The Coronavirus Climate Profiteers And The Climate Heroes

By Glenn Hurowitz 17 July, 2020

Which companies & industries are exploiting COVID-19 and which are doubling down on green efforts? Mighty Earth's CEO Hurowitz calls them out

Many of the world’s worst polluting companies have used the crisis as an excuse to get money & slash regulations; doing so in ways that will make people more vulnerable now & in the future
In the US, the agricultural, auto, airline & fossil fuel industries have successfully lobbied for massive government subsidies free from conditions and the relaxing of environmental regulations
Thankfully some companies & govts, such as BMW & the EU are sticking to their climate plans; with COVID reshuffling the global economy, we can reshape a society that protect its people & climate

Most people see a global pandemic that is killing tens of thousands of people. But many of the world’s worst polluting companies have used the crisis as an excuse to extract tens of billions of dollars in new government subsidies and slash environmental regulations. They are doing so in ways that will make people more vulnerable to coronavirus and increase the likelihood of future pandemics.

Many of the world’s worst polluting companies have used the crisis as an excuse

A lot of people are understandably furious about small-time coronavirus grifters, like the guy hoarding Purell in his garage. That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared to the cynicism and public health hazards created by leading coronavirus profiteers and their enablers.


Not every company is engaging in this kind of behavior. Businesses large and small are stretching to provide essential services, or just doing their utmost to make sure their employees have some support.

And as we highlight below, there are responsible corporations that see the continued urgency of protecting the environment – especially during this time of crisis, and are either continuing their efforts or doubling down. That’s particularly true of the handful of corporations we highlight below that may not be perfect, but are taking action in ways that can help prevent future pandemics by reducing the deforestation that exposes humans to new viruses.

The meat and biofuel industries

The meat industry has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of subsidies in recent years, even as it pollutes America’s waterways and continues to drive large-scale deforestation for cattle and animal feed in South America.

Agricultural interests received USD30 billion in trade assistance subsidies in the last two years, including USD67 million for JBS, the largest cattle company in the world and the single company most linked to Brazilian deforestation. Nonetheless, they lobbied for massive additional subsidies free from conditions. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association lobbied heavily for the inclusion of USD23.5 billion in a slush fund that Trump Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue can use with almost unlimited discretion to funnel money to agricultural interests.

Instead of funneling further support to this industrial agricultural system, Mighty Earth has called for a Green New Deal that provides support to rural communities through funding that protects prairies, cleans up the water, and helps smaller scale farmers develop sustainable production.

The auto industry

GM, Toyota, and Daimler have used their industry lobbyists to provide cover, worsening smog and costing drivers thousands of dollars extra per car. Their actions came even though the industry had agreed to accept the higher standards as a condition of being bailed out by U.S. taxpayers in 2009.


Airline companies in the United States have made billions of dollars in profits since their post-September 11 bankruptcies, and have lobbied for years against serious caps on their rapidly growing pollution. Nonetheless, they shamelessly lobbied for and received from Congress USD29 billion in giveaways and loans for airlines.

Airlines received USD29bn from Congress, with no green strings attached

House Democrats had included a groundbreaking provision that would have made the aid conditional on airlines achieving carbon neutrality, but this position was abandoned in Senate negotiations.


Indonesian illegal loggers

Indonesia has begun to crack down on illegal logging in recent years, a critical step for a country whose forests and peat store around 28 billion tons of carbon, more than three years of total global emissions from fossil fuel, and are home to rapidly diminishing populations of orangutans, tree kangaroos, and other endangered species. One critical step in curtailing illegal logging was requiring certification that wood was produced legally.

Indonesia, whose forests store 28bt of carbon, revoked rules to crack down on illegal logging

But, as Hans Nicholas Jong reported in the conservation news outlet Mongabay, Indonesia’s Trade Ministry on March 26 revoked these rules in response to lobbying from the furniture and logging industries, who have been pushing to end the restriction for years. Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto justified the decision as a way to boost timber exports that have declined because of the coronavirus-fueled economic slowdown.

However, although the policy change is dangerous for the environment, it probably wins the prize for the most self-defeating act of coronavirus profiteering in the world: the Indonesian timber industry’s access to international markets is largely dependent on its ability to show that its wood is logged legally.

Fossil Fuels

The American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of oil industry majors like Exxon Mobil and Shell, asked President Trump on March 23 to suspend environmental regulations because of the coronavirus. Within three days, Trump’s EPA did just that, saying it would stop enforcement of a wide range of air and water rules – even for facilities that were continuing to operate and profit during the coronavirus pandemic.

Just days after Exxon Mobil, Shell & others lobbied, Trump suspended environmental regulations…

…COVID-19 is just the latest excuse from the Trump administration for its gutting of US’s most basic protections

And meanwhile, builders of the Keystone pipeline rushed workers in for construction ahead of planned quarantine restrictions. Of course, coronavirus is just the latest excuse from the Trump administration for its comprehensive gutting of America’s most basic protections from destroying wetlands to rolling back protections.

