This Happened While Everybody Was Putting on War Paint for the Obama Climate Hearings

Photographer: Lena Mirisola/Getty Images

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Photographer: Lena Mirisola/Getty Images

Supporters and foes of President Obama’s climate change policy are airing their thoughts publicly this week during two-day hearings in each of four cities.

In Denver yesterday, an opponent called the White House’s proposed power-plant rules “a war on prosperity.” Some supporters by contrast wore “I (heart) Clean Air” T-shirts to the event.

What’s weird is this: Companies set climate goals informed by the same science and internationally agreed upon goals as the president’s, but nobody’s losing their breath attacking or defending them.

On Monday, General Mills added to its website a “Policy on Climate,” which lays out risks that businesses, governments and citizens expect -- crop and water stress, population growth, extreme weather -- and how the company will change its operations to face them. It endorsed international negotiators’ goal to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius (we’re up 0.85 degrees C since 1880). And it vowed to participate in policy discussions with government.

No one’s made “I (heart) Green Giant” shirts for a company that’s actually older than the State of Colorado.

No one’s bemoaning General Mills’s war on coal and shareholders. That’s because there isn’t one.

“Changes in climate not only affect global food security but also impact General Mills’ raw material supply which, in turn, affects… value to our shareholders,” the policy states, in its clunky bureaucratic prose.

Come to think of it, prose this clunky and bureaucratic must actually mean something. If corporate sustainability reports are off-putting because of their gloss and self-congratulatory hyperbole, the Policy on Climate should be credited for having no pictures adorning it and including statements so inscrutable they can only have been written by lawyers who are serious.

So let's puzzle through what they're saying: “Government policies that provide proportionate and clear guidance on mitigation and adaptation are essential for large scale progress.”

Does “guidance” mean only toothless, voluntary efforts? What does the implied phrase “proportionate guidance” mean?

The media office clarified: “Guidance is an umbrella term for government action that could include recommended voluntary efforts, regulation or taxation.”

“Proportionate guidance” means that policies shouldn’t punish one sector or group over others.

Will a vow of rigor and seriousness from one company solve the problem? No. Has the economic mainstream realized that this is a pretty big deal and they better get crackin'? Yes.

The new company policy goes on to list more than a dozen initiatives employees will take to reduce their climate pollution and adapt to the warming world. These include working with suppliers, who produce most of the emissions General Mills is ultimately responsible for; working with governments and civil society groups on water and land-use practices; and technology investment.

General Mills joins a handful of companies who are bringing renewed scientific rigor to their climate strategies. General Electric, Colgate and Brown-Forman earlier this year, for example, adopted a framework developed by WWF, CDP and McKinsey to help companies make absolute pollution cuts.

The maker of Cheerios and Wheaties has no position on either the White House's proposed climate rules or congressional opposition to them. But for General Mills, and other large companies waiting for some kind of "proportionate and clear guidance," the first real draft may well be on its way.

More by Eric Roston (@eroston on Twitter):

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