Canceling election deniers isn’t enough

America's deadly misinformation problem is because of climate deniers, too.

Americans are living in separate realities with separate facts — and that includes facts about climate change. Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

This piece originally appeared on MSNBC, and is republished in HEATED with permission.

Last month, I co-published an article with the newsletter Popular Information exposing six corporations that “talk green but spend dirty.” Like so many articles we’ve written before, the piece showed how corporate America markets itself as a friend to the climate while directly funding climate deniers.

Our reporting didn’t change anything. The one company that responded — Microsoft — defended its donations. “Given the breadth of our policy agenda, it’s unlikely we’ll agree on every issue,” a spokesperson company said in a statement, “but we’ve learned that engagement — even when individuals hold different positions — is an essential part of achieving progress.”

Microsoft, in other words, told us they had no choice but to fund people who spread dangerous misinformation for political gain. So imagine my surprise when, last week, Microsoft joined the chorus of corporations pledging to suspend political donations because of the violent insurrection that overran the U.S. Capitol — an insurrection sparked by politicians who spread deadly misinformation for political gain.

It seems corporations do have a choice, after all.

It’s fantastic that corporate America is finally starting to reckon with its role in spreading deadly, democracy-endangering misinformation. Since the violent riots on Jan. 6, at least 23 major companies now say they will no longer donate to lawmakers who voted against certifying the results of the election. To them, denying the results of a free and fair election has become politically unacceptable.

But denying a scientifically proven crisis that’s killing millions of people, particularly Black and brown ones, is still politically fine. Exactly zero of the companies that have pledged to cut off politicians who spread misinformation about the election have also pledged to cut off politicians who spread misinformation about the climate crisis, which has already killed far more people, and stands to kill far more.

Comcast stands against election disinformation — but not climate disinformation

Take Comcast, for example. When the telecommunications giant announced a freeze on donations to election deniers, it called the riots they inspired "appalling." But Comcast donated to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who was re-elected to his fifth term in November and whose decadeslong crusade against climate science has inspired Trump’s climate-destructive policies more than any other sitting lawmaker. In 2020, the company gave $10,000 to keep Inhofe in power.

Comcast’s corporate PAC also donated a combined $15,000 to the unsuccessful Senate campaigns of Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia. Both were supporters of the energy industry and Trump. Perdue rejected climate science. And their victories would have kept the Senate under control of Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the godfather of climate misinformation. (Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, also gave $7,500 to re-elect McConnell this cycle).

Climate disinformation is dangerous and deadly, too

Corporations are pausing contributions to election deniers because they don't want to be seen as contributing to misinformation and violence. Well, guess what: They are contributing to misinformation and violence when they bankroll climate deniers. And I'm not just talking about violence to the planet and ecosystems. I'm talking about right-wing political violence, armed anti-government insurrections and white nationalism.

These things have always been connected. Scientists have shown us that the more the climate warms, the more conditions become ripe for prejudice. “As climate change increases the level of environmental threat, cultures around the world may become tighter, and the exclusionary rhetoric of far-right nationalist politicians may sound more and more appealing,” scientists wrote in the journal PLOS One last year.

Many of the same lawmakers who deny climate change are the same lawmakers who voted to overturn the election results. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says climate change is a “religion,” not a science. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., says God controls the climate. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., says he’s “not sure that there is even climate change.” The list goes on and on.

America’s misinformation crisis won’t die until climate denial does

The corporations now pausing donations to riot supporters all know all the facts about climate change. That's why they spend tens of million to hundreds of millions a year on marketing campaigns to convince the public how much they abhor climate change — because it's killing people and promoting bias. They can't be seen as supporting that, or they'll lose customers.

Corporate America may not consider climate misinformation as big a threat as election misinformation when it comes to their profits. But both represent the same threat to democracy. The violent political chaos we’re living through today exists because Americans are living in separate realities with separate facts. That didn’t happen by accident; it happened because 30 years ago, Republicans started lying about climate change, and Corporate America rewarded them with power.

Election denial might be the most abhorrent political misinformation of the moment. But climate denial is the original and everlasting sin. It showed Republicans that lying was not only inconsequential, but beneficial. If lawmakers continue to be rewarded for lying about something as important as planetary collapse, it’s only a matter of time before the next riot-inspiring misinformation campaign begins. The beast will not die until its head is cut off.

Climate reading for MLK Jr. Day:

  • What the environmental justice movement owes Martin Luther King Jr. (2019)

    • Paola Rosa-Aquino writes for Grist: “Dr. King’s actions not only led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; his work paved the way for environmental legislation such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. He recognized that many of the struggles of his time—including racial inequity, poverty, politics, health, and human rights—were inexorably linked.”

  • Dr. King said segregation harms us all. Environmental research shows he was right. (2018)

    • Kendra Pierre-Louis writes for New York Times: “Dr. King preached that segregation was harmful not only to black Americans but also to the nation as a whole. He died before the modern environmental movement, but a growing body of research around pollution and health shows that his belief about segregation hurting everyone extends to the environment as well. Many American cities that are more racially divided have higher levels of pollution than less segregated cities. As a result, both whites and minorities who live in less integrated communities are exposed to higher levels of pollution than those who live in more integrated areas.”

Catch of the Day:

Fish demonstrates the aftermath of beast decapitation.

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED! If you’d like to share this piece as a web page, click the button below.


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