Laurie Ristino: The business of climate change

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Laurie Ristino, an associate professor at Vermont Law School and the director of its Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

Major corporations get it: Climate change is a business liability. The most recent evidence? After drought and crop failure disrupted its ability to produce beverages and other products, the Coca-Cola Co. conceded that climate change threatens its bottom line, according to a story published in The New York Times (Jan. 23, 2014).

Coke’s willingness to acknowledge the growing economic threat of climate change , however, is not unique among American companies. For example, General Motors, Disney and Microsoft purchase millions of tons worth of voluntary carbon offsets (which, in theory, mitigate and avoid greenhouse-gas emissions). In fact, in 2012, American companies led the world in the purchase of voluntary carbon offsets. These investments were made in advance of any federal regulatory requirement to reduce emissions. In other words, some corporations are proactively addressing climate change impacts as part of their business planning.

As a matter of fiscal survival, the business sector needs to follow the lead of Coke and other corporations in acknowledging the reality of climate change.

 

One could chalk up offset purchase as green-washing. But when companies like GM and Coke acknowledge the effects on their bottom lines, it’s clear that corporate America is turning a corner on climate change. This is a significant departure from the traditional stance of industries like coal and industrial agriculture as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with its dogged determination to hamper any governmental attempt to address climate change. Their argument that government regulation of greenhouse gases will increase the cost of business seems increasingly untenable as businesses acknowledge that climate change itself negatively impacts profit.

Climate change’s catastrophic impacts and the centuries-long process it will take to mitigate its effects require response from all sectors of society, including business. Even if we had effective governance, Congress alone can’t solve this problem. And so, business’ engagement in addressing climate change is not just a welcome development, it is critically necessary. Business has the capacity to invest in mitigation and adaptation, innovate solutions, and provide leadership. This leadership is not just a matter of protecting profits. In fact, an increasing number of businesses recognize that the value of incorporating social good into their missions. In Vermont, where I work and teach, the business community has long incorporated social good into their pursuit of the bottom line.

It’s easy to forget that the American corporation, now beast of burden to the singularity of shareholder value as measured by profit, is a modern development. At our nation’s founding, the chartering of corporations was a limited affair to enable activities that benefitted the public such as the building of infrastructure. Colonists were wary of the power of English corporations with their expansive and sweeping power, and sought to limit their influence in governance and other aspects of society. Fast forward to present-day when corporations, in a sort of historical irony, have now been granted a degree of personhood by the Supreme Court. Yet, if corporations are to have the privilege of personhood, then certainly they should have the duties associated with membership.

Just a heartbeat ago, it seems climate change was a distant meteorological curiosity. But our radical reordering of weather is now visible: extreme weather its calling card. As a matter of fiscal survival, the business sector needs to follow the lead of Coke and other corporations in acknowledging the reality of climate change. And, as a matter of duty, corporations must embrace their role in addressing it.

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24 Comments on "Laurie Ristino: The business of climate change"

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Matt Fisken
2 years 4 months ago

I’m hardly impressed when I see a coke driver in a Prius dropping off a couple cases of Diet Coke at the local convenience store to keep it’s just-in-time addictive something-sweetened-beverage business model propped up.

Protecting the earth’s environment/climate is not about money—it’s about life. Following Coke’s lead will not help at all. They’ve been damaging the planet and its life and will continue doing so as they poison our bodies and minds, worried only about their bottom line.

Kathy Nelson
2 years 4 months ago

Well said, Matt. It is also a fact that Coca-Cola is a big supporter of some of the most vicious animal cruelty perpetrated in the USA, most especially rodeo.
If people want a healthy planet they should spend their efforts on keeping drinking water clean, and then drinking it instead polluting their bodies with fizzy brown sugar.

