Back with a vengeance: Climate change considerations

Imtiaz A. Hussain | Published: June 17, 2019 21:42:31 | Updated: July 11, 2019 15:54:08

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg holds a sign reading, "School strike for the climate," as she attends a rally in Hamburg, Germany on March 01, 2019.                 —Photo: AP

Much like the 22-year-old Pakistani, Malala Yousafzai, Sweden's Greta Thunberg is out to change the world. Malala's gender-accented children-based education advocacy won her the Nobel Peace Prize (with Kailash Satyarthi), and with this 16-year-old Swedish with Asperger's syndrome, the environment. This must be Greta's year, as 2014 was for Malala. From a staunch solitary advocate of rectifying the continuous carbon-laden damage being wrought, her March 2019 "school strike for climate," catapulted her local hometown campaign into a global movement, and with it she herself into world fame. What is so potent about the "Greta effect" is that it has mobilised the very young across the planet to begin saying their own future is being wrecked by today's adults. That may be a cheeky thought for any teenage girl, but here is why that might land the fatal blow on this climate-change controversy: those youths represent immediate future voters, meaning we are in for a see-saw of a ride that might challenge our uncomfortable environmental status quo.

It is not just Sweden's Thunberg making effective noise: so too are many in the Democratic Party of the United States in their presidential election campaign speeches. This is not so automatically a stand against a Republican presidential incumbent who cares tuppence about the environment, but as Rebecca Leber observes in the May/June 2019 issue of Mother Jones, because "a majority of adults under 30 say that addressing climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress" (p. 15). It was not just an anti-Trump platform, as Leber notes of Hillary Clinton's pro-climate 2016 pitch ("I think the science is real," Clinton posited to contrast Trump's distaste of the subject), but is, as Bernie Sanders announces on his campaign trail, "an existential threat to our country and the entire planet."Jay Inslee, the most forceful environmental candidate out there, naturally pushes the cause most vociferously. "So we can't succeed on these other issues," he insists, "unless we defeat climate change." We have to wait to see the election results next year, but the buck does not stop there, or with politics.

As Faith Mitchell brings to our attention, Colorado's HEAL (healthy eating and active living) movement depends upon "changes in the physical environment," indeed its associated HER (Healthy Eating Research) initiative "focuses its efforts on sustainable policies, systems, and environmental-change strategies" (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2019, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 24). In fact, such has become the snowball effect on pro-environment crusades and monuments that businesses, hitherto the "villains" in any climate-change conversations, are on the march to capitalise upon "sustainability." Robert G. Eccles and Svetlana Klimenko report how an "investor revolution" is underway: shareholder concerns about the "environment, social, and governance" (ESG) issues have begun translating into longer time-appraisals of businessmen, giving "materiality" more prominence in environmental tapestries, instead of merely "principles and other hitherto abstract forms of environmental commitment" ("The investor revolution," Harvard Business Review, or HBR, May-June 2019, 108, but see 107-116).

At least six factors matter, as the authors deduced from their CEO (chief economic officers) interviews: (a) size of investment firms (who "have no hedge against the global economy" because their size makes them "too big to let the planet fail"; (b) financial returns, not just because "high performance on relevant ESG issues" is becoming consistent with "superior financial performance," but also to help "make the world a better place"; (c) growing demand, for example, by asset owners, that is, those managing pension funds, who see the sustainability demand skyrocketing; (d) an evolving view of fiduciary duty, given how "legal, opinions and regulatory guidelines" believe "it is a violation of fiduciary duty not to consider" ESG factors; (e) trickle-down within investment firms, given how top management now insist ESG analysis be "integrated into the fundamental financial activities carried out by analysts and portfolio managers; and (f) more ESG activism by investors, such as through "proxy resolutions and proxy voting," given the solid growth of "environmental and social" (ES) resolutions expanded from 33 per cent in 2006 to 45 per cent in 2016, as well as actual "sustainable investing."

Even climate-change is also being made a business transaction. Joseph E. Aldy and Gianfranco Gianfrate point out how corporations "are working to protect their assets and supply chains from increasing hurricanes, heat waves, fires, and droughts" ("Future-proof your climate strategy," HBR, 88-97). In turn, it has bred "a monetary value on the company's own emissions," and this "internal carbon pricing" can help shape government policy-making. They also help companies with their new investments, risk management, strategies, as well as assessing results and engaging stakeholders.

Dominic Endicott and John Sviokla exploit another 21st century development over longer live-span than, say, a century ago, means more generations must coexist with each other than ever before, for example, from a 2-Gen (two generations) society to a 4-Gen (four generations) counterpart today ("Facing up to a four-generation society," Strategy+Business, Summer 2019, 53-6). What this does is to balance the tendencies of each generation, and this harmonisation tempers the predatory approach we materialistic humans tend to stick to in our lives: how the experiences learned from trials and errors have helped us to tame our environment-endangering products, behaviour, and consequences.

Pushing that human evolution, another environment preserving dynamic has been the growth of law. As Lucy Bernholz observes from Electronic Frontier Foundation, litigation exercises open other doors: technology grows and activism expands, helping digital rights protection. Sustainability creeps in once in motion, and this easily slides down the slippery road to environmental protection, especially if the litigation revolves around the environment (Stanford SocialInnovation Review, Summer 2009, vol. 17, no. 3, 18-25).

If these are not enough, perhaps the most invigorating (and exhilarating) illustrations have been the conversion of two of the world's most environment-abusing countries into "green" leadership: China and India. Until recently China boasted some of the world's most polluted cities, and India was too dependent on coal, for example, to easily cleanse itself of this damaging indulgence. Today, however, they lead the world in planting trees, so many in fact (China deployed its entire army to plant trees), that no other country can match them. Should they sustain their efforts, as the most populated countries on earth, they might set the most convincing environmental standards of the 21st century, something future environmental leaders, like Thunberg, might be able to build upon, swelling the movements to preserve the environment, thwarting more climate-change concerns, and instilling an imperative even recalcitrant politicians like Donald Trump might have to bend to absorb.

Lessons stare Bangladesh in the eye. If China and India, hitherto a more distasteful environmental reference, can make such a gigantic climb, we ought not to be left behind. We can follow China's Beijing model to spruce up Dhaka, and tip-toe both these countries by making our green Bangladesh greener still.

Beyond that, we need to put in legislation to bring both the public and corporations into this kind of a mindset, encourage them here with an incentive, nudge them there with another, and so forth.

The whole idea is to start doing something rapidly before the world's most Ground Zero country starts sinking. If we do not help ourselves, our climate gods may be less kinder, and our seasonably threatened coasts might become a perennially evaporating nightmare.

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.



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