Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Climate Change, what are we going to do about it?

I recently read Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning by George Monbiot. It's a fascinating read that collates some of the wide ranging solutions to reducing CO2 emissions in the key areas

It has as it's base premise the requirement to cut CO2 emissions by 90% if we are to keep CO2 levels sufficently low to prevent further climate change. A shocking number, but he goes onto provide a series of solutions to achieving this in areas such as transport, energy production, housing, food shopping and many more.

Where this book is different is the acceptance that these changes have to happen within the context of an essentially capitalist society. Yes, austerity is required but that doesn't have to mean a reduction in living standards.

The temptation is to rush out and make sweeping changes to my life and the operation of the company to 'do our bit' to prevent climate change.

13 years ago while at University studying Environmental Engineering (blimey was it really that long ago?), that was my response. I was passionate, arrogant and naive and couldn't understand why people didn't want to do something, anything about preserving and protecting the environment.

I soon became jaded as the rest of the world ignored the issue and anyone who tried to make a difference was marginalised. I felt like a few of us were taking on the entire burden without any support from governments or fellow humans.

I sit here now newly invigorated. Climate change is well and truly on the agenda, even the current US Administration is admitting that there might be something we should consider doing. But, exciting as this is, the time hasn't come for sweeping, ill-considered changes.

It's not just because I am older and a little wiser, I might even go as far as to say I'm less arrogant. When it comes to my personal life, I can make whatever changes I want but my business life is very different.

I have a responsibility to all our stakeholders be they employees, customers or shareholders. We have to remain a profitable, viable business so we can:

  • keep our employees in employment
  • maintain service to our customers
  • provide a return to our shareholders

Making sweeping changes to reduce our CO2 emissions that could reduce our competitveness, when those competing against us have chosen not to make that same committment is tantamount to commercial suicide. This helps no-one.

It is at this stage I look to the government to provide the level playing field. I really want to make the changes but government policy needs to drive the majority of the solutions proposed in Heat. The challenge for government will be to do this domestically while also reaching an international consensus to ensure as a nation we remain competitive.

A daunting prospect for those in power, but the alternative doesn't really bear thinking about.

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