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Climate Action: Down to Business

By Bill Becker on October 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm

"Climate Action: Down to Business"

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This is the first two parts of a multi-part series by guest blogger William Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.

1.  THE SITUATION

There will come a time when governments are forced to act on global climate change. Its impacts will be increasingly devastating and undeniable. Its costs will swell like a tsunami. We will see many more Katrinas with victims stranded not because governments are incompetent, but because they are overwhelmed.

When that time comes, politicians’ careers will depend on taking action.  Clearly, that moment hasn’t yet arrived.

In the foreseeable future, it appears advocates of climate action will play defense rather than offense on Capitol Hill and in state capitols. They’ll try to maintain the climate and clean energy policies already put in place by Congress and states. All but one of the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate deny climate change or its anthropogenic roots.  Of the 37 Republicans running for governor in the Nov. 2 election, 22 reportedly reject climate science.

Nearly half the local government officials recently surveyed by the International City County Managers Association responded that climate change is “not a priority”.  Only 11.4 percent said they are limiting carbon emissions in government operations; fewer than 2 percent are limiting emissions from residential buildings.

So is there any hope for progress on climate mitigation and adaptation over the next few years?  Or for making the transition to a clean energy economy? For us eternal optimists, the answer is yes.  There is evidence the cutting edge of economic transformation will come not from Washington, but from the business sector; consumers and investors; and a legacy conscious Barack Obama.   I’ll explain in the next installments of this five-part post.

2.  DOWN TO BUSINESS

Last year, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication conducted a survey of American attitudes on climate change. In one question, it asked who should be doing more to fight global warming. The top answer, chosen by 73 percent of the respondents: corporations.

Next, it asked whom people trusted for information about climate change. The least trusted institution: corporations.

Despite the public’s low trust level, corporations are one of our best hopes for helping the global community avoid catastrophic climate change.  Three emerging factors are encouraging companies to enter a clean energy economy, even before a climate bill from Congress or regulation by EPA.   The three factors are opportunity, risk and transparency.

Hunter Lovins, the founder and president of Natural Capitalism Solutions, is one of our sharpest experts on the business case for “climate capitalism”. With examples lined up like bullets on a bandolier, Lovins cites company after company that has boosted its profits and market share with energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.  DuPont cut its carbon emissions 80 percent, saved $3 billion over five years and saw the value of its stock rise 340 percent, Lovins says. In 2005, Lee Scott set out to cut Walmart’s energy consumption 30 percent over three years and to double the fuel efficiency of its fleet. Walmart expects these measures to save $300 million by 2015. It’s already saving $25 million every year just by installing a device that reduces idling time of its trucks, Lovins says.

She believes the pull of profits and global market share will bring climate capitalism to the planet’s rescue.  The international carbon-cutting sector already is developing rapidly. HSBC Global Research reports the number of companies providing climate-related products and services has grown 140 percent since 2004. The sector now produces $530 billion in revenues worldwide and will reach $2 trillion by 2020, HSBC says.

However, some companies, perhaps many, will continue betting on the carbon-intensive economy.  That’s where risk and transparency come into play. Climate change already is creating a variety of risks for corporations; unless they manage or avoid those risks, companies are likely to see an exodus of investors, lenders and shareholders.

Some risks are physical as sea levels rise, extreme weather events take their toll and other disruptions, from floods to drought, threaten corporate facilities and operations. Some risks are legal as victims of climate change seek compensation from carbon-intensive industries – an emerging area of law called “climate tort”.  New technologies, scientific findings, renewable energy portfolio standards – and yes, EPA regulation or a price on carbon — all constitute risks for the producers and consumers who continue betting on the carbon economy.

Corporations will be less able to hide these risks from investors, shareholders and lenders because of a trend toward greater transparency.  Groups like Ceres and the Climate Disclosure Project have encouraged companies for many years to voluntarily disclose their environmental policies and performance. Now transparency is becoming a requirement of doing business. Ceres notes that public and private policies both are moving toward “robust climate risk disclosure across various industry sectors”.

