The release of e-mails suggesting that scientists may have distorted climate change data just as the world's attention turns to Copenhagen has turned a rare opportunity for substantive debate into a media storm reminiscent of a middle school food fight. Even before “Climategate,” the naysayers were having an impact: An October survey by the Pew Research Center found the number of Americans who believe there is solid evidence of climate change has dropped from 71 percent in April 2008 to 57 percent in October.
This significantly dampens prospects that the Senate will pass cap-and-trade in the run-up to next year's mid-term election, despite President Obama's expected Copenhagen pledge that the US will reduce carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020.
But it is certainly not justification for business as usual.
There is growing momentum around the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The US Environmental Protection Agency just recently classified carbon dioxide as a health hazard, paving the way for new regulations in the electric power, manufacturing, and transportation sectors and sending a clear message to the world that if Congress won't act, the Obama administration will.
Companies that view the emerging post-carbon economy as an opportunity and identify the role they can play will get ahead of their competitors and a seat at the table.
The companies that began relinquishing their memberships in the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers this fall because they disapproved of the groups' opposition to climate change legislation took a bold step designed to bolster their reputations and influence a debate that will dramatically impact their businesses. The companies - which include Duke Energy, Apple, PG&E, Exelon, PNM Resources and Nike (which retained its membership in the organization but resigned from the board) – don't all agree on exactly how climate change should be addressed, but they do seem to agree that Congress should act.
Deutsche Bank has also been out front on the issue with a strong PR campaign, planting a giant carbon counter on a billboard outside Madison Square Garden as a real-time reminder that the clock is ticking. The bank has also conducted research aimed at quantifying the green economy and our lagging role in the development of new technologies and energy sources as compared to China and Germany. Deutsche clearly has a vested interest – a profitable asset management fund devoted to global warming investments. By identifying a way to jump into the debate that advances its business and reputation, Deutsche has become a thought leader.
Don't sit out this fight. The effort to reduce carbon emissions will ultimately impact all of us; presenting both great opportunity and risk. Consumers and stakeholders expect transparency and accountability. Now is the time to deliver.
Sheila Gruber McLean, SVP/ director, North American ECO Network, MS&L Worldwide