Climate Change: America’s Culture Wars Reach New Frontiers as Corporations Stealthily Uphold their Responsibility

**The American Culture Wars and the 2024 Election Season**
The American culture wars are heating up in anticipation of the 2024 election season. While there are numerous areas of disagreement in the country, such as gun control, gender issues, and parental rights, the topics of climate change and the environment are increasingly becoming focal points of conflict.

**The Right’s Concerns and the Left’s Demands**
On one hand, the political right is deeply troubled by the threats posed to the oil and gas industry and the jobs it provides. On the other hand, the left is alarmed by the prospect of a rapidly deteriorating planet and desires divestment of fossil fuel portfolios by financial institutions and public institutions alike. Additionally, the left also wants to exclude oil and gas executives from conferences like the Conference of the Parties (COP) and social circles deemed socially acceptable.

**Public Perception and Corporate Responsibility**
As extreme weather events become more frequent, the general public increasingly views climate change as a significant problem caused by human activity. Consequently, there is a growing demand for companies to communicate their efforts in addressing environmental concerns.

Corporations find themselves caught in the crossfire, attempting to navigate these conflicting interests. While they strive to make profits, serve their stakeholders, and contribute positively to society, many corporations are treading cautiously due to the divisive nature of these issues.

**Seeking Balance and Long-Term Sustainability**
Amidst these controversies, it is crucial for companies to focus on maintaining balance and long-term sustainability rather than being fixated solely on short-term gains and controversies. Johnson & Johnson’s chairman, Alex Gorsky, played a pivotal role in the development of a 2019 statement by the Business Roundtable, which highlighted the importance of companies serving not only their shareholders but also their customers, employees, suppliers, and the communities in which they operate. This shift in perspective, away from the belief that profit is the sole purpose of a company, was influenced by various stakeholders, including everyday individuals who believed that capitalism was not functioning as it should.

**Challenges of Progress in a Polarized Climate**
According to Steve Parrish, a former tobacco industry negotiator, progress is hindered when both sides perceive the other as ignorant or inherently bad. Geoff Morrell, who currently heads strategy and communications at Teneo and previously worked in corporate affairs at bp and Disney, echoes this sentiment. He remarks that while companies continue to pursue their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) agendas, they have become more reticent about openly advocating for their initiatives to avoid potential backlash.

**Policy Challenges and Conflicts**
Candi Wolff, head of global government affairs for Citigroup, is grappling with the policy side of these issues, particularly regarding environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure and reporting regulations. The European Union (EU) and the U.S. find themselves at odds on this front, exacerbating the management challenges for companies.

**A Call for Reason and Listening**
Morrell asserts that it is crucial for all parties to dial down the rhetoric and genuinely listen to one another. However, achieving this in the midst of the highly polarized climate and intensifying political campaigns will undoubtedly be a formidable task. Nevertheless, it is a goal worth pursuing.

**Can Reason Prevail?**
While the culture wars continue to escalate without mercy, it remains to be seen whether reason can ultimately prevail. In these trying times, corporate leaders, as well as their stakeholders, would undoubtedly benefit from a more measured and conciliatory approach.

*Bill Novelli, a professor emeritus at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP and Porter Novelli, is the author of “Good Business: The Talk, Fight, Win Way to Change the World.” The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fortune.*

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