Writer, editor, and volunteer with MN350's Communications Team
Last month was Climate Week in NYC, and while many are underwhelmed by the ambition, there was a lot to celebrate, including a massive mobilization of climate activists, Biden’s new announcement of 20,000 American Climate Corps, and California’s move to require large companies to report on Scope 3 emissions (the emissions generated by the sale and use of a company’s products or services).
But we’re still moving too slowly. The large and conflicting corporate presence at the week’s events demonstrates that when it comes to climate action, a lot of it is lip service. The Center for Climate Integrity called out the corporate sponsors for using Climate Week as a platform for greenwashing. And a report from Climate Impact Partners noted that no new Fortune Global 500 companies made climate commitments in the past year – and emissions are still rising, though some companies are seeing emissions come down (those with the most aggressive targets of 2030 or sooner).
A lot of companies are setting targets that are too far on the horizon or over-relying on the idea of net zero. It seems that nearly every company has a net zero goal these days, including the companies most responsible for the climate crisis like BP and Exxon.
And certainly, it’s imperative that we move toward zero emissions in every sector to have any hope of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, but when we pull back the curtain on net zero, a murkier picture emerges.
Net zero offers the promise of zero emissions through a combination of emissions reductions and carbon offsetting of emissions or carbon capture technologies, which are still underdeveloped in their feasibility. Translation: Companies can continue polluting and business as usual while “technically” being net zero in their emissions.
The smoke and mirror delivered by net zero pledges, many of which amount to little more than greenwashing, are counterproductive and may actually hurt efforts to truly address emissions while leading people to believe we’re on track to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.
So what’s the solution?
We need to rapidly transition away from burning fossil fuels, build the infrastructure to deliver renewable energy, and electrify everything. The solutions to get us there are numerous, and it’s achievable with collective action. If you want to be part of the solution, join one of our teams!
We’ve already seen what’s possible in Minnesota when we work together, and we can’t take our foot off the electric accelerator.
Laura Zilverberg is a public relations professional, volunteer with MN350, and mother of two. She enjoys running, reading and channeling her dread about climate change into baked goods, gardening, and blog posts.