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Why Politicians Who Deny Climate Change Cannot Be ‘Pro-Business’

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"Why Politicians Who Deny Climate Change Cannot Be ‘Pro-Business’"

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See%20no%20evil%2C%20iStock_000000159241XSmall.jpgby Andrew Winston

It finally seems to be dawning on many Americans that there’s something to this climate change thing. The historic drought has been hard to ignore. While belief in a long-term trend because it’s hot out right now is a bit ridiculous, it’s a start.

You can see a shift in how the media covers weather. The statement “because of climate change…” is often stated clearly without caveats such as, “what some scientists think may be a warming planet.” You see it in the UN calling for action to help the hungry cope with rising food prices “in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change.”

And you see it in the growing number of mega-corporations — including America’s Alcoa, Coca-Cola, Cisco, HP, J&J, Nike, and P&G — signing on to the “2 Degree Challenge Communiqué,” a call for the world’s governments to take strong action to slow greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is basically accepted as fact the world over. But you wouldn’t know it watching our political conventions (or at least one of them). So while the world seems to be waking up to a fundamental, existential threat to our species (and not to “the planet,” which will be fine with or without us), the US policy debate remains mostly deaf, dumb, and blind.

Climate change has become a political “third rail,” harder to talk about than changing Social Security or Medicare. We didn’t hear any mention of it at the GOP convention, except as a punchline, and we didn’t hear much at the DNC convention…except for one quick, but important, remark from President Obama. Former President Clinton mentioned energy efficiency and Vice President Biden said the words “clean energy” once. But then President Obama, after duly noting the chance to create more natural gas jobs, spoke about building wind turbines and reducing dependence on foreign oil. Finally, he stepped firmly on the third rail: “Climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke; they are a threat to our children’s future.”

This is great, but let’s not get too excited. One line does not a policy make.

Still, Obama’s admission that climate change is real (a low bar for showing leadership these days) is light years from Governor Romney’s dismissive attitude. His convention speech mocked President Obama for his earlier promise to “begin to slow the rise of the oceans.” Romney offered instead to “help you and your family” — as if the health and state of our entire planet has nothing to do with the health of our families.

Here’s what makes the general silence on climate and the mocking from the self-identified pro-business party so absurd: tackling climate change is the smartest thing we can do for both our public health and our private sector. Reducing carbon emissions from our power plants, cars, and factories cleans the air and saves a lot of money. At the macro level, the burning of coal alone costs the U.S. about $350 billion per year in health (asthma, heart attacks, and so on) and pollution costs. At the micro level, from companies down to households, the opportunities to get lean and save money are vast.

But more strategically, tackling carbon is an immense economic opportunity. Here’s billionaire and entrepreneur Richard Branson on the upside potential:

“I’ve described increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as one of the greatest threats to the ongoing prosperity and sustainability of life on the planet. The good news is that creating businesses that will power our growth, and reduce our carbon output while protecting resources, is also the greatest wealth-generating opportunity of our generation. [There is no] choice between growth and reducing our carbon output.”

This quest will drive innovation and create millions of jobs for some lucky companies and countries. Is this multi-trillion-dollar opportunity something we really want to miss out on? The other major economies are not sitting this one out. Germany is quickly moving its electric grid to renewables. China is committing hundreds of billions of dollars to energy efficiency and much more to the clean economy in general.

But let’s say you don’t buy the argument that fighting climate change keeps us competitive globally, saves trillions of dollars, and generates new wealth. Then how about the overwhelming national security rationale? Using less oil, for example, reduces funding to petro-dictators around the world. The former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, puts is very bluntly: “Your gas money funds terrorism.”

On this score the difference between the parties is stark. The DNC’s platform includes the words “climate change” at least 18 times and lists it as an “Emerging Threat” along with cybersecurity, biological weapons, and transnational crime. While “emerging” may not be the word I’d choose, it’s leaps and bounds beyond the GOP’ s party platform, which mentions climate change just once…and again, only to mock it. Their platform complains that the Obama administration has elevated “climate change” (with the sarcastic quotation marks) to the level of a severe threat to our security.

