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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  • Matt Fisken

    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

      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.

  • 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. I would encourage everyone to google “what are chemtrails” and see what those long white trails in the sky are. Just keep an eye on the sky and eventually you will see these trails on certain days. Usually they are right in front of approaching fronts. Weather manipulation has been going on since the Viet Nam war where they were used to create torrential rains along the Ho Che Men trial. Ya, and I should mention that the heavy metals are hazardous to humans and other living things as well as the soil. Google “what in the world are they spraying” and you will get a youtube video that covers it in depth. So, is it climate change or is it climate manipulation???

    • krister adams

      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

        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

          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

    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 sign that the focus group talking points are not working, and the rest of the world is moving on.

    You can shoot the messenger and try to make demons of “deniers” all day long, but that is not science. The links provide the sources of data.

    • Pat Barry
    • John Greenberg


      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 other is written by his former partner, about which the site says:

      Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney. For twenty years Johnson has written with his former law partner John H. Hinderaker on public policy issues including income inequality, income taxes, campaign finance reform, affirmative action, welfare reform, and race in the criminal justice system. Both Hinderaker and Johnson are fellows of the Claremont Institute. Their articles have appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, The New York Times, and newspapers from Florida to California. The Claremont Institute has archived many of their articles here.

      Note that neither is a climate scientist. Both are lawyers associated with conservative publications and think tanks.

      Critiquing the money paid to climate scientists is just a tad rich for those who are supported by billionaires like the Kochs, and mega corporations like Exxon-Mobil, etc.

      Similarly, citing an IPCC report to trash an opponent while ignoring the basic message the IPCC has been re-articulating for decades is also rather audacious.

      • krister adams

        May Bill McKebben drown out the deniers with facts.

    • Steve Comeau

      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 than all the human caused changes that we can easily see ourselves.

  • Barry Kade

    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 under the capitalist model that will significantly change the path we are on.

    • Don Peterson

      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

    “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.

  • Patrice Maloney

    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 on the bandwagon. Instead it attracts scam artists like Al Gore, Mann, Hansen, McKibben, et al, to make a career out of scaremongering to fool the masses. Very few of the signers of the IPCC report are climate scientists either, and why should we trust them with our economy when their predictions have been wrong on temperature and frequency of extreme events. It is not capitalism that is driving these corporations to embrace a politically driven and funded scam; there are all kinds of government subsidies, guaranteed loans and political favors these corporations are trading in.
    I know no one’s mind is going to be changed at this stage of the con, but eventually the truth will prevail. Meanwhile, valuable resources are chasing a fantasy and helping to ruin the economy, thereby handicapping the engine of prosperity that as led the world in progress on environmental issues. We already know what socialist and communist countries do their environment. I’ll take free market capitalism any day. Unfortunately, what we have now in this country cannot be recognized as anything close to free market.

    • Bob Goldberg


      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 is somehow proof a “communist plot” is afoot.

  • John Greenberg

    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 Meteorology.
    Dr Alexander’s primary research focusses on understanding the variability and driving mechanisms of climate extremes.”
    — Nathan Bindoff is Professor of Physical Oceanography at the University of Tasmania Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Climate System Science.
    Nathan is a physical oceanographer, specializing in ocean climate and the earth’s climate system, with a focus on understanding the causes of change in the oceans.
    –Since 1992, François-Marie Breon is a researcher at the Laboratory for Climate Sciences and the Environment (LSCE) in Saclay.
    — Dr. John A. Church (born 1951) is an expert on sea level and its changes.
    — Ulrich Cubasch Director Freie Universität Berlin • Institute of Meteorology
    Germany • Berlin

    — Seita Emori
    Chief, Climate Risk Assessment Research Section, Center for Global Environmental Research, National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), Tokyo
    His expertise in global climate model development and climate change projections, with a focus on precipitation and its extremes, has established him as one of the most prominent climate scientists in Japan. He was a contributing author to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a member of the IPCC Steering Committee for the Expert Meeting on New Scenarios, for which the IPCC received a Noble Prize in 2007. Dr. Emori also serves concurrently as Associate Professor at the Center for Climate System Research, University of Tokyo.

    — Piers Forster is Professor of Physical Climate Change at the University of Leeds[1][2] who has studied the relationship between cosmic rays and climate …

    — Professor Pierre Friedlingstein is Chair in Mathematical Modelling of Climate Systems. His research interests are in the field of global carbon cycle and global biogeochemical cycles.
    More specifically, he is interested in the interactions between the climate system and the biogeochemical cycles over time scales ranging from glacial interglacial to future IPCC-like projections.

    — Nathan Gillett is a research scientist at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. His research is focused on understanding, attributing and predicting climate change through analysis of climate model simulations and comparison with observations. He has worked to establish the causes of observed changes in variables such as temperature, pressure, precipitation, humidity and stratospheric ozone. He also has an interest in stratosphere-troposphere coupling and the effect of stratospheric ozone depletion on the troposphere.

    — Jonathan M. Gregory is a climate modeller working on mechanisms of global and large-scale change in climate and sea level on multidecadal and longer timescales. He is currently a senior scientist in the Climate Division of NERC’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS-Climate), located in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading; and a Research Fellow in climate change at the Met Office Hadley Centre.[1]

    I’d love to see some documentation for this statement: “Whatever skeptics have for funding is dwarfed next to what all the various governments provide at the expense of their taxpayers.”

    • Lance Hagen

      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


        “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 betrayed by the alphabet (I chose the names in alphabetical order, skipping the one name for whom I couldn’t find information) , please feel free to go through the remainder of the list of lead authors and provide the names of each one who is NOT a climate scientist.

        “People need to remember that the IPCC is a politically organization and not a scientific organization.” Really? According to whom??

        According to IPCC itself, it is ” the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. In the same year, the UN General Assembly endorsed the action by WMO and UNEP in jointly establishing the IPCC.

        The IPCC is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. It does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters.

        Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis. Review is an essential part of the IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information. IPCC aims to reflect a range of views and expertise. The Secretariat coordinates all the IPCC work and liaises with Governments. It is supported by WMO and UNEP and hosted at WMO headquarters in Geneva. … Because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive. ”

        • Lance Hagen

          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

            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: 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:

            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 range of scientific, technical and socio-economic views and backgrounds. A comprehensive assessment requires author teams to include a mix of authors from different regions and from developed and developing countries to ensure that reports are not biased towards the perspective of any one country or group of countries and that questions of importance to particular regions are not overlooked.
            The IPCC also seeks a balance of men and women, as well as between those experienced with working on IPCC reports and those new to the process, including younger scientists. Author teams may also include experts from industry and from non-profit organizations who bring a valuable perspective to the assessment.
            Chapter teams comprise Coordinating Lead Authors, Lead Authors and Review Editors. The Bureau of the relevant IPCC Working Group or Task Force selects scientists for these roles from nominations of experts from their respective countries by IPCC member governments and observer organizations or from other experts known through their publications and work.”

  • Patrice Maloney

    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 two corporations. None of your climate scientists have yet to answer these questions: What is the ideal climate? And when was it ever stable over earth’s geological histor, humans or not? Why should we trust people with our money and jobs when they haven’t been right on any of their preditions yet? Time is not on your side; nature continues to demonstrate the fallacy of your claims, which is why your religion resorts to labeling us as “deniers” and marginalize, demonize and silence everywhere possible.

  • Bob Stannard

    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 solution, for global warming and that it will be left up to the planet to right itself. Humans are incapable of fixing problems they create.