Skilled actors in the theater of predatory climate delay
Climate delay – or harvesting the well-being of the future for present-time profits – is big business. Here we showcase some of the leading players.
Editor's note: GreenPortfolio is partnering with Climate & Capital Media to support our efforts to bring transparency to the relationship between finance and climate change for American consumers.
This article is an excerpt from The ‘Climate 10’ – the world’s most skilled actors in the theater of predatory climate delay, originally published September 17, 2022.
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's 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.
Read on to learn about three of the world’s worst offenders.
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 sow 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.
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.
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.
Editor's Note: This article is a collaboration between Climate & Capital Media and GreenPortfolio as part of our ongoing partnership.
Climate & Capital Media was founded to accelerate climate action by raising awareness about the critical role of money in financing climate solutions, and the role capital has played in supporting carbon-producing industries.
GreenPortfolio is focused on helping people avoid greenwashing and leverage their financial decisions to fight climate change by providing transparent assessments about the climate impact of investments, bank accounts, and other financial products.
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