In the public sector, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued guidance this year on how publicly traded companies should disclose climate risks.  Said to be the first of its kind in the world, the guidance advises companies that their obligation to inform investors of climate risks may be trigged not only by extreme weather, lawsuits, technological breakthroughs and regulations, but also by international accords, political and scientific developments; or business trends

The Environmental Protection Agency also is contributing to corporate transparency by requiring large greenhouse gas polluters to publicly report their emissions starting next year.

In the private sector, Walmart launched an initiative last year to create a “sustainability index” that discloses the social and environmental impacts of all the products it sells. The company’s first step was to survey its 100,000 suppliers around the world on their sustainability practices, including whether they monitor and publicly report their greenhouse gas emissions.  Walmart’s goal is to produce a comprehensive electronic product rating system that will become the standard in the retail sector.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners requires insurers with annual premiums of $500 million or more to disclose climate risks to regulators, shareholders and the public.

Sometimes companies incur risk by association.  For example, a number of banks are protecting their public images by backing away from companies engaged in harmful environmental practices. The New York Times reports:

After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.

In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted last month what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining” “¦

(T)he policy shift by Wells Fargo follows others over the last two years, including moves by Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citibank, to increase scrutiny of lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal “” or to end the lending altogether.

HSBC, which is based in London, has curtailed its relationships with some producers of palm oil, which is often linked to deforestation in developing countries. The Dutch lender Rabobank has applied a nine-point checklist of conditions for would-be oil and gas borrowers that includes commitments to improve environmental performance and protect water quality.

There’s also competitive risk. Fossil energy costs will rise as easy supplies disappear, international competition for resources grows, government agencies enforce environmental laws, and Congress finally puts a price on carbon.  Meantime, the cost of several renewable energy technologies is coming down. These trends make stockholders nervous.

The story of the Rockefeller revolt against Exxon Mobil is familiar by now. Two years ago, several members of the family introduced resolutions at Exxon’s annual meeting, calling on the company to invest more in renewable energy.

The Rockefellers were concerned that Exxon – the descendent of the oil company founded by their patriarch, John D. Rockefeller – was not investing in the energy technologies that will be most competitive in a carbon-constrained world.

If oil companies are earning huge profits the old-fashioned way, why should stockholders care? Because traditional energy companies that don’t invest in the growing market for clean energy will become the General Motors of tomorrow, going broke by focusing too much on near-term profits and too little on emerging market forces.

The Rockefellers’ resolutions failed, but they may have been the early sign of a shareholder revolution.  The SEC announced last March that it received nearly 100 shareholder resolutions dealing with corporate behavior on climate change, a 40 percent increase over last year and a new record.  Some resolutions were filed by investors who have gambled very big money on corporations likely to be most affected by climate policies and climate change.

Earlier this month, 68 investors representing $415 billion in assets issued a statement urging California voters to defeat Proposition 23, the Nov. 2 ballot initiative backed by oil companies to kill the state’s progressive climate law. According to the Los Angeles Times, the shareholder resolutions “mark the beginning of a concerted campaign by a group of large investors to”¦preserve the California law cutting industrial and vehicle emissions”.

Oil, coal and gas companies argue their fuels will remain America’s principal energy supply for a long time to come.  Perhaps. But a perfect storm is developing around fossil energy. That storm may become disruptive enough to trigger the industry’s own positive feedback loop as lenders, investors and shareholders move away from carbon-intensive fuels.

In addition to tighter enforcement of environmental laws, more competitive renewable energy technologies and growing pressure to phase out taxpayer subsidies for oil, coal and gas, the clouds on the horizon for fossil energy include the nationalization of foreign oil fields; increasing incidents of climate-related disasters that undermine confidence in oil and coal; growing recognition in the Pentagon and the intelligence community that our reliance on fossil energy is a serious threat to national security and military effectiveness; and the growing costs and environmental risks of fossil energy extraction.

