“Just flying over N Atlantic 300 miles of ice. Global warming!”
I imagine many of you already know who tweeting this last week. If you don’t, it came from one of the world’s richest and most powerful business men – Rupert Murdoch.
Of course, his mocking of the seriousness of global warming enraged the twitter-sphere, as does most of his musings. If it was just the ramblings of an ill-informed old man (and that may be closer to the mark), then perhaps we could feel some empathy, and even pity, for his out-dated views. However, this is a person who controls a vast media empire with the power to influence public opinion as well as public policy.
A shame, then, that someone in his position fails to grasp the gravity of climate change and leverage his position – and power – to positively engage public debate, and to help bring about the urgent action we need.
Mr Murdoch is not alone in denying global warming caused by human activities (anthropogenic). We’re all familiar with the deeply entrenched view of our own Prime Minister Tony Abbott (well, Prime Minister at least at the time of writing this!) who is well-known as a climate sceptic.
And the scepticism is just as strong across the Pacific Ocean where the US Senate recently refused to accept (again) humanity’s role in increasing greenhouse gases leading to climate change. Whilst the Senate recognised that global warming is not a hoax (phew, at least they accepted that!), it voted down two measures that attributed climate change to human activity, and this last action is far more important because the US Senate remains unwilling to take any action that may reduce carbon emissions caused by human activity. It seems there is less political will today even though the scientific evidence is stronger and more conclusive regarding anthropogenic climate change.
This is all the more remarkable as “it is nearly 27 years now since a NASA scientist testified before the US Senate that the agency was 99% certain that rising global temperatures were caused by the burning of fossil fuels”.
I wonder: if aeroplanes had a 99% chance of crashing every time they flew, how many US Senators would decide to stop flying. Even if the chance was even odds, would they still board the plane?
Recent analysis from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) placed 2014 as the hottest year since records began on 1850. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to the UN World Meteorological Organisation, as rising carbon emissions continue to trap heat and drive climate change.
The WMO’s analysis is particularly authoritative as it brings together a number of leading temperature records, as well as alternative ways of estimating the warmth of the globe.
At the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged business leaders to take action to avoid runaway climate change.
“This is the first generation that is becoming aware of what we have done, because the previous generation had no clue,” said the executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We can’t blame them, we can’t blame ourselves because we’ve been put in this situation, but we do have a responsibility to do something about it and not to pass it on to the next generation.”
While we often focus on the efforts (or lack thereof) of governments and world politicians to secure meaningful global climate change agreements, perhaps we are not giving enough weight to the power of business to influence such talks.
Indeed, Christiana Figueres agrees that the private sector can play an important role in giving governments the confidence to take action. “I don’t think anybody can question the fact the role of business is fundamental, independently of [on] what side of the spectrum business stands,” she said.
This is not to stay that the private sector is not speaking out about the need for urgent climate change action. A small number of companies like Patagonia are very vocal and very active in pursuing public debate around policy change, as well as redesigning their own business practices to become more sustainable. But the number of companies speaking out is too small to effect large-scale change.
“There’s a huge number of companies – the silent majority – that are not participating in this discussion and are not engaging with governments with respect to the very clear guidance and regulatory certainty that they need,” Christiana said.
So what’s driving inaction by the “silent majority”? Ms Figueres puts it down to the lack of immediate threat from climate change to business operations. Indeed, in a recent Pricewaterhousecoopers survey of global CEOs, climate change is ranked so low in importance that it didn’t even make the list in this year’s PwC survey. Furthermore, “evidence that CEOs are not engaged on climate change comes from the responses to a question about their top priorities for government. Only 6% of respondents listed reducing the risk of climate change as a priority, putting it at the bottom of the list.”
But Figueres claims this is not good enough, and if CEOs continue to focus on short-termism then they risk the long-term survival of their companies.
“They can see that in the long run, having a stable planet and economic system is actually better for them in their operations and their business continuity, and that there is a huge opportunity for growth and for new profit, for new jobs, new industries and new technologies,” she said. “But that is not compelling enough to actually have the CEO get up there and use his voice and leadership because the pain in the shoe is not enough. There is this abstract sense of yeah, we all want to be better off, but maybe somebody else should be doing something about that.”
With findings from another study last year revealing that a majority of large investors are worried about companies’ readiness for climate change, perhaps the pressure for change will come from a more unlikely source. The source is “significant in that this information isn’t just the data, say, of a fringe environmental group – it is from asset managers and pension fund managers responsible for a total of more than $US11 trillion”.
In the study “How Investors are Shaping Boards Today…and into the Future”, which was also conducted by PwC, investors were asked how satisfied they are with the information companies provide about the risks of climate change to their business.
The study found that 58% responded that they were dissatisfied with the information corporations were providing regarding climate change impacts, and this figure rose to almost two-thirds of all investors with over $US100 billion in assets under management.
And now pressure is building from the insurance sector. In an article by Katie Gilbert, “Regulators Push U.S. Insurers on Climate Change Risk”, the insurance industry is well aware of the potential impact of extreme weather events potentially caused by climate change on their own investments and product portfolios.
Now that asset managers, fund managers and insurers appreciate the risk and dangers of climate change to their own investment and business portfolios, maybe we need more tweets from fund managers and insurers to our global leaders and CEOs about the issue ?
And please tag and hashtag Mr Murdoch in on those tweets. In case you need it, his Twitter handle is @rupertmurdoch