By Sarah Sax
At the end of February, thousands of cleaning workers in Minneapolis marched in what's believed to have been the first union-authorized climate strike in the United States. The protesters, many of them immigrants and people of color who have seen their communities harmed by everything from air pollution to drought, wanted their employers to take action on climate change.
Corporations Speaking Out<p>Advocates like Levine and Weihl argue that in the absence of U.S. leadership on the federal level, companies need to step to the front on climate change.</p><p>In 2015, nations agreed to limit temperature rise this century to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) under the Paris climate accord. Since then, the number of Fortune 500 companies pledging to reduce their carbon emissions has quadrupled, according to <a href="https://www.naturalcapitalpartners.com/news-resources/article/deeds-not-words-new-research-reveals-the-climate-action-of-fortune-500-glob" target="_blank">a 2019 report</a> from the consultancy firm Natural Capital Partners ― with employee demands identified as a key driver behind much of this corporate action.</p><p>Microsoft and Google parent company Alphabet, for instance, recently<a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/microsoft-raises-stakes-in-corporate-climate-pledge-race-11579195800?mod=article_inline" target="_blank"> made climate pledges</a> in part prompted by employees demanding more action.</p>
Engaging With Employees<p>Perhaps no company's employee activism has been more in the spotlight recently than Amazon's.</p><p>Last September, along with several other corporations, Amazon made its "<a href="https://press.aboutamazon.com/news-releases/news-release-details/amazon-co-founds-climate-pledge-setting-goal-meet-paris" target="_blank">climate pledge</a>," committing to net zero carbon by 2040 and 100% renewable energy by 2030, ahead of a massive planned <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/amazon-climate-pledge-employee-walkout/" target="_blank">employee walkout</a>. Then in February, the online giant <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/jeff-bezos-climate-change-richest-man-in-the-world_n_5e4af0aac5b65f25da4daace" target="_blank">announced a $10 billion fund</a> to fight climate change.</p><p>While <a href="https://medium.com/@amazonemployeesclimatejustice/amazon-employees-share-our-views-on-company-business-f5abcdea849" target="_blank">broadly supportive </a>of CEO Jeff Bezos' pledge and the climate fund, employees continue to push Amazon to embrace climate action across its entire business, protesting its role in providing oil companies with the technology to <a href="https://t.co/D5YKfDnOR2?amp=1" target="_blank">find drillable oil faster</a> and in <a href="https://twitter.com/AMZNforClimate/status/1229504923194183680" target="_blank">funding climate change denial groups</a>. The relationship between Amazon and its employees remains contentious, as criticism rises over its response to both climate change and working conditions during the pandemic.</p><p>In April, the company <a href="https://grist.org/justice/amazon-fires-employees-who-spoke-out-about-coronavirus-and-climate-change/" target="_blank">reportedly fired</a> two employees who had been outspoken about climate change. During a virtual webcast organized by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice on April 16 ― which the company <a href="https://medium.com/@amazonemployeesclimatejustice/amazon-sick-out-3d61b5a7ebfa" target="_blank">reportedly tried to thwart </a>― the two urged their former co-workers to stage a virtual walkout to protest their firings and the treatment of warehouse workers amid the COVID-19 crisis.</p><p>Some companies have been proactive in accommodating their employees ― such as <a href="https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/9/20/20876098/brands-global-climate-strike-closing" target="_blank">Patagonia and Ben & Jerry's</a>, which closed their shops for the Global Climate Strike last September ― but Amazon has done the opposite. It recently <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/27/amazon-workers-climate-protest" target="_blank">introduced a policy</a> barring employees from publicly criticizing the company without prior approval. </p><p>When asked about the rise in employee activism and the firing of the two workers, an Amazon spokesperson told HuffPost that "we support every employee's right to criticize their employer's working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.</p><p>"The price of ignoring or dismissing employee activism could be huge. According to a survey by law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, employee activism could cost organizations up to <a href="https://www.herbertsmithfreehills.com/latest-thinking/the-new-world-of-work-report-warns-of-an-unprecedented-rise-in-workplace-activism-v2" target="_blank">25% of their global revenue</a> each year due to the disruptive nature of strikes and reputational damage leading to lost business.</p><p>"Today the purpose of a company has to align with climate change and employees are calling really strongly for that," said Farid Baddache, the CEO and co-founder of the sustainability consulting and impact investing firm <a href="https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=ksapa" target="_blank">Ksapa</a>.</p>