According to one recent analysis, an investor exodus could render the world’s remaining fossil energy reserves worthless:

The emergence of a budget on carbon emissions within a tight timeframe is a ‘rubber band’ of tension waiting to break. When it does, the impact will be felt directly and heavily by coal, oil and gas extractive industries because the valuations of those companies are driven by the potential value of their proven and probable reserves. Downstream energy intensive industries will also be at risk. This makes business-as-usual an unrealistic planning assumption. As a result, coal, oil and gas extraction companies face substantial risks, including 75% of their reserves being potentially worthless.

For the time being, congressionally created market mechanisms will not be the principal driver of climate capitalism. EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act, at the moment the subject of a variety of lawsuits, will target only the nation’s largest carbon polluters. But smart companies won’t wait for new laws or regulations. Rising risks and growing opportunities will motivate them – and those who finance them – to participate in building a clean energy economy.

Next, in Part 3, a few thoughts about the role of the citizen-consumer.

– William Becker

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35 Responses to Climate Action: Down to Business

  1. Prokaryotes says:

    A lot of tidbits in this post. One thing to note: Not only are fossil energy reserves worthless in prospective to our habitat safety – they are in fact a hazardous long term threat too.

    ‘Fracking’ Mobilizes Uranium in Marcellus Shale, UB Research Finds http://www.buffalo.edu/news/11885

  2. fj2 says:

    @climateprogress Business – http://bit.ly/c3BkTW Great but conservative as runaway climate means waves of climate catastrophes any time

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Bill, I don’t see most corporations taking sufficient action until there is a price on carbon or, alternatively, serious efforts to capture externalities (such as medical costs) and remove subsidies.

    Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies may not suffice, because we’ve learned that competing against concentrated energy dug out of the ground is not an easy task. The actions of companies like Walmart have been commendable, but we’re way past the point of incremental steps.

    If US corporations were generally committed to reducing emissions, their main lobbying arm- the US Chamber of Commerce- would not be fighting so hard against any kind of action to price carbon.

    Sorry to sound so negative, and I applaud your and Hunter’s efforts. In my opinion, we just don’t have time to wait for the private sector to implement incremental improvements.

  4. fj2 says:

    Ask security advisor Dick Clark who testified before the 9/11 Commission

    @climateprogress Signs of waves of domestic climate catastrophes more obvious than 9/11 terrorist event – http://bit.ly/c3BkTW

  5. fj2 says:

    #3 Mike Roddy, “I don’t see most corporations taking sufficient action . . .”

    Agreed.

    US DoD is best suited to coordinate effort with effective civilian oversight, collaboration, and defense.

    This will include the military industrial complex transitioned to battle climate change in a near futuristic symmetry of reinvention and advancement as a purely unitive response.

  6. fj2 says:

    Human capital is the most important part

    GOOD GOOD
    Is India really a hotbed for social enterprise? The recent track record supports the claim. Here are a few reasons why http://su.pr/1KSg3q

  7. fj2 says:

    Without further ado, the winner is … [drumroll] …

    Climate hawks.

    climatehawks Climate Hawk
    Are you a #climatehawk? http://bit.ly/bEzNkP

  8. peter whitehead says:

    The problem as always is the CLIMATE VAMPIRE project run by Big Oil and co to suck all the life out of our ecosystems. Generally they can outspend any rational organisation.

    I’d like the terms denier and sceptic to be replaced by Climate Vampire for the totally cynical companies, ‘unthink’ tanks and PR people running the anti-science campaigns, and Climate Zombie for bloggers and teabaggers who act as useful fools for the CVs.

    Celebrate Halloween by using these new, improved descriptions of these dangerous creatures.

  9. fj2 says:

    Time for an MSNBC piece on climate hawks.

    Are You A Climate Hawk?

  10. catman306 says:

    In just two days googling “climate hawk” results in to David Roberts term
    About 11,500 results (0.32 seconds) hits. So people are listening.

    Definitely, we’ve become an eforce of climate hawks. I’d be honored to fly with the best.

    eArtists, please!: the Eforce Climate Hawks need an insignia on the net. Climate Hawks need an insignia on the ground.

  11. fj2 says:

    RL_Miller RLMiller
    by climatehawks
    The Big Dog: an original climate hawk! RT @p_aulina: Bill Clinton on climate as #voting issue http://bit.ly/ClintonClimateVotingIssue

  12. pete best says:

    (Astro)Turf Wars, by Taki Oldham – says it all about corporations, tea parties and the gullibility of the public at large. Uninformed and ill educated so many of us.

