My family and I live in lower Manhattan. Hurricane Sandy left us, as it did so many other families and businesses, without power, heat, hot water and refrigeration. Our heartfelt best goes out to all who were affected. Recovery hasn’t been easy — not for any of us.
But as we work to rebuild our lives, this can be an opportunity to reflect on whether we’re making the right decisions to protect our citizens and businesses.
Climate-change science demonstrates how we’re prone to more frequent and stronger storms, and unpredictable weather patterns.
Some — hopefully many — businesses will help us recoup the billions of dollars lost because of the storm. But we need strategies to help us adapt to, mitigate and reverse the effects of changing weather. We can apply adaptation strategies that can be implemented in a systemic and effective manner, and we can determine who is vulnerable to climate change — for example, who’s most likely to be affected by drought, heat waves, wildfires, sea level rise, storm surges or floods. Government has the infrastructure and capacity to deal with these matters, and therefore should have the mandate.
If not, we’ll continue to respond on an emergency basis — when floods and droughts start affecting basic services and threatening lives and livelihoods. Thoughtful decision-making is rare when made in the heat of a crisis, and we now see the horrible consequences of failure to plan.
What will our politicians offer as solutions? What solutions can business leaders offer? What can the private and public sector do together?
When smart business people are shown that sound science points toward an innovative solution, they heed that science and build that into their business planning.
So, why have partisan politics prevented us from creating the necessary policies to confront climate change? The time has come to move beyond the rhetoric and self-interests of a small number of outdated, yet powerful corporations and the politicians who do their bidding to deny the effect of fossil fuels.
There is a moral and business imperative to accept the science and tact with ingenuity and innovative spirit.
We need a long-term energy policy that moves us to a clean energy future, one that creates energy independence and enhances national security. We need strategies and policies to ensure a secure food system and access to quality water and air.
Businesses have already been hurt by our failure to acknowledge climate change. And in addition to disruption of business and resultant financial losses, companies face increasing risk, liability and insurance premiums as climate change becomes more prevalent.
Consumers are increasingly demanding healthy and safe products and services that utilize clean energy and safer chemicals. Businesses can play an important role in shifting markets to that clean and renewable energy, and much money is to be made. Government has its role to play in regulating hazards and providing incentives for innovations.
Production tax credits, which are threatened in Congress, should be pushed forward to advance wind technologies. And proposals like Clean Energy Victory Bonds can provide long-term private investment in clean energy technologies. As we rebuild, more and more work can be done to create energy efficiencies in our housing stock and businesses. Using the best of technologies, we’re primed to create the manufacturing plants of the future. Tackling climate change head on is a win-win that’s good for business, as these policies and market strategies create much-needed good jobs, reduce risk, inspire innovation and generate the new revenue streams.
The World Bank’s World Development Report 2010 said, “Climate-smart policies are those that enhance development, reduce vulnerability and finance the transition to low-carbon growth paths.”
We can still change course, making good business and political decisions that take climate change seriously. We must also consider the possibility that we’ll fail, and if we do fail, it will be because we did nothing or made shortsighted choices. So let’s step up to this challenge and choose wisely.
David Levine is co-founder and CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council, whose members represent more than 150,000 businesses and 300,000 business leaders.