“Let me (be) very very clear, for us climate change is real and it’s a threat that we want to act on. We’re not aligning with skeptics.”
-Ben van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell
Years ago, such a statement from the head of a major oil producer might have raised an eyebrow, but these days, most companies stick with the science if they choose to talk about climate change. Unfortunately, companies’ actions don’t necessarily align with their words.
The trouble with ALEC
Most companies have gotten out of the business of spouting climate contrarian talking points; however, many companies continue to fund or associate with organizations that do have anti-science positions and work to block policy efforts that seek to address climate change.
Today, there is no better example than ALEC. The American Legislative Exchange Council has been making headlines in recent weeks as tech firms Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Yelp publicly left the organization over its climate disinformation spreading. (And these companies join the more than 90 corporations who have already left ALEC.)
Let’s pause there for a moment and appreciate just how far removed ALEC’s climate position is from the science. This Climate Reality Project video, in which I participated, has a nice ALEC overview and my colleague, Sam Gomberg, described the (laughable) disinformation ALEC distributed to legislators this past summer. ALEC also has been aggressive in fighting renewable energy proposals. In the Midwest, the group has been spreading misinformation on wind and solar power and ALEC claims on its website that EPA targets for renewable energy are “unrealistic.” (For the record, UCS found that states can cost-effectively produce nearly twice as much renewable electricity as the EPA calculated they could under its Clean Power Plan.)
Why would a company want to align themselves with such misinformation?
Guilty by association?
When it comes to business affiliations, companies have diverse interests that encompass many issues. As we’ve noted, companies are members of trade groups, for example, for a variety of business purposes. But for a group like ALEC, it’s hard to see how a company can make the case that membership in ALEC is a necessary business move. There are plenty of ways of debating climate policy that don’t involve spreading disinformation about climate science.
Shell continues to support ALEC despite the fact that the company has taken steps to align their position with climate science. Way back in 1998, Shell joined BP as one of the first oil companies to abandon the Global Climate Coalition, an industry-backed effort to sow disinformation about climate science and obstruct policy solutions. Since then, Shell has taken several other important steps—becoming a leader on carbon pricing and choosing not to participate in direct denial campaigns.
Yet, Shell continues to be a member ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force. This task force is the source of ALEC’s “model” bills, legislation to repeal state renewable energy standards and roll back regional climate initiatives such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (among other things).
Aligning Shell’s position on climate change
On a voluntary CDP climate reporting survey this year, Shell responded to a question on whether it had attempted to influence the climate positions of its trade association affiliations. Suggesting it does not make efforts to ensure its trade groups have positions consistent with climate science, Shell noted that it has “little scope for major positive advocacy work on climate change legislation.” But the company’s involvement with ALEC suggests otherwise, since we know Shell does have the scope to serve on ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force that works to kill renewable energy initiatives.
Shell’s investors have noticed this misalignment, too. In 2014, the company’s shareholders asked executives to cease using shareholder dollars to fund ALEC, citing climate change as one of ALEC’s problematic policy positions.
It’s time that Shell makes good on its CEO’s words on climate science.