  13. fj2 says:

    Flexible, biocompatible LEDs could light the way for next gen biomedicine http://t.co/aGygwd5 via @gizmag

  14. William P says:

    I like the idea of putting climate in the hands of corporations since America is coming more and more to be ruled by them. The Supreme Court is in favor of corporations having primary power in the US, too, and said so with their “Citizens United” recent decision.

    So, if corporations see it in their interest to protect the world against global warming, something may actually get done. Fine!

    Governments of the people, by the people and for the people seems to have failed in this regard. Let corporations go at it.

    Regarding the statement, “We will see many more Katrinas” as the chief threat, I disagree. I think the threat from dwindling food supplies due to extreme heat and drought will be the major concern.

    Instances like Russia’s loss of 25% of its wheat crop will come more frequently. This will panic the public when they start to see empty supermarket shelves and finally get the message.

    This summer’s Russian heat episode did send an initial ripple of fear around the globe regarding food supply.

    When the panic gets severe, business as usual could slow – factory operations, electrical production, air and other transportation. This will result in less reflective material in the atmosphere, leading to immediate increase in earth heating by the sun. That increase could then cause damage to food crops to a much greater extent worldwide.

    This, in turn, will lead to escalation of the panic of people and governments.

    Yes indeed, some planning is needed. Good for the corporations – go for it. Democracy seems to be failing at planning and preparation. Corporations can’t do worse than governments have.

  15. fj2 says:

    Excellent.

    And, some alarming similarities between pointless public Scientific American polls and the current process for developing PlaNYC 2030 for New York City targeting a mere 30% reduction in emissions by 2030.

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/news/update.shtml

  16. dp says:

    unfortunately the question for today’s corporation isn’t whether a green future is the only ‘win’ scenario, it’s whether any imdividual company will be held liable for the public harm.

  17. Jeff Huggins says:

    Wow.

    I don’t quite know what to say. Although I appreciate the intent of this post, and I appreciate the effort and the helpful information, I’m not sure what to make of it? Do you, Bill, actually think that corporations, focused largely on the profit motive and even considering the several factors (opportunity, reputation, transparency, etc.) that you mention, will lead the way or actually take steps that will come anywhere remotely approaching the sorts of steps that we’ll need to address the problem? Do you understand that five of the top seven, or is it six of the seven, or six of the eight, largest companies in the world are oil and gas companies? You’ve noted that the Rock Revolt at ExxonMobil failed — I think it failed twice, didn’t it? — and yet (even given more recent events in politics and in corporate disinformation efforts) you see that as a good sign? Really?

    Although I’m not familiar with Hunter Lovins’ work, and she sounds nice, and I hate to be critical, given what you’ve (Bill) written about her here, I wonder whether she has much of an understanding of business, the nature of business, and the nature of the sorts of changes we’ll need to address climate change, at all?

    If she believes that “climate capitalism” will come to “the planet’s rescue” — even without a price on CO2, without extensive government action, or without tens of millions of consumers throwing fits of insistence that companies act? — perhaps she can share with all of us whatever it is that she’s smoking? I will throw away my Baker Scholar certificate, and my “Perspective on McKinsey” book that was given to me when I joined McKinsey, and I’ll even eat my San Francisco Giants cap, if “climate capitalism”, out of its own motivations based on profit, opportunity, risk, and transparency, comes to “the planet’s rescue” without being compelled in some firm way to do so. After all, if it does, I’ll have to conclude that my understanding of most businesses is almost entirely incorrect.

    Of course of course, corporations will have to play MAJOR roles in the necessary changes. That’s not the question. The question is whether they will act sufficiently, or even remotely sufficiently, out of their own motivations of profit-making, risk management, brand and image concerns, and “opportunity”. And my answer to that is, No Way. No, that’s not quite right. The answer is this: NO WAY!

