Last month, I co-published an article with the newsletter Popular Information exposing six corporations that “talk green but spend dirty.” Like so many articles we’ve written before, the piece showed how corporate America markets itself as a friend to the climate while directly funding climate deniers.
Our reporting didn’t change anything. The one company that responded — Microsoft — defended its donations. “Given the breadth of our policy agenda, it’s unlikely we’ll agree on every issue,” a spokesperson company said in a statement, “but we’ve learned that engagement — even when individuals hold different positions — is an essential part of achieving progress.”
Like so many articles we’ve written before, the piece showed how corporate America markets itself as a friend to the climate while directly funding climate deniers.
Microsoft, in other words, told us they had no choice but to fund people who spread dangerous misinformation for political gain. So imagine my surprise when, last week, Microsoft joined the chorus of corporations pledging to suspend political donations because of the violent insurrection that overran the U.S. Capitol — an insurrection sparked by politicians who spread deadly misinformation for political gain.
It seems corporations do have a choice, after all.
It’s fantastic that corporate America is finally starting to reckon with its role in spreading deadly, democracy-endangering misinformation. Since the violent riots on Jan. 6, at least 23 major companies now say they will no longer donate to lawmakers who voted against certifying the results of the election. To them, denying the results of a free and fair election has become politically unacceptable.
But denying a scientifically proven crisis that’s killing millions of people, particularly Black and brown ones, is still politically fine. Exactly zero of the companies that have pledged to cut off politicians who spread misinformation about the election have also pledged to cut off politicians who spread misinformation about the climate crisis, which has already killed far more people, and stands to kill far more.
Take Comcast, for example (not part of our original Popular Information piece). When the telecommunications giant announced a freeze on donations to election deniers, it called the riots they inspired “appalling.” But Comcast donated to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who was re-elected to his fifth term in November and whose decadeslong crusade against climate science has inspired Trump’s climate-destructive policies more than any other sitting lawmaker. In 2020, the company gave $10,000 to keep Inhofe in power.
Comcast’s corporate PAC also donated a combined $15,000 to the unsuccessful Senate campaigns of Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia. Both were supporters of the energy industry and Trump. Perdue rejected climate science. And their victories would have kept the Senate under control of Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the godfather of climate misinformation. (Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, also gave $7,500 to re-elect McConnell this cycle).
Corporations are pausing contributions to election deniers because they don’t want to be seen as contributing to misinformation and violence. Well, guess what: They are contributing to misinformation and violence when they bankroll climate deniers. And I’m not just talking about violence to the planet and ecosystems. I’m talking about right-wing political violence, armed anti-government insurrections and white nationalism.
Scientists have shown us that the more the climate warms, the more conditions become ripe for prejudice.
These things have always been connected. Scientists have shown us that the more the climate warms, the more conditions become ripe for prejudice. “As climate change increases the level of environmental threat, cultures around the world may become tighter, and the exclusionary rhetoric of far-right nationalist politicians may sound more and more appealing,” scientists wrote in the journal PLOS One last year.
Many of the same lawmakers who deny climate change are the same lawmakers who voted to overturn the election results. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says climate change is a “religion,” not a science. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., says God controls the climate. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., says he’s “not sure that there is even climate change.” The list goes on and on.
The corporations now pausing donations to riot supporters all know all the facts about climate change. That’s why they spend tens of million to hundreds of millions a year on marketing campaigns to convince the public how much they abhor climate change — because it’s killing people and promoting bias. They can’t be seen as supporting that, or they’ll lose customers.
The only reason corporations haven’t stopped donations to climate deniers like they have election deniers is because their greenwashing campaigns have worked. People simply aren’t as angry about the fact that they bankroll climate violence as they are about the fact that they bankroll political violence. The backlash for funding the destruction of the planet does not currently threaten their short-term profits in a meaningful way.
Corporate America may not consider climate misinformation as big a threat as election misinformation when it comes to their profits. But both represent the same threat to democracy. The violent political chaos we’re living through today exists because Americans are living in separate realities with separate facts. That didn’t happen by accident; it happened because 30 years ago, Republicans started lying about climate change, and Corporate America rewarded them with power.
Election denial might be the most abhorrent political misinformation of the moment. But climate denial is the original and everlasting sin. It showed Republicans that lying was not only inconsequential, but beneficial. If lawmakers continue to be rewarded for lying about something as important as planetary collapse, it’s only a matter of time before the next riot-inspiring misinformation campaign begins. The beast will not die until its head is cut off.