2 years 4 months ago
obviously Ristino is a “warmist” shill. Pushing an unproven ideology that has as much doubt as it does acceptance. How can anyone, in this day and age, point at a drought and claim “Global Warming” when in fact, and at the same time, the DOD is conducting Geo engineering experiments to control/change weather. Chemtrailing (the spraying of heavy metals into the atmosphere. strontium, barium and aluminum oxide) has been going on for years. With these practices they can make it rain or they can make it not rain. They can make it snow or they can make it not snow.… Read more »
krister adams
2 years 4 months ago

Mr. Giroux: Really? Perhaps I could fathom a microclimate being “weather-manipulated” (say, Mt. Mansfield). But the entire earth? Extreme drought in Africa, extreme heat in Austrailia, snow in Georgia, floods in Vermont, entire species of fish, animals just going extinct, etc., etc. Please brush up on your facts. Like it or not, believe it or not, the climate is changing.

krister adams
2 years 4 months ago

Indeed the climate is perpetually changing; all by itself! However, science has proven, beyond a doubt, that the activities of modern day mankind is detrimental to the well-being of the earth’s climate & environment. Please don’t ask me to cite a study; there are literally thousands of them right in front of all of us all the time. It is truly depressing to know there still are those who will refute this and allow my daughter’s earth to go to hell.

Paul Lorenzini
2 years 4 months ago

there is not a single study that can predict the effects of climate change, so why all the panic?

Climate change is just panic for profit and control and in 100 years nobody will ever remember that you drove a Prius, no matter how good it makes you feel.

Patrice Maloney
2 years 4 months ago
The fact that some corporations employ political cronyism to bolster their profits does not validate the climate alarmists’ claims and demands. For most, climate change is a religion indoctrinated into our youth for the past 20 years by our education system, government and media. But for many in this movement, it is very much about the money. The real science (not the “adjusted data” or computer GIGO models that are held up as “science”) does not support global warming or climate change or climate variability, etc. Having to change the name of the cause all the time is a sure… Read more »
Pat Barry
2 years 4 months ago
Pat Barry
2 years 4 months ago

please amend my earlier reply to include the following for the reading impaired – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0McGUF9hc0

John Greenberg
2 years 4 months ago
Patrice, Three of these links are to articles written by John Hinderaker. Here’s what his own website says about him: John H. Hinderaker is a lawyer with a nationwide litigation practice. For twenty years Hinderaker has written with his former law partner Scott Johnson on public policy issues including income inequality, income taxes, campaign finance reform, affirmative action, welfare reform, and race in the criminal justice system. Their articles have appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, The American Enterprise, American Experiment Quarterly, and newspapers from Florida to California. The Claremont Institute has archived many of their articles here. The… Read more »
krister adams
2 years 4 months ago

May Bill McKebben drown out the deniers with facts.

Steve Comeau
2 years 4 months ago
Mankind has been capable of creating holes in the ozone layer, dramatically altering the landscape, and polluting the air, lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Giant aquifers and lakes are empting. There are rivers so consumed by irrigation that they now end before the water gets to the ocean. Large fish like swordfish are contaminated with mercury. Most people accept that mankind has altered the earth and natural world, because it is so obvious. So why is human-caused climate change such a tough concept to grasp? Actually, it is settled science. But even if it wasn’t, it is not much different… Read more »
Barry Kade
2 years 4 months ago
Ignoring the climate change deniers and the chemtrail alarmists, I’d like to comment on the article itself. Professor Ristino appears to be saying that the desire to maximize profits may cause polluting corporations to mend their ways, saving the planet, or rather the people of the planet, from the ravages of climate change. I believe this analysis is a bit optomistic about the workings of capitalism. A “rational” corporation will make changes in their practices only sufficient to maximize their bottom line. Collectively these incremental improvements will likely have little effect on the eventual outcome. I don’t see any scenario… Read more »
Don Peterson
2 years 4 months ago

Well said Barry.

Don’t forget who writes the “Capitalist Model”– its the capitalists themselves.

In the end, just like Vermont’s double counted Renewable Energy Credit debacle, they will rig the system and defeat the purpose of an otherwise well intentioned initiative by turning it into a transfer payment to the corporate sector . Poor capitalists–they’re wired that way.