The Future Workforce<p>Figuring out how to navigate a world in which employees expect businesses to operate with a purpose beyond the bottom line may not be easy for companies, but it is critical because this new wave of activism is connected to the shifting demographics of the workforce.</p><p>Millennials now make up <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/" target="_blank">over a third</a> of the U.S. workforce, constituting the largest share of any generation. They are more likely than older generations to be employee activists, according to one <a href="https://www.webershandwick.com/news/employee-activism-age-of-purpose/" target="_blank">survey by Weber Shandwick</a>. And according to <a href="https://can01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fblog.linkedin.com%2F2018%2Fjune%2F26%2Fworkplace-culture-trends-the-key-to-hiring-and-keeping-top-talent&data=02%7C01%7COQuadri%40globeandmail.com%7C9101bc35bcb54d3ecc1c08d73d36827b%7C44376110425e46ab942e26c9518bfd03%7C1%7C0%7C637045176640937982&sdata=dG6zumFzWGrTSL6eJQpeZhVyoytwKb7Rn25nBmCGMcI%3D&reserved=0" target="_blank">LinkedIn's 2018 Workplace Report</a>, 86% of millennials would consider taking a pay cut to work for companies whose values aligned with their own.</p><p>For Jake Elliott, 34, who specifically chose to work for Vermont solar power company SunCommon because the firm shared his values, climate change is "the number one most important thing."</p><p>"When you look at global carbon emissions, the majority of carbon emissions are <a href="https://www.cdp.net/en/articles/media/new-report-shows-just-100-companies-are-source-of-over-70-of-emissions" target="_blank">coming from businesses</a>, so it is an obligation and requirement of business to address the climate crisis," he told HuffPost.</p><p>Younger generations "don't want to commit to work for a company that is contributing to climate change," said Baddache, "or if they believe that the company is part of the problem rather than the solution."</p><p>Corporate America is increasingly aware of this. "The talent Adobe wishes to recruit and retain expects us to set meaningful climate goals and work to meet them," Vince Digneo, sustainability strategist at Adobe has <a href="http://media.virbcdn.com/files/5c/aa8193f038934840-Dec2019RE100ProgressandInsightsAnnualReport.pdf" target="_blank">said previously</a>. "Our employees want to see us take good action but not just among a flurry of other companies doing the same thing ― it has to have a meaningful impact."</p><p>This sentiment is true not just among current employees but also future ones. A group of <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/climatechange-lawyer-protests/yale-harvard-law-students-boycott-paul-weiss-over-exxon-ties-idUSL1N2A71XR" target="_blank">law students at Yale and Harvard</a>, for example, are boycotting internships with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison because it represents Exxon Mobil. They're <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/climatechange-lawyer-protests/yale-harvard-law-students-boycott-paul-weiss-over-exxon-ties-idUSL1N2A71XR" target="_blank">accusing the law firm</a> of enabling the destructive impact of the world's largest oil company in the climate crisis. </p><p>"Companies need to hire people and they need to retain people," Weihl said. This will all become more difficult "if they are on the wrong side of an issue that many of their employees see as an existential threat to their future."</p>
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The European commission's effort to transition the 27-country economic bloc from a high-carbon to a low-carbon emitter in a few decades received input from the fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil in the weeks prior to its passage, according to a watchdog that monitors lobbying activity, as The Guardian reported.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
An international group of scientists released a report today detailing how the fossil fuel industry actively campaigned to sow doubt about the climate crisis and what steps need to be taken to undo the damage, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
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By Dana Drugmand
Fossil fuel interests appear intent on swaying public opinion about the electric vehicle tax credit, based on recent polling on the policy. A deeper look at these efforts reveals oil and gas funding behind the groups conducting the polls and blatant bias in the polling methodology, according to experts.