    There will need to be very substantial government policy changes, including either specific regulations to compel actions or an effective means of putting a substantial cost on carbon, AND consumers and voters will have to make their voices heard — strongly and insistently — in the many millions. There will need to be — and indeed SHOULD be — immense boycotts of some of the worst-offending companies. People should be clamoring to help the Rocks get entirely rid of Rex Tillerson, including all of ExxonMobil’s largest investors, if they have consciences at all.

    I’m sorry if this sounds harsh. Perhaps I didn’t read a key paragraph closely? The time is way past to be optimistic about what most companies will do of their own choice — and that especially applies to ExxonMobil and the other oil companies and the coal companies. At this point, we shouldn’t be waiting to see what they might decide to do, leisurely, when they decide it’s profitable for them to do so. Indeed, it would be foolish to wait, and I mean that literally. What could be more obvious? Have we been paying attention to the latest ExxonMobil ads, the API efforts, who they are funding, the messages coming from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and so forth?

    The post points out the low trust that American people have in American business leaders these days. There’s a reason for that low trust.

    Time to open our eyes.

    Jeff

  18. Bill Becker says:

    I appreciate everyone’s comments. A couple of clarifications and responses. I agree that incremental change at this stage won’t be nearly enough. The point I hoped to make was that despite stasis in Congress, some amount of progress is possible on other fronts, and we ought to encourage it as investors, customers, shareholders and lenders. Tremendous resources have been invested for votes on the Hill in recent years. I think tremendous resources also need to be invested now in other sectors, including serious pressure on business. In regard to “climate capitalism”, I agree it alone can’t lead to transformative change. I may have overstated Hunter’s position on that. But I do believe it can be a tremendous force for good. As for oil and coal companies, I expect most of them will be among the GMs of tomorrow. As for the Chamber, I’ve been delighted to see some cracks in its armor — some companies pulling out.

  19. Fossil fuels are seductive, being cheap and intense energy providers.
    Kind of like the Sirens in the tale of Ulysses.

  20. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear Bill (Comment 18),

    Thanks for your comment, and sorry that I was so critical in my Comment 17. I’m just “anxious” these days about what many companies aren’t doing (that they should be doing) and about how some of them are basically deceiving the public, knowingly, on a matter of such big stakes. If you haven’t already, you should take a look at Donald Brown’s recent post on Climate Ethics. That said, I read your post quickly, and I missed your larger point, and your recent clarifications are helpful. Thanks.

    As far as investors, customers, shareholders, and lenders go, I agree with your point that these folks should encourage responsible change, but I’d like to underscore my view on the degree of such encouragement that’s needed — and wholly appropriate — in the case of some companies. For example, by now I think it’s necessary and warranted for investors to dump — completely — ExxonMobil shares, and for customers to boycott them. Indeed, after following them for several years, and having worked in the oil industry long ago, and even though they treated me well and gave me an offer long ago, my view at this point is that ExxonMobil doesn’t deserve to continue as a corporation, and humankind will be far better off if they don’t. ExxonMobil employees can find other jobs (GM has laid off far more people in recent years than ExxonMobil employs worldwide) and the other oil companies will “get the message” and eagerly begin their transitions if they see what target public efforts can accomplish. In my view, a few companies have already had their chances, and their actions justify giving them “no more”.

    Too, I was at a bookstore presentation the other day by the two leaders of The Ladders. (They did a good job.) During the Q&A session, a fairly young professional stood up and, in introducing his question, started by saying, “I’m a sustainability professional!” My first thought was along these lines: Although I admire the hope and the recognition that sustainability efforts are needed, the only “real” and “impactful” and “sufficient” sustainability department in many big companies today would have to be one focused on convincing the government to change policies in directions that FAVOR and ALLOW and ENCOURAGE sustainable activities so that companies can provide their products and compete with each other fairly and in ways that naturally facilitate sustainability. In other words, it does little good if a sustainability department reduces a company’s paper use by 2 percent, or changes a few light bulbs, or writes a sustainability ad, if that company’s mainstream operations are not sustainable in a genuine sense, if that company is growing its volumes (as companies normally try to do), and if government policy and industry practices are such that genuinely sustainable activities would not be profitable or competitive. Such “sustainability professionals” ought to forget about light bulbs and make sure that government policies favor sustainability in their industry. Put another way, for example, the oil and gas companies ought to be begging for an effective and predictable (to allow planning) price profile (over the years) on carbon. If there is a “sustainability professional” in the entire oil and gas industry who is NOT trying to shift the entire “way” of the industry and prompt it to embark on the necessary transition, then such “sustainability professional” should change his title, in my view.