In negotiations around getting its share of the bailout, the U.S. coal industry has not only pushed for deregulation on environmental protections and cleanups of former mines, but has even tried to slash its obligations for health assistance to victims of black lung disease.

Who’s doing the right thing

There are some companies and individuals that are continuing to prioritize climate action even in a time of great challenges.

The good news is some doing it right

Auto companies Volkswagen and BMW have reiterated their support for 2020 climate standards. The European Commission is moving forward with plans that could strengthen the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, and ministers in several European countries are calling for green development as a response to the economic impact of the virus. There are also some palm oil traders who have moved quickly to suspend a rogue operator responsible for deforestation.


The coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives, sickened and killed hundreds of thousands, and will reshape the global economy. But this crisis will pass, eventually, and the world we wake up to that day will be fundamentally changed by the virus and our response to it. We have a choice – now, as these critical decisions are being made – of how best to shape our future. The companies and officials profiled here are making those decisions.

Now is the time to build a new & better system

Now is the time to build a new and better system. The reshuffling of the global economy is also an opportunity to break out of the path of dependence and vulnerability that has set in over the last fifty years. Then we can emerge from the shadow of the coronavirus into a society that is better prepared to care for its people, and protect the climate and Nature.

Further Reading

  • The Future Of Finance – HKGFA’s Dr. Ma Jun believes in post-COVID times, investors & bankers should expect more emphasis on environmental disclosure by regulators, which will pave the way for higher quality green finance products
  • COVID & Climate – Make Money Or Save Lives? – Governments are prioritising lives over money but with pressure to re-open the economy, can we use lessons learnt from COVID-19 to prepare for the climate crisis? CWR’s Ronald Leung explores the future of aviation and low oil prices
  • Metamorphosis! Hard Truths & Unicorns – With blanket disruption globally, we are forced to rethink our future. The pandemic has presented us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to morph toward business unusual, but can we take advantage? CWR’s Debra Tan ponders
  • ESG Doomsday Preppers – Many laughed at Doomsday preppers but who is laughing now as companies integrating ESG outperform during the crisis? ADMCF’s Alison Lee explores why this is & the future direction
  • 8 Risks You Missed During COVID-19 – Been focused on COVID-19? You are not alone but we can’t get distracted from the climate crisis. Catch-up with CWR’s Chien Tat Low who runs through 8 latest climate & water risks
  • Capital Threats Remain Post COVID – There is no vaccine for climate & water risks, yet some in the financial sector are still burying their heads. CWR’s Dharisho Mirando reminds us how our capital is at risk & steps we can take to reduce them while going green

More on Latest

  • COVID-19 Heightens Water Problems Around The World – Is water access and quality only a problem of developing countries? Global water gurus Asit Biswas and Cecilia Tortajada rebut this as COVID-19 & the lack of political leadership reveal vulnerabilities worldwide
  • Fashion Frolicking In Oil – Fashion is practically frolicking in oil as CWR’s Dawn McGregor points out. 2.5% of global oil produced is used by the fashion industry. See why this is and how fashion accounts for 35% of ocean microplastic
  • It Happened – Central Banks And Water Risks – Half a dozen new reports by the NGFS means that CWR has achieved a key milestone in embedding water risks in finance. Debra Tan and Dharisha Mirando expand on these game-changing moves by the central banks. The credit evolution has started
  • Regulators Have A Role To Play In Tackling The Global Water Crisis – Climate change creates systemic risks to financial systems. With USD316bn of losses from disasters in 2018-19, Ceres’ Robin Miller on urgent actions regulators can take to ensure stability and investors that have made a start on water risks
  • Pathway For Hong Kong To Net Zero By 2050 – Hong Kong needs a new plan to decarbonise by 2050 as it only has targets for 2030. ADMCF’s CEO Lisa Genasci shares key findings from a report that shows us how to achieve net-zero and monetised HKD460bn in benefits
Glenn Hurowitz
Author: Glenn Hurowitz
Glenn Hurowitz is the CEO of Mighty, and has led environmental campaigns around the world for many years. He is a globally recognized leader on forests, agriculture, and climate change, and running strategic campaigns. Glenn previously served as Chair of the Forest Heroes campaign, where he successfully secured strict No Deforestation policies from the world’s largest agribusinesses, including companies that cover 90% of global palm oil trade and, more recently, two of the world’s largest soy traders. As a result of this work, he and his colleagues at Forest Heroes won the Benny Award from the Business Ethics Network for their successes in transforming global agriculture. He co-founded Chain Reaction Research, which provides major financial institutions with in-depth risk analysis of companies’ sustainability risk. Glenn has appeared on many national media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, and NPR. He is a graduate of the Green Corps fellowship and Yale University, and also holds posts as Managing Director at Waxman Strategies and a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy.
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