Climate Change and the Business Challenge

Eileen Claussen

THIS BOOK, IGNITION, INCLUDES dozens of stories of individuals and groups who are taking responsibility in this age of global warming. At the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which I have had the honor to lead since its inception in 1998, we have had a bird's-eye view of the growing realization, by so many Americans, that it's time to step up. In the last few years, from our perch inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway, we have been thrilled to collaborate with leaders of civic groups, businesses, and state governments who are taking the lead as the climate change movement comes into its own.

Alas, we have not seen such leadership from the White House in recent years. Indeed, the way the George W. Bush administration has shirked its responsibility on this issue reminds me of something I recently ran across on the Internet. It was a posting of actual comments on actual job applications. In one group of comments, people were asked why they had left their most recent jobs. One answered, "Responsibility makes me nervous." Another wrote that his former employer insisted he arrive at 8:45 every morning and that he—quote—"couldn't work under those conditions." Now just a word of advice to all you college-age readers: those are not the kinds of things you want to tell your future employers!

This chapter is partially based on the 2005 Scott Margolin Environmental Affairs Lecture, delivered at Middlebury College in April 2005.

Yet the attitude reflected in these comments is not all that different from the attitude toward climate change on the part of many of our nation's leaders: responsibility makes them nervous. It is not only the Bush White House. The Bill Clinton administration, for its part, seemed much more interested in appearing to take the climate change issue seriously than in actually doing something about it, which brings me to yet another actual quote from an actual job application. In this instance, the individual was asked about any unique skills or attributes he brought to the job. The answer: "I procrastinate—especially when the task is unpleasant."

Well, as chapter 2 makes clear, we can't procrastinate anymore. We need a groundswell, now. In this chapter, I focus specifically on policy levers that can enhance the role of the business community in building and maintaining this groundswell. Business participation, business action, and business innovation are all essential to reducing the very real threat that climate change poses to the world in the years and decades ahead.

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