Mike McKenna of MWR Strategies / CleanSkiesNews / YouTube screenshot
Excerpt of misleading questions from the MWR poll about consumer attitudes toward the electric car tax credit.
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By Nick Cunningham
A growing number of refineries around the world are either curtailing operations or shutting down entirely as the oil market collapses.
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By Andy Rowell
Five years ago, the leading climate denial organization in the UK, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), published a pamphlet entitled: Carbon Dioxide, the good news.
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A Danish pension fund has said it would sell its stake in major oil companies as their business models are incompatible with the goals set out in the Paris climate agreement.
British-based oil and gas giant BP set the most ambitious climate goal of any company in its industry yesterday when it announced that it will eliminate or offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to The New York Times. Its ambitious plans included offsetting the burning of oil and gas it takes out of the ground.
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By Andy Rowell
Earlier this month, we collectively walked into the unknown.
We are all now a living experiment. Never before in human history have carbon dioxide levels reached 415 parts per million.
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Two years after internal documents surfaced showing that Royal Dutch Shell, like ExxonMobil, knew about climate dangers decades ago, the oil giant released its latest annual report outlining its business strategy and approach to addressing climate change. Despite clear warnings from scientists, global health experts and even central banks of impending climate-driven crises, Shell's report largely sends a message that everything is fine and the company's "business strategy is sound."
Shell’s Strategy<p>According to the report, there are three parts to Shell's overall strategy going forward: to thrive in the energy transition, to provide a world-class investment case, and to sustain a strong societal license to operate. That may sound good on paper, but in reality significant challenges are mounting for each of these pillars.</p><p>In terms of the energy transition, Shell appears to be paying lip service to it more than actually revamping its portfolio or overhauling its business model. Its core business remains oil and gas. Period.</p><p>The company may be ahead of some other oil giants like Exxon and Chevron in terms of adding alternative energies to its energy mix, but overall its commitment to clean energy is minimal.</p><p>Shell notes in its report that it spends "$1-2 billion a year until 2020 in different services and products from a range of cleaner sources," and "investments in power could grow to $2-3 billion a year on average" from 2021 to 2025. The vast majority of the company's capital expenditure ($24bn to $29bn in 2020) goes into oil and gas, and failure to replace proved reserves could have a "material adverse effect." Instead of aligning with the energy transition, Shell's business model is based on continual hydrocarbon exploitation.</p>
Shell Claims to Support Paris Agreement, Plans for Gradual Energy Transition<p>In its report, Shell says it fully supports the Paris agreement goal to limit warming well below 2 degrees C, and supports "the vision of a transition towards a net-zero emissions energy system." But, in <a href="https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/news-and-insights/press-releases/bernard-looney-announces-new-ambition-for-bp.html" target="_blank">contrast to fellow European oil major BP</a>, Shell is not committing its own business to net zero emissions.</p><p>Shell says it has "no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years." Instead, Shell's Net Carbon Footprint "ambition" is to reduce emissions (including its customers' and suppliers' emissions) of its energy production and products by 20 percent by 2035 and by 50 percent by 2050. This is not aligned with climate science guidelines that say complete decarbonization or "net zero" is necessary by 2050 at the latest.</p><p>Shell's own business is therefore not aligned with the goal of the Paris agreement, and the company is <a href="https://www.climateliabilitynews.org/2019/04/05/shell-sued-in-the-netherlands-for-insufficient-action-on-climate-change/" target="_blank">facing a lawsuit</a> over this in its home country of the Netherlands. Current emissions reduction plans or "Nationally Determined Contributions" (NDCs) submitted by countries under the Paris agreement are also inadequate. As Shell notes in its report, current NDCs amount to about 3 degrees C of warming. "In coming decades, we expect countries to tighten these NDCs to meet the goals of the Paris agreement," the report states. Shell's view appears to be that the world has decades to get its act together.</p><p>In that view, Shell says it is fully on board with the energy transition and plans to transform its own business "over time." The report includes statements like "Shell aims to become an integrated power player and grow, over time, a material new business", and, "for us, protecting the environment also means working to transform our product mix over time, for example, by expanding the choice of lower-carbon products we offer customers."</p>
