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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Fomenting discord on the right about climate: winning strategy for progressives

Welcome to SWOT Sunday!


Today we’re going to respond to leading strategist Ilyse Hogue’s recent comment (certainly accurate) that “we are uniquely bad at exploiting the right’s internal differences.”  Splitting your opponents from each other by exploiting such differences can be a winning strategy.  It’s certainly been used against progressives and the left. 


Using this strategy effectively could help us move from lobbying powerful people, to holding government power ourselves (to paraphrase the Grassroots Power Project).


We’ll look into some current schisms within the business sector around approaches to climate change, and throw out some ideas about how exploiting them could help the left win power in communities and elections. 


I don’t mean to imply that all businesses or business leaders are right wing.  They are not.  The “common sense,” though, is that business as a whole supports the GOP and their ideas, and that progressives and their ideas are anti-business.  Highlighting these schisms could help sow doubt in this community that the GOP represents their interests, and leave them more open to supporting Democrats or progressives.


As we do this, we should (as they say in sales) “ask for the order.”  That is, ask for their support for our organizations and candidates, the ones who will take the actions we actually need.  People need to move from complaining about the GOP and un-representative business groups to replacing them.


When Ilyse said, “we are uniquely bad,” it made me think, “Who is ‘we’”?   Whose job is it to get going on exploiting those differences?" I think all of us who believe in strategy need to do what we can to push this idea and help flesh out for others how it could work for them.



The Chamber of Commerce vs.  Businesses for Climate Action


Major companies that support climate action are increasingly moving to quit or limit their donations to trade associations that are “misaligned” with them (that is, trade associations that lobby against climate action laws or regulations).  

A recent story in E&E News headlined “Climate strife divides US Chamber of Commerce. Will departures follow?”  described the situation.

The Chamber doesn’t disclose its full list of members, but claims to collect dues from approximately 300,000 companies. It spent $69.6 million on federal lobbying last year, more than any other group.  It has actively lobbied against climate actions, like the Inflation Reduction Act, that some key members support.  Here’s a nice story in Mother Jones giving some background on the Chamber and its opposition (graphic from Mother Jones).

“The Chamber is out of step with where a number of particularly large companies are” on climate change, said Tracey Rembert, an associate director at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a sustainable investment advocacy group.  Rembert noted that “It seems to take a lot for a company to actually leave a trade association,” and that a more productive ask might be to “restrict contributions to groups like the Chamber to programs that a company actively supports.”   Walmart has already done that.  Many fossil fuel companies have already left some smaller industry trade associations over these issues.


Four major companies who oppose the Chamber’s climate positions are on its board:  Meta, Microsoft, Pfizer, and Shell.  Shell and Ford Motor, another climate action supporter, also have representatives on the Chamber’s influential 14-person executive committee.


Rembert said a top priority for sustainable investment advocates is to get other companies to scale back their involvement in the Chamber and be more specific about what it would take for them “to make the decision to leave.”  


What could activists do?


Ford drivers, Facebook/Instagram and Microsoft users could pressure the companies to use their board positions for good.  Targeting such industry groups can work – see what’s happened at the NRA!  Limiting what lobbyists can do would be a real public service on Capitol Hill.


Activists, elected officials and candidates could target Chamber members in their communities and ask them to quit the Chamber or donate only for programs they support. From what I understand, the Chamber cares about representing big business much more than the many small and mid-sized businesses who also belong. This is a tension that could also be exploited.


What business sectors would oppose the Chamber on their anti-climate-action position?


I’ll mention just a couple – there are more.


Businesses that depend on cold weather have been devastated by warm winters, as the Wall Street Journal has documented


Perhaps the most obvious business victim of climate change is the insurance industry.  As a recent story in Inside Climate News reported, “as insurers cancel policies in regions threatened by sea level rise and wildfires, activists around the world rallied for a week of actions pressuring the insurance companies to drop oil, gas and coal projects driving climate disasters,” led by a group called Insure Our Future.  They held actions in 31 countries. 


This is a laudable action, with the goal of stopping oil, gas and coal projects by making them much more financially risky for their owners, if insurance is not available (though large companies could self-insure).  Insure our Future is very concerned with the effects on people living near these projects, another great reason to get them shut down.


There are doubtless millions more people just in the US, whose home and car insurance have seen increased rates, limits on coverage or cancellation due to climate issues, who haven’t yet been reached by this campaign.  31 states have allowed these companies to raise their rates, so there is a battle to be had there. 


How it’s in companies’ self interest to fight climate change


The angle we are talking about here, though, is that this is basic self-interest for insurance companies.  They are being seriously hurt by the costs of insuring climate disasters, no matter how many policies they cancel or fossil fuel projects they don’t insure.

Insurance companies may not engender a lot of sympathy from the public, especially in this time of so many people losing insurance and facing disaster without help. But climate change is a direct cause of their troubles, and that makes them a natural opponent of climate deniers and those who vote against action.

As Inside Climate News notes, “global climate-related economic losses surpassed $300 billion in 2023, according to a natural catastrophe report from international reinsurance company Gallagher Re, and 2023 was the sixth year since 2017 with more than $100 billion in annual insured losses.”   


Major law firm Skadden, Arps notes in a report on the issue that “the insurance industry can no longer rely on past data in underwriting and pricing policies, and it is evident that no company can shy away from the impact that risks associated with climate change will have on its business practices. How insurers respond remains an open question.”

How the insurance business could challenge polluters

Insurance is becoming a less accessible way to help people to rebuild their lives after a disaster, and that creates a host of problems for people, government and society at large, no doubt. But if we're talking about, as we are, splitting the right so we can gain more relative power, this industry is a target.


While most of Insure Our Future’s focus is on the matter of stopping insurance for fossil fuel projects, Peter Bosshard, Global Coordinator of Insure Our Future, did comment that if insurance companies took climate change seriously, “They would be suing fossil fuel companies, to make polluters pay for the growing costs of climate disasters and keep insurance affordable for climate-affected communities.”


Insurance companies should consider cutting off fossil fuel projects or even suing fossil fuel companies.  They should be actively supporting action on climate change and the parties and candidates on that side. They should be putting pressure on other business interests who don’t support action.  All in their own interest.


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