What’s Good for Climate is Good for General Motors (and other things)
May 2, 2013
In 1989 as the most credible warnings ever published about climate change became global news, and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions began to be seriously discussed, General Motors was one of several large, mostly American companies to join something called the Global Climate Coalition - basically one of the world’s first large scale platforms for climate science denial.
The Global Climate Coalition (1989–2002) was a group of mainly United States businesses opposing immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The group formed in response to several reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). A major scientific report on the severity of global warming by the IPCC in 2001 led to large-scale membership loss. Since 2002 the GCC has been defunct, or in its own words, “deactivated”.
For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.
“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.
But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.
“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.
The group distributed the disinforming backgrounder until the late 90s, when new versions of the document “included language that conformed to the scientific advisory committee’s conclusion.”
By that time the group was in dissarray, and losing some of its most important members, including GM. Wiki says,
“From 1997 a number of prominent members left. Partly in response to a public relation move to acknowledge global warming and attempt to reduce their carbon emissions (see Business action on climate change). Dupont and British Petroleum left in 1997, Shell Oil (US) in 1998, Ford in 1999, and DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, and Texaco in 2000.
How times change.
General Motors officially acknowledged today that implementing policies to prevent climate change is “good business.”
GM became the first automaker to sign the “Climate Declaration” pledge, which is promoted by nonprofit Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition.
The decision to sign the pledge comes as GM has been pressuring the U.S. government to establish a national energy policy focused on promoting energy security with a diverse range of sources, including natural gas and renewables. The automaker sends no waste to landfills from 105 of plants, and is trying to boost that figure.
GM CEO Dan Akerson told the Fortune Green conference on Tuesday that “sustainability is woven into our global strategies.”
“It’s not a regional strategy; it’s a global strategy for us,” Akerson said, adding that it’s “pretty hard not to be convinced that something is going on in the world” with the climate.
The company said it currently has two of the world’s five largest solar panel fields on its properties.
GM, which makes the plug-in Chevy Volt, was the first of the big three car makers to sign on to a new push from the business world for greater action on global warming from Washington, the Climate Declaration.
“We want to be a change agent in the auto industry,” Mike Robinson, GM vice-president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs, said in a statement.
The declaration, now endorsed by 40 companies, was launched in Washington last month with the aim of capitalising on public concern about climate change after Hurricane Sandy and Obama’s re-election in the hope of pushing a climate law through Congress.
The short statement, endorsed by GM, leads off: “Tacking climate change is America’s greatest economic opportunity of the 21st century (and it’s simply the right thing to do).”
It does not prescribe specific solutions beyond a “co-ordinated effort”, but said that promoting clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help America remain a superpower.