    In any case, I appreciate your clarifying comments, Bill, and thanks for them.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  21. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks for the clarification about your range of goals and solutions, Bill. You and Hunter have earned my respect by fighting in the trenches a long time, and I liked your organization’s advisory committee, too.

    Here’s an easy one for PCAP and Obama, something I mentioned to Hunter a year or so ago:

    America is near the bottom in terms of percentage of hotels that use keycard activated microprocessor based energy management systems for room HVAC. Anyone who’s traveled to any continent knows that hotel managers in other countries don’t like to heat or cool a guest room when nobody is in it, and routinely employ this technology. without it, a huge amount of energy is wasted, and this happens in schools and houses, too. You can invest less and save more this way than with insulation or better windows.

    There are IRS breaks through 179c, and many utilities offer rebates, too. Still US hotels won’t do it, and I don’t get it. If you and Hunter (or anyone else) has ideas on how to get this going, email me at mike.greenframe@gmail.com. This is a business of mine, but I won’t be tacky enough to name it or the product on this blog.

  22. Matto says:

    “We will see many more Katrinas with victims stranded not because governments are incompetent, but because they are overwhelmed”

    Stopped reading right there. Still no solid science on increased Hurricanes from AGW.

    [JR: Guess you don't know your science. The best science says we will see more Katrinas, more of the most extreme superstorms..]

  23. Matto says:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/news.php?n=349

    Just saying there are some uncertainties on this particular subject. Now, there’s still drought, sea level rise, ocean acidification, methane release, and the infinite web of ramifications (war, etc) that result from them, so no need to worry: this is a catastrophe.

  24. dp says:

    bill becker said: “Tremendous resources have been invested for votes on the Hill in recent years. I think tremendous resources also need to be invested now in other sectors, including serious pressure on business.”

    in these times we see a billion dollars as small change. how much is your ‘tremendous’ compared to annual wheel-greasing by polluters & their amici? where do we get the money to beat down the rear guard, and do the investors want green-tinted supplemental income, or a system overhaul?

  25. Roger says:

    As someone who has done decades of successful business analysis and forecasting in my career as a management consultant to major corporation captains of industry, I lean towards Jeff’s ‘first impression’ comment #17 above– much as I would like to believe otherwise–as the one that will prove to be largely on target, when the countin’s done.

    Yes, it’s true that corporations have tremendous power to do good, given clear market signals and etc., but a trained eye can size up the magnitude of the problem, the amount of inertia in the system, our rate of progress over the past several decades, and etc., only to conclude that it will take a miracle or two for us to avoid massive human die offs.

    Climate change already in the pipeline today has, I expect, locked us onto a course that will cause serious food shortages within the current decade. By the time major U.S. corporations throw their weight into the battle for survival, we will likely be seriously beyond the tipping points that will make ‘last minute’ heroic efforts pitifully futile.

    Democracy was not designed to deal with, and this post, IMHO, does not adequately take into account, the long timeframes of manmade climate change, its stealthy nature, the power of money to corrupt, and the inevitable appearance of uncaring evil in the hearts of at least a few extremely wealthy businessmen who know how to get what they want.

    Wake up, everyone! Given what’s at stake here, and applying a smidgen of the logical precautionary principle, it’s high time we ‘aware’ citizens strongly push President Obama to show even much more LEADERSHIP than he has to date. He has not exhausted his options in terms of his bully pulpit, or in terms of his power through executive orders. How about a “State of the Climate Address” in January?

    Roger

  26. Andy says:

    I do the whole “business sustainability” thing right now. It is a worthwhile endeavor and better than many things I could be doing with my time and energy.

