With the NRA apparently imploding, the Koch network claiming to pivot away from politics, CATO closing down its climate shop, and Heartland President Tim Husklekamp suddenly resigning, it’s a chaotic time for industry-funded think tanks.
The biggest among them, the Chamber of Commerce, is no exception. The chamber recently announced long-time chief Tom Donahue would be slowly stepping down--perhaps in part because of recent stories detailing the group’s waning White House influence and Donahue’s pricey personal private jet trips.
And like the National Association of Manufacturers, the GOP and the natural gas industry, the chamber has read the public sentiment written on the wall and recently declared a shift towards support for climate action. Its website now claims that “climate is changing and humans are contributing to these changes,” and that “inaction is not an option.” (We’ll forgive the fact that humans are driving, not just contributing to, warming…)
But is the chamber really going to live up to that claim? Is this conversion from a leading force for climate denial into a champion of action legitimate? Is the organization that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on public relations campaigns, as part of its decades-long fight against any and all climate action really now expecting the public to believe it’s now on board with climate action?
Well, there’s a chance it could be. After all, it’s a group ostensibly made up of individual businesses, and as a recent survey showed, some 84% of business decision-makers heard about last years’ IPCC and NCA reports. Of that group, over two-thirds made some change in their business strategy as a response.
That’s putting the chamber in a tough spot: respect the clean-energy vision of its broad base of business members, or remain loyal to the fossil fuel industry and its likely sizable donations to the group. Of course, a cynic will assume that the organization will continue saying one thing (“inaction is not an option”) while privately lobbying Congress with something else (to the effect of “anything that reduces fossil fuel company profits is not an option because the economy.”)
Fortunately, a handful of Senators are pressing the Chamber to prove its conversion by actively lobbying for climate action, promoting real climate solutions that go beyond the empty bromide of innovation. With social media using #ChamberofCarbon, Senators Whitehouse, Heinrich, and Schatz aren’t about to let the chamber get away with an inauthentic about-face.
But there’s perhaps an even better way for the chamber to prove that it has changed its ways, and will no longer operate as a central hub in the wheel of organized climate change denial.
The chamber can open up its books. It can be transparent about where its funding comes from, and what it does with the money. It can make public internal emails, planning and strategy documents. It can acknowledge that it was money, not facts, evidence or even conservative ideology drove many past efforts to stymie climate action, be it in campaign ads, court filings, or fake reports.
The tobacco industry was forced to turn over thousands of documents after courts ruled against its decades-long denial campaigns. If the chamber is really honest about embracing action and abandoning denial, why wouldn’t it go ahead expose how it pursued that old agenda?
The organization can prove it’s no longer a bad actors by exposing its past, educating the public on how public influence campaigns operate, and why. Only when it has undone the damage it has already caused, and worked to prevent others from carrying out similar propaganda campaigns, should anyone believe that it’s changed and is now working in good faith towards climate action.
After all, how can you be forgiven if you don’t confess?
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