Matt Fisken
2 years 4 months ago

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB123483638138996305

“It takes roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer, as much as 132 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda…”

The audacity that Coke would blame climate change for the aquifers they are draining, and possibly, droughts they are causing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Coca-Cola

Patrice Maloney
2 years 4 months ago
John Greenberg, Like I said, you can shoot the messenger all you want, but that only shows the weakness of your argument. Climate alarmists can be labeled as well, and they are as likely to be motivated by the money and power as any one else, if not more. Whatever skeptics have for funding is dwarfed next to what all the various governments provide at the expense of their taxpayers. If climate science were so settled with obvious benefits to be had by all, then it would not be very difficult to find all kinds of venture capital to jump… Read more »
Bob Goldberg
2 years 4 months ago
Patrice, John was pointing out the inherent bias in the messenger, he also pointed out multiple problems with the message. More importantly, the conspiracy theories you espouse clearly mark you out as a denier rather than a skeptic. The reality of the situation is that the overwhelming majority of actual climatologists, and every remotely credible scientific institution on the planet accepts the reality of AGW. Claiming otherwise is just disingenuous. Your argument is akin to those posted by people bought off by the tobacco industry to claim smoking is not dangerous and the fact virtually no credible medical researcher agrees… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 4 months ago
Patrice Maloney: I made no argument. I merely pointed out the biographies of the authors of the URLs you’re citing. Since you say that “Very few of the signers of the IPCC report are climate scientists either…,” I thought I’d check out the first 10. They are ALL climate scientists. Here are biographies: — Dr. Lisa Alexander: “Dr Alexander holds a BSc and MSc in Applied Mathematics and a PhD from Monash University. Between 1998 and 2006 she worked as a research scientist at the UK Met Office Hadley Centre with a year on secondment at the Australian Bureau of… Read more »
Lance Hagen
2 years 4 months ago

John, maybe you should read the book ‘The Delinquent Teenager who was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert’ by Donna Laftamboise. She paints an entirely different perspective of the IPCC processes and the people that write the actual final reports.

Appears that the ‘lead authors’, as they are called, may not be a climate expert or some have affiliation with advocacy groups, like Green Peace and WWF.

People need to remember that the IPCC is a politically organization and not a scientific organization

John Greenberg
2 years 4 months ago
Lance, “Appears that the ‘lead authors’, as they are called, may not be a climate expert or some have affiliation with advocacy groups, like Green Peace and WWF.” Are you saying that you can’t be a climate scientist and a member of Greenpeace simultaneously? Please look at the sources cited above, all of which were found by simply Googling. They speak for themselves. Please tell us which ones are wrong and why. All of them clearly state that the person in question is a scientist studying one aspect of another of climate change. Since it’s not impossible that I was… Read more »
Lance Hagen
2 years 4 months ago

John, you should really read the book I mentioned. It will give insight on how the IPCC works and how the final report gets assembled.

None of the people you referenced are coordinating lead authors and these are the people that write to final report. Contributing or referenced scientist do not review the final report. The final report is not like a legal ‘red line’ where one either accepts or rejects statements.

Read the book and learn something

John Greenberg
2 years 4 months ago
Lance writes: “None of the people you referenced are coordinating lead authors …” Actually, every one of the ones I listed is listed as precisely that here: http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_AnnexV_FINAL.pdf The list I used was shorter, taken from the summary of Working Group I, where the names I listed are included as “drafting authors” here: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/docs/WGIAR5_SPM_brochure_en.pdf As to how IPCC works, why not let IPCC describe it: “Following a call to governments and IPCC observer organisations for nominations and the submission of detailed CVs, authors are selected on the basis of their expertise. The composition of author teams aims to reflect a… Read more »
Patrice Maloney
2 years 4 months ago
Everyone has an inherent bias, including you, including corporate cronies, including climate scientists and politicians who see how easy it is to fleece taxpayers with sky-is-falling scenarios. They have no claim to purity or altruism when we know the data was cherrypicked, adjusted, withheld and “lost”. We know the peer review process was corrupted and ongoing attempts to silence differing views. You cannot seriously argue that all the government grants, taxes, carbon offset funds, not to mention the get-rich quick carbon offset investment schemes that sprung up like weeds (and now disappearing like smoke in the wind), somehow compare to… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 4 months ago
And while you all talk around in circles parts of California are running out of water, the weather’s going nuts, the seas are rising, etc. But don’t worry, you can all argue that the world is flat and live (un)happily ever after. Why not use a little logic? We have over 7 billion people on the plant all doing what people do. What’s the optimum number of people for the planet and who wants to step up and offer advice on how to control it? Reading the comments above it’s pretty clear that there will never be agreement, or a… Read more »
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