    However, let’s be realistic. Businesses exist to generate profit. So they can go after some of the low-hanging fruit, but they cannot touch the infrastructural transformation that we need to get started on now. At least, they cannot engage in infrastructural transformation without goverment (federal or state) first reshaping the market dynamics through good climate policy. Until that happens, the changes brought on by corporations will be incremental and insufficient. By all means better than nothing, but nowhere near commensurate with the climate threat we face. We need good policy, plain and simple.

    Bill’s clarifying comments in 18 are helpful, but I still think this whole article needs to be couched in a pointed, though possibly brief, discussion of the substantial limitations faced in a “business-without-policy” world like our own.

    (Aside: You may ask why I am in the field if I think it can only produce insufficient results. 1) It is still a good idea to lay the foundation in the corporate world now, especially since corporations substantially influence policy creation. 2) I’m getting out of it. Intend to get my masters in public policy and hope to get into climate policy; favorite school right now is UC Berkeley, if they’ll have me. Open to suggestions from the CP readership – policy schools I should be thinking about? My background is chemical engineering, Princeton 2002. And Joe, please feel free to delete this “aside” if it is inappropriate. I’m asking the question in good faith, but completely understand if you don’t want personal questions discussed here at CP.)

  27. Ben says:

    Science that jives with real world observation does not correlate increased frequency of hurricanes with global warming as was often claimed in the last high cycle of hurricane frequency a few years ago.

  28. MarkF says:

    As for the insurers, they have survived for centuries.

    They don’t seem to be doing much on climate change.

    I wonder if they will simply change their coverages, and eliminate the risk that way.

  29. Robert says:

    Corporations are legally bound to make profits for their shareholders. They are also legally bound to not break anti-trust law – i.e. to remain small enough and numerous enough to ensure competition. These two facts ensure that they cannot rise above the short term dirty business of making money and consider the wider long term issue of climate change.

    It is the job of government to set the framework in which corporations operate and compete. To address climate change this framework must deter CO2 emissions in some way. Unfortunately the corporations seem to be increasingly effective at corrupting governments so that they cannot perform this role.

  30. Bill Becker says:

    Jeff, absolutely no need to apologize for Comment 17. It’s great, and valuable to me, to have a civilized and thoughtful conversation about this stuff. Which is exactly what you do. Thanks. By the way, I agree that Exxon should disappear. Many others, too, including Massey. Not to overstate it, but they are incorporated evil.

    And Roger (Comment 25), we do need a “State of the Climate” address, as regularly as the State of the Union. Toward that end, and knowing it was futile, I wrote a State of the Climate address and sent it to the White House by courier in 2008, after getting signatures from an impressive group of people, including several Nobel Laureates, John Holdren, Joe Romm, Bill McKibben and lots of other names that will be familiar to you. We proposed that President Bush use it for his last State of the Union address that year — again, knowing that wouldn’t happen. You’ll find it at http://www.climateactionproject.com/soc.php.

    I’m a child of the Vietnam generation. I was an Army war correspondent in Vietnam for a year, then came home to cover civil rights demonstrations in Illinois and the anti-war movement in Madison, WI. in the early 1970s. I also saw how economic boycotts helped address apartheid. The dynamics are different today in many ways (for example, there’s no draft), but I respect the power of protest (preferably peaceful) and economic sanctions. I know they aren’t always successful, but I also believe they’re worth trying.

    I’m based in Denver these days and have watched the fight on Capitol Hill from afar. It’s an extraordinarily important fight. But it also involved attacking corporate interests at their strongest point of defense. As we’ve seen, they have Congress under control. My instinct is to look for another point of attack, a soft underbelly. Corporate vulnerability, it seems to me, lies in capital and profits. Highly publicized risk might affect their capital, particularly as those risks continue growing. Consumer action, informed by greater visibility for the footprint of products, might affect their profits.

    That may be a slow, incremental process at a time when need radical transformation. But we might surprise ourselves. There might be an economic tipping point. In any case, I’m looking for where we take the fight next, and this series of posts is meant to suggest a few possibilities — not as good as a cap and price on carbon, for which we should continue to press, but places where we can continue trying to make progress.

