Corporate Political Power in the Era of Climate Change

How can we conceptualize, document, and organize evidence of misinformation (or disinformation) and manipulation around climate issues? How do you know it when you see it; and who should be accountable?

Dr. Aronczyk’s current research seeks to address two primary questions:

  1. What is the institutional field of climate obstruction?
  2. What are the discourses and frames of climate obstruction; and how do they circulate within this institutional field?

The main goal of this research project is to look not just at the role of the companies themselves but at the role of the various intermediaries who support the communications and strategies of these companies. The goal is to identify the specific ways that these intermediaries support their anti-climate clients, and identify what responsibility they have for the disinformation that spreads through various public and political channels.


Greenwashing is a prominent and highly problematic form of climate disinformation. Greenwashing can be defined as attempts by industry groups or other organizations to make their products or practices seem more environmentally friendly than they really are. It is a particularly insidious form of climate disinformation because it relies on misleading or deceptive rhetorical tactics that obscure the causes and consequences of climate change for the public.

This project assesses the extent to which public relations firms and other consultancies have been responsible for crafting promotional campaigns for their clients that engage in greenwashing in the following ways (among many others):

  • minimizing, omitting, and/or reframing key information about firm-level or industry-level commitments to action on climate change;
  • downplaying or diminishing the role of the firm, industry or organization in climate change;
  • widening gaps between climate-related pledges to national or international climate agreements (e.g., the 2015 Paris Agreement) and actual actions;
  • promoting technologies or innovations to mitigate climate change that are unproven or underdeveloped (e.g., not scalable to industry-level needs);
  • promoting “scenarios” for climate mitigation that downplay the industry’s accountability;
  • creating and deploying industry-based metrics or certification (i.e., voluntary regulation) while acting against formal regulatory frameworks;
  • creating public-private partnerships with environmental groups to build brand reputation without engaging formally in climate action;
  • promoting alternative approaches to fossil fuel (or other heavy GHG-emitting) production while hiding the presence of ongoing business models that rely on fossil fuel production.