Why does climate inaction persist?
California Governor Jerry Brown offered his take the other day. He was speaking at Ames Research Center to support a consensus statement from 500 scientists on the urgency of avoiding climate disruption. The news media is trivial, he said. It’s more interested in Super Bowl L three years from now than climate change.
That’s certainly true. But Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) put his finger on it: money. Check out the story on Climate Progress.
A big reason that money trumps climate action is the construct of the corporation. It’s a legal “person.” This “person” by law and regulation exists for one primary purpose, and that’s to make money. Every other behavior is secondary. The Corporation shows how this “person” is expressly designed to be a monomaniacal sociopath. Highly recommended, book or movie.
If a corporation fails to try to make money, it’s in breach of its fiduciary responsibility and subject to lawsuit. So corporate employees are hamstrung. They have to try to enrich the shareholders or, ultimately, lose their livelihood.
Sometimes the corporate agenda does align with the social agenda. It’s good business to have a diverse workforce. A bit of corporate philanthropy can help the bottom line. But reducing your output of coal or oil when you’re a coal or oil company? That’s counter to your primary mission and a breach of shareholder trust.
Corporations: Above, Around, and Inside the Law
Corporations have gotten so big and international, that they’re states unto themselves. Sometimes (more rarely as the years go by) they’re compelled to answer to the rule of law, but they work very hard to influence those laws and their enforcement as the too-big-to-fail banks did with Dodd-Frank after the 2008 credit crisis. Or, they circumvent them by relocating to more lax jurisdictions. They resist legal consequences by hiring lawyers and tax experts and supporting friendly candidates. The latest example is Apple. It’s stashed 100 billion US dollars in foreign banks expressly to avoid US taxes. And US tax law, passed by Congress and signed by the President, is set up for them to do exactly what they’re doing, Senator John McCain’s outrage notwithstanding.
We crossed a tipping point some time ago. The beneficence corporations bestow, on-demand electricity, mobility, entertainment–in short, our way of life–has co-opted us all. You, me, John McCain, everybody. No one wants to give up cheap lights, cheap food, cheap gas, or free tv. So corporations use the media to persuade us that everything is good just the way it is, and to scare us about any challenges to the status quo; the only thing that could be better, according to them, is to make things more the way they are. So they sell more, and we buy more. The more we buy, the more money they have to leverage our own desires against us to buy more.
Yes, it’s our old friend, the positive feedback loop.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is the capstone in the corporations’ quest to control the system that created them. Government originally devised corporations for the public good; now corporations manipulate the government for their own good. With Citizens United, they can say almost anything they want, as often as they want, in whatever forum they want, and crowd out other messages they find discomfiting.
That doesn’t sound like democracy to me. That’s standing democracy on its head. That’s not free speech. It’s denial of speech.
Corporations have become the obvious vehicle for personal power, more so than politics. People devote themselves to these entities; the venal and corrupt find them an extremely convenient mechanism to amass personal wealth. Some people go into politics not for public service, but to plant seeds of influence they can later cultivate as corporate employees. Another feedback loop. These people can be the least socially conscious and the most financially driven among us—monomaniacs and sociopaths in their own right.
Unless corporate power is reduced, nothing can change as fast and as much as it must to avoid the unfolding climate catastrophe. Reducing corporate power is a revolutionary notion. Revolutions are scary, and corporations will reinforce that at every opportunity. Check out Public Citizen. If you sign up, be warned that they’re very aggressive emailers. But then again, they’re at a tremendous disadvantage to the moneyed corporations.
Every being wants to live and grow; corporate “persons” are no different. But corporations are not people, and money is not speech. Corporation personhood is a fiction created by legal fiat, and can be undone the same way. Otherwise, democracy is undone, followed quickly by the climate.