Climate delay is big business, and Climate & Capital is here to showcase the leading players. Some are obvious, but others may surprise you.
It’s Climate Week in New York, and it feels as if every company is “all in” for actionable, constructive climate solutions. That actually is the whole point. New York Climate Week is a week-long, pay-to-play climate marketing Lollapalooza.
Oh, we wish life was as simple as the yarns you will hear this week. However, Climate & Capital must interrupt this climate revery to get back to the crushing reality of an unfolding climate disaster by focusing on a very pressing human issue: procrastination, or if you want to get nasty about it, predatory climate delay. To help you better understand what that means, we have created a handy list of some of the world’s worst offenders.
What is predatory delay, and why does it matter?
In 2016, writer and futurist Alex Steffen wrote a groundbreaking Medium post in which he introduced the term “predatory delay.” It’s an excellent description of the kind of business as usual, slow walking response we see from the world largest businesses, governments, and financial institutions to climate change. It means inching your way forward with incremental change while, Steffen says, “fight[ing] like hell to delay change of any real magnitude, attacking not only the prospects of our kids and kin in the future but increasingly of our society in the present. Their delay has real, serious human consequences across generations. They’re taking, not creating; the harm they cause is measurable.”
So yes, predatory delay is a really big issue that needs to be addressed.
Introducing Climate & Capital’s ‘Climate 10’ – the world’s worst predatory climate delayers
1. Shell pledges to “do no harm” while it expands fossil fuel production
Over the past 250 years, about 90 companies have been responsible for two-thirds of the world’s industrial heat-trapping carbon emissions. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence and warnings of the growing threat of atmospheric carbon pollution, the oil majors continue to accelerate the exploration, production and distribution of coal, oil and gas. The industry has stepped up its marketing and public affairs efforts to sew confusion, challenge new climate science and stop regulation. At the same time, they’re talking up their public commitment to net zero and how they will achieve a sustainable climate-friendly energy transition.
All the majors are guilty of aggressive predatory delay. Still, the Anglo-Dutch giant Shell seems to have taken it to a new height by actually making it an employee guideline. According to documents released last week by a US Congressional committee, Shell asked its employees to emphasize that net zero emissions is “a collective ambition for the world” rather than a “Shell goal or target,” adding, “Please do not give the impression that Shell is willing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels that do not make business sense.”
This is the same company where a senior safety consultant, Caroline Dennet, released an explosive YouTube resignation video accusing it of “double talk” on climate. “Shell’s stated ambition is to ‘do no harm’ … but they are completely failing at it,” she says. (Dennet goes into more detail in her Climate & Capital Voices).
So accepting on behalf of the global fossil fuel industry, we award Shell plc Climate & Capital Media’s first Predatory Climate Delayer of the Year award (with Exxon a close second) for its unrelenting efforts to drill while taking their “do no harm” marketing hype to new highs.
2. JPMorgan Chase’s pernicious fossil fuel lending
Someone needs to finance all those carbon projects, and no one does it better than the world’s largest lender to the fossil fuel industry, JP Morgan Chase. For decades, the bank has loaned trillions of dollars to the industry while disguising their true environmental intent. JP Morgan is the biggest of 60 U.S. banks that together have provided $4.6 trillion to the fossil fuel industry since 2016 while issuing less than $203 billion in bonds and loans toward renewable energy projects.
However, we chose JP Morgan because of a classic public affairs sleight-of-hand the bank recently engaged in to demonstrate their commitment to fighting climate change. The bank will decide its future loan commitments to the fossil fuel industry using a metric invented, well, by the industry itself: Carbon intensity. “They love the metric,” Jeanne Martin of ShareAction told the Guardian. “They have committed to reducing intensity and financing to the oil and gas sector. But that doesn’t mean they will reduce oil and gas activities. It may actually increase at a faster rate.”
JPMorgan’s creative use of ‘intensity’ would almost be funny, were it not so serious. “With less than 10-years to cut their global emissions by nearly half, their [banks] pace of progress continues to lag far behind what is required to stave off runaway disruption to the climate and the global economy,” says BankFwd, a bank advocacy organization founded by members of the Rockefeller family to accelerate the decarbonization of the financial sector.
