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The American electric utility industry’s role in promoting climate denial, doubt, and delay

October 15, 2022

CSSN Scholars Emily Williams and Leah Stokes examine the extent to which public messaging by American electric utilities and affiliated organizations contributed to climate denial, doubt, and delay.

Read the paper here.

Abstract:

It is now well established that fossil fuel companies contributed to undermining climate science and action. In this paper, we examine the extent to which American electric utilities and affiliated organizations’ public messaging contributed to climate denial, doubt, and delay. We examined 188 documents on climate change authored by organizations in and affiliated with the utility industry from 1968 to 2019. Before 1980, electric utilities’ messaging was generally in-line with the scientific understanding of climate change. However, from 1990 to 2000, utility organizations founded and funded front groups that promoted climate doubt and denial. After 2000, these front groups were largely shut down, and utility organizations shifted to arguing for delayed action on climate change, by highlighting the responsibility of other sectors and promoting actions other than cleaning up the electricity system. Overall, our results suggest that electric utility industry organizations have promoted messaging designed to avoid taking action on reducing pollution over multiple decades. Notably, many of the utilities most engaged in communicating climate doubt and denial in the past currently have the slowest plans to decarbonize their electricity mix.

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