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PG&E Break Signals Climate Change Shift

PG&E's Break with U.S. Chamber over Climate Change Presages Major Reframing of the Climate Narrative

by David Brodwin
(cross-posted on Daily Kos on 9/22/09)

Utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric has quit the US Chamber of Commerce, decrying the Chamber's opposition to efforts that would protect the climate. This marks the beginning of a major shift in the way climate change will be portrayed in the media.

Today's announcement marked a major increase in business resistance to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
SAN FRANCISCO -(Dow Jones)- PG&E Corp. (PCG) said Tuesday it is leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over objections to what its top executive called the chamber's "extreme position on climate change."

In a letter to the U.S. Chamber published on PG&E's blog, www.next100.com, PG& E Chairman and Chief Executive Peter Darbee wrote that company employees "find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored."

(Source: DJ Newswires, via CNN)

Resistance within the business community had been brewing since the U.S. Chamber stepped up its efforts to oppose climate change legislation and obstruct the EPA.  More than 20,000 small business owners have weighed in with their local chambers to oppose the position of the U.S. Chamber (The various chambers are autonomous bodies and sometimes take opposing policy positions.)

This is more than a spat within the business world and will have major effects on the public framing of climate change.  The reason it's so important is that mainstream media almost universally accept the conservative frame that climate change is matter of "jobs vs. polar bears" or something similar.  This frame implies that we can't take climate change seriously because it costs too much to do anything about it, particularly in a recession.  Much of the coverage plays off a spokesperson who claims to represent business -- often from U.S. Chamber -- counterposed against another spokesperson, often representing an environmental group.

This crucial announcement from PG&E is the beginning of a massive reframing, away from jobs vs. polar bears, and focusing on the growing divide within the business community: innovative and forward-looking companies that "get it" vs. old line extraction companies that cling to the past.

Many business groups understand and support the need for climate protection.  Some of the important ones are: Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, Green America, Social Venture Networks and others, Business Forward, Small Business Majority, American Sustainable Business Council, Progressive Business Leaders Network, and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.  Businesses that are members of these forward thinking groups deserve your patronage.  (Disclosure: I'm a co-founder of one of these)

But we need more of them, and particularly, more of the big household name companies--particularly ones like PG&E which make their money in energy--to break from the past.

Then the media will frame this as old business vs. new, and not jobs vs. polar bears.  And then public support for real action will become even stronger.


Addendum:  The New York Times reported that within several days, Exelon, an Illinois utility, quite the U.S. Chamber,  PNM Resources, a New Mexico utility holding company, resigned its seat on the Chamber's board, and Nike issued a public statement highly critical of the Chamber's position on climate.