So for JP Morgan Chase’s master class in reimagining fossil fuel lending, we grant them Climate & Capital’s Most Flagrant Carbon Lender award.
3. Rupert Murdoch – The world’s nastiest climate predator
Rupert Murdoch claims not to be a climate denier but he appears to have no problem giving his editors carte blanche to publish every anti-climate angle, deny climate change altogether or undermine the latest credible science.
From removing prime ministers to relentlessly attacking climate scientists, government employees and activists, his company, News Corp. which includes the Wall Street Journal and Fox News is a global climate wrecking machine, a fact noted by its own employees. In a “reply all” that every employee at News Corps could read, Emily Townsend, then a senior News Corp executive charged the company with “irresponsible” and “dangerous” coverage after Australia’s deadly fires in 2020.
Renowned climate scientist Michael E. Mann says the Murdoch “press is substantially to blame for serving as a megaphone of climate disinformation.” Murdoch and the politicians he backs, like former President Donald Trump and recently deposed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, are dangerous, not just because they peddle disinformation about climate change but because their disinformation threatens democracies say two former Australian Prime Ministers – Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, They joined forces across the political spectrum in 2021 to call for a federal investigation into media ownership and lack of diversity. Why? “They make this stuff up,” says Turnbull. “It’s not news anymore. It’s propaganda.”
Australia’s small, independent outlet Crikey recently taunted Murdoch to sue them for defamation if they didn’t like their accusations of being “unindicted co-conspirators” in the Trump-inspired January 6 U.S. insurrection with a full page ad in the New York Times. Lachlan Murdoch, not mentioned in the article, took the bait.
So egregious is the climate denial of Murdoch’s News Corp that after Australia’s deadly, drought- and heat-induced fires of 2022, Rupert’s own son, James launched an extraordinary attack on the family’s empire and quit the business. In a very public statement, James said he was “particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial [of the role of climate change] among [their] news outlets in Australia, given obvious evidence to the contrary.”
So for its mission to cover all the climate denial news unfit to print, we bestow on Rupert Murdoch Climate & Capital’s award for Biggest Climate Delay Flack.
4. Bill Gates, monumental climate distractor
Bill Gates has good ideas on climate change. For example, his concept for a “green premium,” which would take into account the full environmental cost of fossil fuel in calculating its true cost , makes a lot of sense.
But plenty of people have great ideas about climate change. If you have a great solution, unfortunately, you’re not likely to have billions to promote it. And the U.S. government will certainly not match your ideas with billions of tax-payer dollars — no matter how brilliant.
Of course not. We’re not Bill Gates.
And that is the problem with Bill Gates. The founder of Microsoft is benefiting from what we call the “Gates Premium.” He grossly distorts his influence by fat-fingering climate solutions and artificially inflating climate funding with his influence and money.
The most egregious example of the Gates Premium is his hairbrained scheme to build a sodium-cooled nuclear reactor in Wyoming. Gates’s decision to spend $2 billion on a back-to-the-future nuclear vision is considered a joke by the nuclear industry. They point to nuclear industry pioneer Admiral Hyman Rickover’s decision 65 years ago to kill this ill-fated meltdown-prone nuclear technology. Ever since, every major nuclear power except Russia and China has turned away from this nuclear power system. Worse, he’s injecting new life into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. Now, the U.S. government will invest another $2 billion to build a prototype reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming alongside him.
Gates has no experience in nuclear power. But he does have the Gates Premium.
For this, Climate & Capital gives Bill Gates the Worst New Climate Solution Idea award for distracting the world from real climate solutions and wasting billions of U.S. taxpayer money that could be going to more realistic – and cheaper – solutions like renewable energy. Solutions, however, for which Gates can take no credit.
5. Gautam Adani, the world’s second richest man, builds his fortune on coal while hyping green energy
This week Gautam Adani became the world’s second richest man, bypassing Jeff Bezos. Adani has amassed $148 billion in digging, transporting and distributing coal throughout India and other parts of the world including Australia. But when he goes to Davos to hobnob with global elites at the World Economic Forum, all he can talk about is renewable energy and green hydrogen.
