General Motors in America's Heartland
By Greg Dalton
General Motors has decided to discontinue funding of the Heartland Institute, an organization that downplays the risks of climate disruption, three weeks after GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson was asked about it during a Climate One radio interview. GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss confirmed the move yesterday.
Hours before Mr. Akerson went on stage March 7th at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to record the interview before a live audience of about 200 people, several questions were submitted via Facebook about GM’s financial support of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based group that advocates free market ideas. Climate One is the sustainability project of The Commonwealth Club of California, a non-profit and non-partisan public forum.
This question was posted from Bruce:
“Please ask Mr. Akerson why GM funds the Heartland Institute, a group that has tried to push misinformation about climate change into our public schools. Is this funding consistent with their company’s message in marketing of the Chevy Volt?”
That sounded fair game. So during the hour-long conversation I posed that question to Mr. Akerson. His response made it clear he accepts the scientific consensus that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other pollutants are increasing the Earth’s average temperatures.
“The first time I was interviewed by the press, I was stunned with the following reaction,” Akerson said. “Some guy says, 'Do you believe in global warming?' And I said, 'Well yeah, I do.' Several GM executives said, 'You don’t say that in public. Well this may surprise you, my underwear doesn’t have GM stamped on it and I am an individual and I do have my own convictions and it may sometimes they -- they agree and sometimes they don’t. I think it’s actually healthy to have different points of view and perspectives around the table.”
He went on to address the funding question more directly. “This is $15,000 that was committed to before I came in. I also think the Heartland Institute, I’m told, does other things and I find this interesting. I won’t go any further but I’m going to take another look at it when I get back to Detroit. I’ll leave it at that.” Disclosure: General Motors is also a corporate funder of Climate One.
Mr. Akerson said “actions speak louder than words” and mentioned zero-emission auto plants that run off methane and other measures the company has taken to reduce its carbon footprint. Of course, most of the pollution from automobiles comes from driving them around, not making them. That’s on us consumers.
GM famously killed the electric car ten years ago and often obstructed efforts to combat severe climate change. Now, that is changing. GM is producing the Chevy Volt, which runs on electricity and gasoline, and consumers have more options than ever for moving away from oil. GM can still do a lot more with its money and muscle to advance the transition to clean transportation. And my bet is they will, because the free and global auto market is headed toward an electrified future.