- 06 August 2004
What is your perspective on climate change as a business issue?
I think it's absurd for anyone in business to consider it anything but a business issue. Global warming and its effects are bad for business. The problem is, too many corporate interests only see the short-term when it comes to environmental issues. Yes, it will require an initial investment by business to turn the tide - we will need to invest in new technologies to reduce greenhouse gasses. But the long-term costs of not doing anything are far, far bigger. Massive global warming, flooding, heat waves, and pollution are just plain bad for the economy and bad for business. As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said in my book "Troubled Water," environmental damage is deficit spending.
Considering current capacity and technology what do you believe we are capable of achieving on climate change?
The truth is, there are so many creative solutions out there - from wave energy to hemp to solar to kinetic appliances - we already have the tools to reverse a great deal of the damage already done. The problem is, short-sighted, monied interests are standing in the way. There's more quick money and political power to be had by clinging to the bad old ways of fossil fuels than investing in smarter alternatives.
What do you think we actually will achieve? Will we do enough?
Your choice here is to be hopeful or cynical. Anything's possible, and I have to believe that logic eventually wins out - even with politicians.
What do you think the biggest impacts of climate change will be?
The truth is, global warming affects the poor and defenseless the hardest. Right now tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh, for example, have lost everything to massive flooding. These are people that just a few months ago I visited, because they work in a sweatshop that subcontracts with Disney and they are losing their jobs because the company is pulling out.
But the impact is about to cross over to the wealthy world. When ocean levels rise and demolish pricey oceanfront mansions, insurance companies are going to take notice. In fact, a Pentagon report said that by the year 2020, several major American and European cities could be underwater because of global warming. I guarantee that it will be a major political issue by then.
What is the importance of political / business leadership on this issue?
It's huge, but it is far too slow in coming. The change on this issue is being led by the grassroots, by genius activists from Greenpeace and elsewhere. As usual, the visionaries are seen as marginal kooks . until they turn out to be right.
Is the climate change message hitting home, if not, why not?
We live in a culture that encourages people to only see what affects them personally and directly. For most of us in Europe and North America have so far been insulated from any severe repercussions. But when weather patterns change, and water begins running out, and people's backyards are underwater, they'll begin to realize that, as the women's movement noted, the personal is political.
Who do we need to focus on in terms of driving home the message, consumers, business or government?
All 3. Getting through to consumers can help pressure corporations. Refuse to buy from Esso until they agree to invest in cleaner fuel technologies, for example. The power of consumers is uncanny. Few realise their vigilante power. Corporations know that their livelihood depends on the good will of their customers - they are afraid of revolt. A few dozen letters from angry customers can scare their pants off. If we can convince business that what's good for the plant is good for the bottom line, our job is done. As go the corporations, so goes the political system.
The views presented in the Viewpoint Series are not necessarily representative of the views of The Climate Group.