Adani is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s little coal buddy. His secret to success is his deft ability to manipulate and navigate the country’s notorious bureaucracy for new coal projects. That gives Adani immense influence on energy policy and spending in a crucial global climate change swing state.
“His political power, his ability to understand the lay of the land of India is second to none,” says Climate & Capital contributor Tim Buckley.
When Adani is not busy promoting his green image, he finds time to crush opponents who get in his way. Adani is suing Australian climate activist Ben Pennings for A$17 million in damages (it was originally A$600m) for Penning’s efforts to oppose the opening of the biggest new coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere.
The suit, Pennings says, has sent him “spiraling in and out of anxiety and depression,” adding perhaps the biggest understatement of the year when he says, “it’s tough fighting the second richest person in the world.”
For this, Climate & Capital awards Adani with the award of the World’s Biggest Coal Bully
6. Meta/Facebook’s half-hearted efforts to stop selling climate denial ads
Meta, the social media company formerly known as Facebook, wants to have your ad dollars and not save the planet but doesn’t want you to know they are doing it. Two years ago, the company claimed it would crack down on climate disinformation and stop selling ads to climate deniers. It even created a nifty Climate Science Information Center.
But like so much of what Meta says, it kind of never really happened, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). The U.S. nonprofit says Meta only found and labeled about half of the posts promoting articles about climate denial in 2021. “By failing to do even the bare minimum to address the spread of climate denial information, Meta is exacerbating the climate crisis,” says CCDH Chief Executive Imran Ahmed. “Climate change denial flows unabated on Facebook and Instagram.”
For its persistent failure to ever do the right thing on climate change, Climate & Capital grants Meta/Facebook the Move Fast and Break Climate Things award for allowing climate deniers almost unlimited access to its social media platforms.
7. Business Roundtable double-talk
Three years ago, the powerful Business Roundtable, the trade association of business chief executives, boldly proclaimed a new purpose-driven corporate-focused world economic order. The lobbying group committed to “protecting the environment by embracing sustainable practices” and promoting “an economy that serves all.” The credo was widely hailed as a significant paradigm shift by CEOs to embrace both profit and purpose.
That is until it comes to regulation. These same CEOs are battling the U.S. SEC’s proposed mandatory climate disclosure rules this year. Using a time-worn lobbying pitch they support it, but they don’t. The CEOs says they are ok with enhanced climate-related disclosure but oppose the SEC rules because a number of provisions are “unworkable” and “overly burdensome.” That is corporate speak for wanting to kill any semblance of mandatory government regulation.
Says BankFWD: “In a time of market uncertainty, climate deregulation is the ultimate loose cannon, an unpredictable variable with the capacity to introduce greater chaos into global markets and extend inefficient market failures around the climate challenge. The capability of federal regulatory bodies to establish clear emissions standards is a necessity, not just for those who care about climate, but also for those with vested interests in the stability of our global financial system.”
Not surprisingly, despite the publication of more than 120,000 sustainability currently available, it is almost impossible to find a Fortune 500 CEO who supports the SEC regulatory disclosures
So for the Roundtable’s 17-page, forked-tongue diatribe urging the SEC to “revise and re-purpose the rule,” we award Climate & Capital’s first Predatory Climate Doublespeak award to America’s leading CEOs.
8. The asset management industry’s ESG ETFs: Predatory climate investing
“There’s a lot of slapping lipstick on a pig,” gripes Cathie Wood – ARK Investment Management’s founder, CEO and CIO – about the ESG/ETF investment sector. This comes shortly after she abruptly shut down her company’s first ESG-focused, exchange-traded fund due to underperformance. The superstar investor discovered what others also now know: It’s nigh on impossible to meet the idealistic and often misleading promises of ESG ETF marketing brochures.
Wood is not alone in her disdain for asset management’s much-hyped investment fad. Seven other U.S. ESG ETF funds have closed. Morningstar has stripped over 1,200 funds representing $1 trillion in assets of their ESG labels for falsely claiming they consider ESG factors in their investment process. In Europe, there is a criminal investigation of Deutsche Bank Wealth Management for making false ESG claims.
