New Plan of Attack on Climate: Shame Big Polluters?


Photo: thewritingzone, Flickr/CC BY-SA

Yes, the climate bill is dead. No, we're probably not going to see any meaningful legislation to address carbon pollution for years to come. But climate change is still occurring. Which means that if we're going to head off the worst case scenarios, we're going to have to find another route outside of Congress. So now that we've collectively moaned and mourned and licked our wounds, it is, once again, strategy time. How do we achieve big carbon cuts without passing sweeping laws that reign in big polluters? People around the interwebs are starting to chime in with suggestions, and I'll be looking at a number of them over the coming weeks. First up -- Shaming big carbon polluters in the public eye. The idea surfaces in a newly released call to arms, The New Path Forward, by Fred Krupp, one of the nation's most influential environmental campaigners. Krupp is the head of the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the top inside-the-beltway green groups. His work on the climate bills in Congress was instrumental in getting them as far as they did.

His latest manifesto, published around the blogosphere, makes the expected calls towards focusing on bipartisan solutions, fostering greater understanding of the climate threat in the public, and protecting existing pollution regulations. But he also says this, what I found to be the most interesting leg of his plan of attack: (emphasis mine)

... there are companies that continue to choose short-term profits over public health, and who feel they are better off opposing progress. These companies have friends in the Congress, and they believe they will have more political leverage against the Environmental Protection Agency as the balance of power shifts in Washington next year ... We will look for ways to hold them accountable through every reasonable lever at our disposal. We will learn to be as tough with them as they have been with us ... we are looking at a variety of ways to involve the public more actively in a conversation about who the big emitters are, where they operate, and what steps they are taking to reduce their pollution.

It doesn't have to be this way, and we would rather spend our time working on smart policy and win-win solutions. But we have no choice. We cannot allow the efforts of a few powerful companies to block necessary progress for the rest of us.

In other words, Krupp is saying we need to hold polluting companies' feet to the fire by, well, letting the public get to know them a bit better. The more the public knows about big polluters' shady practices, the more pressure those companies will be under to clean up their acts -- Such strategy has worked in the past to reign in other forms of waste and pollution.

In fact, Grist's Jonathan Hiskes made a similar suggestion months ago, pointing out that the EPA's new emissions transparency requirements may motivate companies to clean up their acts to avoid being outed as big polluters.

Question is -- and everything really comes back to this -- do Americans care enough about climate change to the point where they'd demand companies to emit less CO2? The strong ideological opposition to the very concept of climate change among certain segments of the population, coupled with general apathy among others, concerns me: It would be hard to scold companies for doing something large swaths of the public see no shame in. That principle needs to change, of course, and perhaps exposing polluters could help in driving the issue home.

More on the New Wave of Climate Action
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