This piece has appeared in newspapers in my conservative congressional district (VA-06).
As it is said in the Bible (Luke 12:48), “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” Which might also be stated, with great wealth and power comes great responsibility.
Money being “the mother’s milk of politics,” those who command the most money wield the most power. Which means that our giant corporations are among those to whom “much is given.”
What shall be demanded from these mighty entities?
That question brings us to a troubling abdication of corporate responsibility: corporate silence on a matter of public policy of the gravest importance.
It has been established beyond a reasonable doubt – by thousands of scientists across the globe — that our destabilized climate poses what is quite possibly the greatest threat to human civilization we’ve ever faced.
But on this issue most of mighty corporate America remains silent.
Of course, one part of the corporate world has been anything but silent. The fossil fuel corporations – among the richest entities in the world – have engaged in a decades-long campaign of public disinformation, trying to sow great doubt where the science leaves vanishingly little room for doubt.
(Documents reveal, for example that for decades Exxon-Mobil has known the scientific truth about the dangers of our continued break-neck consumption of their products. But Exxon has worked continuously to deceive the public on the issue. Now Exxon is being sued by several states for their putting profit ahead of lives – suits like those that, in the 1990s, nailed the tobacco industry for its long campaign of deception.)
So, fossil fuel companies, with their megabucks, have spoken loudly in our political system.
(It is indeed a result of their determination to mislead the public that the United States is the only advanced democratic nation with a major political party that steadfastly denies all that the climate scientists are saying about the need to act now to lessen the possibilities of world-wide catastrophe in the years and decades to come.)
But what about the rest of the corporate world? Surely the people who run the rest of our great corporations see through the disinformation, and understand the urgent need to stabilize the climate on the only planet we’ve got.
Although it’s true that some major corporations have supported the Paris accords on climate change, it is also true that the National Chamber of Commerce has used its lobbying power to paralyze the American response to the climate crisis.
Why aren’t the many dozens of industries and many hundreds of great corporations whose profits are not dependent on our remaining addicted to fossil fuels not coming together to counter the deceptions of the fossil fuel industry?
Corporate America declaring loudly the truth about the climate crisis would serve an urgent public need. Such a message from them could be persuasive to people who have been trained to distrust scientists and public interest groups, but who respect the “captains of industry.”
I have been told of an understanding among the upper echelons of the corporate system that says that corporations will not interfere in those areas in which other corporations have a special political interest.
In other words, if what I was told is correct, corporations are granting each other what in international affairs has been called a “sphere of influence.” If Exxon cares most about climate change, General Electric and General Mills won’t interfere.
Whether or not such an ethic is ever appropriate for a good corporate citizen, it is surely not appropriate now on this issue.
Especially now, when the new President expresses contempt for the science, and proposes the laughable idea that climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese to hobble American competitiveness.
Especially now, when the newly-appointed head of the EPA is a man whose whole career has been devoted to serving the fossil fuel interests in his home state of Oklahoma.
At this dangerous moment, our corporate system needs to step up to redeem its own moral standing. History will judge corporate America most harshly if it continues to allow the science-denial propaganda bankrolled by the fossil fuel industry to be its main voice.
In 2012, the Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney, declared that “Corporations are people.” So we must ask: what kind of “people” would put loyalty to their greedy corporate brethren ahead of our children’s future and the good of the nation?
Now is the time for all good “people” to come to the aid of their country. Especially those to whom so much has been given.