But let’s be clear: it’s not the Democrats or even President Obama specifically that declared climate change a national security threat. That would be the Pentagon in its Quadrennial Defense Reviewtwo years ago.

A strong plan to tackle climate change through government policy, business innovation, and citizen action is not just something that’s not optional; it’s preferable. Moving away from carbon to a cleaner economy makes us healthier, more profitable, and more secure.

My work is not political — I try to help companies create business value from sustainability and green thinking, so I normally avoid these kinds of discussions. But the discrepancy in party positions on this most critical issue has become too extreme to ignore.

There’s blame on both sides, but let’s not pretend the two parties neglect climate change equally. Yes, it’s a shame that most Democrats will not stand up and proudly stand behind many of the positions in their own platform. But the GOP’s denial of climate science, and all the risks and opportunities it presents, is surreal.

Their views and policies on climate won’t help our businesses deal with, and profit from, the largest market shift we’ve ever seen. And they won’t help prepare our country for the hard realities of life in the 21st century.

Andrew Winston is the co-author of the best-seller Green to Gold and the author of Green Recovery. He advises some of the world’s biggest companies on environmental strategy. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewWinston. This piece was originally published at AndrewWinston.com and was reprinted with permission.

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14 Responses to Why Politicians Who Deny Climate Change Cannot Be ‘Pro-Business’

  1. BillD says:

    Makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, I live in a midwest state, Indiana, where something like 95% of our electricity comes from coal. This leads to a situation where politicians from both parties are against any economic penalties for coal and carbon. In my view, this is short-sighted, because sometime in the next decade, taxes on carbon emissions or at least, a cap and trade, will kick in. We need to accelerate our transition to renewables, especially in states and regions with high CO2 emissions.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Nice article, but the media awakening that you describe has not been visible to me. Network news rarely mentions global warming, and is still ultra cautious about connecting recent weather disasters to it. The “some scientists believe” line is still in effect.

    I watched Frozen Planet the other night, which, incredibly, failed to mention Arctic warming except as seasonal or perhaps from causes unknown. Attenborough even talked about whether warming is good or bad as “it depends on who you talk to”. This was also CBS’ line on Greenland, citing increased tourism in the interior.

    This is madness, of course. Our media is still broken, and its corruption and incompetence accounts for Americans’ being so far behind the rest of the world on the subject. According to recent studies cited here, TV news coverage of climate change remains cursory, especially compared to 2007. We need to fix this.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      In Australia the Murdoch sewer( 70% control of the press) is still near 100% denialist, and is currently waging one of its trade-mark hate and smear campaigns against the Green Party, with numerous hate articles and much virulent blackguarding. They define hate speech as ‘free speech’, and the total suppression of contradicting opinion as ‘freedom of speech’. Freedom for Rupert Moloch and his ilk, and their minions, but not so much for others.

  3. Paul Magnus says:

    Lets face it. Romney is not really real presidential candiate material.

    He is just a front end to the 1%.
    Just like Reagan was, just like Bush was.

    Democracy in the US is a figment of their imagination.

  4. Lawrence Tagrin says:

    Climate change recognized as a threat two years ago? Bull!! Try 20 years ago. I have two GAO reports on global warming from the GHW Bush administration – one of which dealt with it as a military threat, and if you send me an email I’ll dig them up and send you the report numbers.

  5. Stephen says:

    Isn’t that the same Richard Branson as the one whose company flies hundreds of planes pumping CO2 into the atmosphere every day?

  6. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    They created a wasteland and called it progress.

  7. Bill Goedecke says:

    This is hogwash. We have to tackle climate change because it threatens our survival. And we have to remember that oil and gas are unique substances that contain high and easily converted energy potential – something that cannot be replicated by alt-energy – meaning that they are uniquely productive.

  8. Lionel A says:

    The Telegraph article linked to in that Guardian piece is headlined thus: BBC drops Frozen Planet’s climate change episode to sell show better abroad

    To sell better abroad should be thought of as to avoid censorship issues with US networks.

    Within the article is this information:

    However, the Frozen Planet DVD will be sold overseas – including the US – containing all seven episodes as broadcast in the UK.

    I am not in a position to judge how this worked out.