Even though this is theoretically a really good idea and it’s not that it can’t, and shouldn’t, be done, what happened? The principle-based investment strategy of ESG attracted such large inflows so rapidly that it was turned into a catalog of hastily created products. During 2020 and 2021, more than $32 billion flowed into ESG-related ETFs in the U.S. The crush of cash generated such a stampede to capture market share that ESG labels were slapped on every fund possible.
“I would get sent in to meet with portfolio teams or research heads or the C-suite. They wanted to know how to build an ESG product – that was their goal. Wall Street is basically about sales, and ESG had the potential for repeat sales and fees. And here I am saying, ‘kill ESG.’ Let’s just say it wasn’t the best fit.”
For striking while the iron is hot, Climate & Capital honors ETF providers with its first Predatory Climate Salesmen award for driving record sales of higher-priced ETF funds that underperformed on both environmental and market performance standards but outperformed on delivering fresh revenue to the world’s largest asset managers.
9. The best climate delaying money can buy? Private equity
For more than a decade, the booming private equity industry has built a gold-plated sustainable investing image while quietly pouring billions into dirty fossil fuel investments. The industry has invested an estimated $1 trillion in the energy sector since 2010, the vast majority in oil, gas and coal companies.
In a first-of-its-kind report on private equity investing and climate, the Private Equity Stakeholder Project teamed up with Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund and ranked Carlyle, Warburg Pincus and other PE firms as the worst offenders among eight major private equity companies with significant fossil fuel portfolios.
According to the report, PE firms continue to invest heavily in greenhouse-gas-emitting projects with no real plan to transition away from oil and gas. The firms also have scant transparency on political and climate lobbying, the report finds.
But don’t be surprised if you don’t know all of this. Unlike banks and other publicly listed companies, private equity firms are exempt from most financial disclosure rules, making it extremely difficult to track their assets, let alone their climate impact and risk.
For this reason, Climate & Capital awards the Private Equity Industry the award of the World’s Stealthiest Predatory Delayers.
10. The American Chemistry Council (and other fossil fuel lobby groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) running interference for fossil fuels
The benignly named American Chemistry Council (ACC) is the trade group that runs PR interference and lobbying on behalf of the biggest American plastics companies. Among its members are Dow, ExxonMobil Products, DuPont, Occidental Chemical Corp, 3M and Honeywell – companies that produce everything from the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag to prosthetic devices, car parts and even critical components for renewable energy systems.
But don’t be fooled. The plastics industry is a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, responsible for the world’s massive plastic waste problem and is inextricably connected to the use of fossil fuels. So, when the ACC calls for a goal of requiring 30% recycled plastic as part of all U.S. plastic packaging by 2030, be very skeptical.
Scads of reporting documents the failure of recycling to address the problem of plastic waste (and Americans know this) and its role in global warming. In any case, the industry only plans to keep expanding production, so if you were to reach 30% recycled material in an ever-growing production of plastic, it wouldn’t begin to solve our plastic waste problem.
Here’s what Greenpeace had to say about ACC initiatives for more recycling of plastic: “If the American Chemistry Council wanted to make a real difference on plastic pollution, it would lobby itself and its polluting members out of existence.”
The vast majority of single-use plastics, Greenpeace says, are not recycled. “It is insulting to the American people that the plastics industry continues to regurgitate tired talking points about recycling and ending the plastic pollution crisis while it ramps up plastic production across the country.” While promoting a pie-in-the-sky recycling goal, the ACC lobbies against local efforts to ban plastic bags and national legislation designed to limit single-use plastics, as well as “polluter pay” initiatives similar to those working well in the European Union to put the waste onus back on the producer.
“Throughout its history, the ACC has advocated for minimal or no regulation of chemicals produced by its member companies, even when strong scientific evidence suggests adverse health or environmental impacts,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists in a 2015 paper that followed the lobbying efforts and dollars from ACC.
And the tradition continues.
For this, Climate & Capital presents the ACC with the Plastic Surgery Award for Climate Delay.