There is now no doubt that the dark money disinformation machine has turned its full focus to Environmental and Social Governance standards, the wonky way to say that if companies are to be people, then they shouldn’t be the absolute worst kind of person. (Volatile, racist, polluting bigots.)
The idea that the finance industry considers companies that treat workers decently and don’t pollute the environment to be less risky, and more worthy of investment, than companies one oil spill or damning labor exposé away from ruin, is of course very controversial to a very small set of people. Specifically, those who work for the industries polluting the environment and exploiting workers. And they’ve been quite busy!
While there’ve long been kooky conspiratorial takes about ESG, there’s now clearly a unified agenda across the climate disinformation landscape. In May of 2021, tobacco, Exxon, and Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute laid out their ESG theory, which has served as a foundation for the movement, and in October fracker-backed PragerU published a “woke to broke” video. But more recently, similar talking point regurgitations have run at disinfo outlets like the Daily Signal, Daily Caller, WUWT, WashingtonExaminer, Newsbusters, with plenty at the WSJ.
Since the last time we referenced the tobacco-defending Heartland Institute’s efforts in January, they’ve helpfully compiled all their dirty anti-ESG dealings in one place, including a string of op-eds in the dredges of the disinfosphere. Oddly, the one place Heartland doesn’t seem to be showing up is the Koch-hub of RealClear, which is already well-stocked in anti-ESG propaganda, courtesy of Rupert Darwall, a senior fellow there funded to work on ESG specifically, regularly publishing “woke investors” propaganda no other outlet wants. Texas passed a loophole-laden law about it, but turns out the company it hired to figure out who to boycott for caring about the climate is one of the firms that cares about the climate, so it may have to boycott the company it hired to determine who they need to boycott.
House Republicans recently sent a letter to the SEC asking for rulemaking deliberation materials on its climate disclosure rule, while tea party front FreedomWorks put out a call to its astoturfers to submit comments to the SEC to oppose a disclosure proposal, because even calculating climate risk is too much for deniers who know that if companies have to disclose climate risk, they’ll work to reduce it.
This week, as the climate-denying WSJ reported, rightwing ghoul Peter Thiel has backed an anti-woke investment firm to try and bully companies into not being good corporate citizens/safe investment opportunities. (Unrelated, but we also came across this: Thiel once said “even if you appointed a whole series of conservative Supreme Court justices, I’m not sure that Rove v. Wade would get overturned, ever. I don’t know if people even care about the Supreme Court.” Clearly a man with a solid grip on reality!)
Finally, the big dog! Perfectly on script, like the good little Koch boy he is, on Tuesday former Vice President Mike Pence said at an event in Houston that Biden et al. are “weaponizing the financial system” with “capricious new ESG regulations that allow left-wing radicals to destroy American energy producers from within.”
For someone who was nearly hung by a violent mob of his own political party's supporters, you’d think Pence would be a little more concerned about the threat of right-wing radicals. After all, had he followed one particular rightwing radical’s orders to get into the Secret Service car on January 6th, who knows where Pence would be now! Almost certainly not giving speeches in Houston!
Seriously though, what this anti-woke push makes crystal clear is the heart of the Southern strategy, and the soul of the religious right’s deal with the Koch-y devils. Polluters and exploitative industries had money, but not political power or appeal. No one wants to vote for the “pollute your neighborhood” platform.
But if they pieced together a political party out of the religious extremists who want to reinvigorate the patriarchy, be racist and later weaponize abortion, and use anti-immigrant economic jargon to recruit the rural voters who white supremacy has granted outsized power in American democracy, they could wield power to overwhelm the multicultural, multiracial majority of Americans who want abortion access and climate safety and healthcare as human rights instead of privileges for the powerful.
Decades later, we have a religious zealot former VP warning the oil industry that financial regulators and investors are “left-wing radicals” as a popular-vote-loser-appointed Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe, and preemptively overturn the possibility of any strong federal climate policy in the near term, because a coal millionaire has the 50th vote in the Senate, and the industry has at least 49 others by way of campaign donations. (Koch groups disclosed spending at least $220 million on the 2020 election and “believe we have an even greater opportunity to engage in 2022.”)
Oh and on Monday, CEI is doing a webinar asking if the federal government even has the authority to do ESG stuff, in case you were wondering if they were engaging on the merits, or trying to throw sand into the gears and sabotage the process.
If you make it through their registration process, let us know how it goes?