  31. Jose says:

    I think some of the people who poo poo corporate capitalism are missing the point. This isn’t that “we don’t need legislative action” corporations will do everything. The point is that a lot of businesses are anticipating some regulation and steering their enterprises appropriately. Just imagine how much more action they’d be taking if there was a proper price on carbon in the US.

    And sure petrochemical (and perhaps arms contractors) companies favour business as usual and dwarf the green economy. Surely that can’t go on forever, there has to be a tipping point where the green economy rivals the black economy in political influence. It doesn’t necessarily have to be bigger than the black economy to have more influence, in business rates of groth and future prospects carry weight.

  32. Michael Tucker says:

    Mr Becker,

    Thanks for the article and the follow up posts. I too do not believe that ‘climate capitalism’ alone will rescue humanity and I was not impressed by the Exxon Mobil story. Go to any oil company’s web site and you will find that they all pay lip service to so called clean energy. The “incorporated evil” you speak of are not able to change the GHG emissions that result from the use of their products. Only government can impose standards that can control that. We are stuck with this evil until we establish a concerted plan to phase out the combustion of fossil fuels for transportation and energy. They will not disappear on their own.

    Since the future of humanity depends on elimination of the coal and oil industry as we know them today, I wonder just how hard they will fight against that. I wonder if they have a plan to prolong their industry. The cap ‘n trade proposal, and certainly no politician, is calling for the end of these industries but the implication is obvious for all to see. So is it any wonder that we still have no limit on GHG? You can’t expect the most powerful and one of the world’s wealthiest industries to simply switch to being algae farmers. And they won’t go down silently; they will insist that the rest of the unexplored basins around the world must be drilled. Several current oil executives maintain that we will still have a vibrant oil industry at the end of this century based on the current known reserves of tar sand and oil shale. I thought we might have a chance to put a bill in place, even a weak bill, with this president but I was wrong. I fear it WILL be a “slow incremental process” and we may see 450 or even 550 ppm of CO2 before a real climate bill can pass both houses.

  33. dp says:

    until the TARP and trillions of federal reserve assistance you might have said the soft underbelly of the shadow bankers was the risks they were running. now the general direction of federal government action is that uninsured bankers should be lavished with public support and disastrously high unemployment is something the other 99% should accept as the new normal.

    what’s the argument to the dirtiest of the dirty that their costs won’t be socialized when the heat is on? isn’t that what they’re counting on, when they argue the country into self-destructive energy policy, that their friends will bail them out? ‘grandfathering’ is their bread & butter, they know how to turn the screws and how to get away w/ spending publicly-assured monopoly rents to do it.

  34. Jeff Huggins says:

    Thanks and Happy To Talk

    I agree with many of the observations and points, made above, and thanks for the great thoughts, backgrounds, information, and kind comments.

    It’s all a bit too much to write about here (my fingers get tired), but at some point, Bill, I’d be happy to talk to you via phone (or if you are ever in the San Francisco Bay Area) about ideas going forward, the soft underbelly thing, and targeted, responsible, and (hopefully) effective ways to pursue progress. Also, one person mentioned his sustainability role and his interest in Berkeley, and I’d be happy to talk to him or her too, via phone, although I don’t have the keys to the kingdom of course. So, if anyone ever wants to reach me, you can find my e-mail address via my website, which is www DOT thewindingriver DOT org. Then we could talk via phone. Some of these topics would involve too much writing to try to write it all here.

    I also agree with Roger’s point.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  35. Roger says:

    Bill, Jeff and Others,

    Very thought-provoking comments, and on a nicely productive thread. Is there some easy way to establish more continuity? Seems like we too often hit “Reset” and return to square one in our discussions.

    Bill, thanks for reminding me of your excellent effort towards getting a presidential “State of the Climate” address in 2008. Your thoughts about Capitol Hill being a poor target are also interesting.

    Here’s another, related troubling thought: given the small fraction of Americans who ‘get’ the problem, how do we multiply our power to an extent that would allow us to economically get the attention of Big Fossil Fuel?Climate change is so gradual. It doesn’t readily incite action.