carolina even passed a law that no rising oceans exist which could threaten the state’s low-lying beaches. Looking out at the North Carolina surf, one scientist responded that the ocean will have its way whatever the local politicians say. Another summarized the situation as the American people’s having decided that if human-caused climate change exists, it is a problem for future generations, not for themselves, not now.

For some Americans, “green has become the new red” of socialism, and it’s understandable that public corporations want to avoid attacks from vocal, well-funded, passionate communities of skeptics who claim they are defending freedom, low taxes, limited government and American jobs. Some hope rests on the intelligence and vision of corporate leaders who see that environmental deterioration, global warming and rising seas are real, and that business’s long-term health and survival depends on wise actions to avoid, minimize and adjust to the changes our best science projects if present trends continue.


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