An Environmental Mismatch Between Discourse, Actions, and Investments

This is a follow-on to Dan’s commentary on living on the East Coast or in the Southwest region of the country. I live in an area of the Southwest which is not experiencing the harsher impact of climate change. Even so, the higher temperatures create a drier atmosphere, thirsty for moisture, which it draws from a region’s soil, rivers, lakes and the snowpack. This atmospheric demand, called a vapor pressure deficit (“VPD” for short), has reached record highs during the current drought. Of which, the end does not appear to be any time soon.

Climate change is upon us and is as serious as the recent pandemics. People do not appear to be too concerned about these changes in the climate. And carbon-based energy companies are claiming to be “promoting cleaner energy, discussing clean energy and climate change, pledging decarbonization strategies, and investing in alternative energies.” While discussions by company boards reflect a concern about climate change, pledging decarbonization, and investing in alternative energies; energy company actions have been pledges rather than concrete movement towards carbonless energy. This leads to accusations of “green-washing.”

As this particular Research Article is lengthy, I am only going to copy the abstract. I have posted a link to the complete article within the title.

“The clean energy claims of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell: A mismatch between discourse, actions and investments,” Plos One, Mei Li, Gregory Trencher, Jusen Asuka

Published: February 16, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0263596

(Angry Bear) I am leading off with Figure 1 as it depicts corporate conversation in annual reports about low carbon energy, climate change, emissions, and transition to less carbon energy resources. Some companies are serious in discussions and some are not. In the aggregate, it is still too much talk with little resulting action.

Fig 1 shows the normalized results of the discourse analysis: the frequency of 39 keywords in annual reports. All majors show a clear increasing trend over the study period, most notably the European majors, particularly in the “transition” and “emissions” categories. Findings reflect an amplification of discourse about mitigating GHG emissions and increasing clean energy businesses.

(Angry Bear) The key here is the discourse using key words by carbon energy companies discussing plans and actions to be taken. The follow on to discourse is the pledges and resulting actions, as well as investments towards and to decarbonizing. As you read the Abstract below, you will find some energy companies doing more than others. More in the way of talk, strategies, and pledges minus the funding to carry through with concrete actions.

The transition to a clean and lower carbon energy business model is little more than talk today.

Abstract

The energy products of oil and gas majors have contributed significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and planetary warming over the past century. Decarbonizing the global economy by mid-century to avoid dangerous climate change thus cannot occur without a profound transformation of their fossil fuel-based business models. Recently, several majors are increasingly discussing clean energy and climate change, pledging decarbonization strategies, and investing in alternative energies. Some even claim to be transforming into clean energy companies. Given a history of obstructive climate actions and “greenwashing”, there is a need to objectively evaluate current and historical decarbonization efforts and investment behavior. This study focuses on two American (Chevron, ExxonMobil) and two European majors (BP, Shell).

Using data collected over 2009–2020, we comparatively examine the extent of decarbonization and clean energy transition activity from three perspectives: (1) keyword use in annual reports (discourse); (2) business strategies (pledges and actions); and (3) production, expenditures and earnings for fossil fuels along with investments in clean energy (investments). We found a strong increase in discourse related to “climate”, “low-carbon” and “transition”, especially by BP and Shell. Similarly, we observed increasing tendencies toward strategies related to decarbonization and clean energy.

But these are dominated by pledges rather than concrete actions. Moreover, the financial analysis reveals a continuing business model dependence on fossil fuels along with insignificant and opaque spending on clean energy. We thus conclude that the transition to clean energy business models is not occurring, since the magnitude of investments and actions does not match discourse. Until actions and investment behavior are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded.

(Angry Bear) I have included Figure 1 from the article depicting the frequency of words used in company annual reports. I believe it is important to show who is serious and who is not. Globally, the US is lagging in actions and politically. We are being led down a path by the Senator Joe Manchins of the present government to serious ecological problems nationwide as reflected in severe droughts and flooding which Dan is referring to in an earlier post.

This is an excellent and very new article to which the authors and publisher have allowed access to for reproduction following Creative Commons Attribution License terms. I hope Angry Bear readers take the time to read it. I barely touched upon its content.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. The author of this reproduction believes he is following the terms and conditions as stated within this paper by the publisher “Plos One.”