Climate Litigation Risk<p>Shell, like other fossil fuel companies, has long been concerned about governments imposing climate policies or regulations that would affect its business. Shell and its industry peers are already facing climate lawsuits, and Shell is explicitly identifying climate litigation as part of a broader risk factor associated with "rising climate change concern."</p><p>In its report, Shell acknowledged the lawsuits could negatively impact its financial condition: "In some countries, governments, regulators, organisations and individuals have filed lawsuits seeking to hold fossil fuel companies liable for costs associated with climate change. While we believe these lawsuits to be without merit, losing any of these lawsuits could have a material adverse effect on our earnings, cash flows and financial condition."</p><p>Shell actually foresaw climate-related lawsuits as a possibility more than 20 years ago. One of the internal documents that a Dutch news organization first uncovered (and published on the site Climate Files) is a <a href="http://www.climatefiles.com/shell/1998-shell-internal-tina-group-scenarios-1998-2020-report/" target="_blank">1998 document of Shell planning scenarios</a> where the company hypothetically envisions a series of violent storms battering the eastern U.S., which then spur environmental <span style="background-color: initial;">NGO</span>s to bring "a class-action suit against the <span style="background-color: initial;">US</span> government and fossil-fuel companies on the grounds of neglecting what scientists (including their own) have been saying for years: that something must be done."</p>
Shell Knew<p>One statement from Shell's annual report rings particularly true: "Shell has long recognised that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the use of fossil fuels are contributing to the warming of the climate system." </p><p>Indeed, Shell has <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/04/04/here-what-shellknew-about-climate-change-way-back-1980s" target="_blank">long known</a> that fossil fuels are warming the planet and that the consequences would be of a huge magnitude.</p><p>One internal Shell document from 1988 called "The Greenhouse Effect" warned that GHG emissions would lead to warming over the next century, likely ranging from 1.5 C to 3.5 C. According to that document, "The changes may be the greatest in recorded history." Some parts of the planet may become uninhabitable, and there may be "significant changes in sea level, ocean currents, precipitation patterns, regional temperature and weather," it says. Impacts could be severe and "could have major social, economic, and political consequences."</p><p>What did Shell do with that knowledge? It started introducing doubt and giving weight to a 'significant minority' of 'alternative viewpoints' as the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/05/17/shell-knew-charting-thirty-years-corporate-climate-denialism" target="_blank">full implications for the company's business model</a> became clear.</p><p>Shell was a member of the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/global-climate-coalition" target="_blank">Global Climate Coalition</a>, a fossil fuel industry-funded group that worked to undermine climate science and block climate policy internationally. The group formed in 1988 and Shell was a member throughout much of the 1990s.</p><p>During that time Shell was <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/08/20/exclusive-company-docs-show-shell-secretly-studied-climate-risks-10-years-warning-investors" target="_blank">not exactly upfront with its own shareholders</a> about potential risks climate change posed to its business. The first time Shell even mentioned climate change was in a 1991 annual report. But it wasn't until 2004 that Shell made a clear warning in its annual report about financial risk associated with fossil fuel investment.</p><p>Critics have for many years accused Shell's <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/04/11/how-shell-greenwashed-its-image-internal-documents-warned-fossil-fuels-contribution-climate-change" target="_blank">of greenwashing</a> — acknowledging the climate threat and touting its "commitment" to being part of the solution, despite continuing to spend heavily on oil and gas with only minimal investment in alternative energy. Shell's latest annual report suggests the company isn't deviating far from that strategy.<span></span></p>
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In February 2018, a blowout at a fracked natural gas well in Belmont County, Ohio forced around 100 nearby residents to flee their homes, as The New York Times reported. Now, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday has revealed that the local incident had major implications for the global climate crisis.