At what point does even big business decide climate change is a problem?
by David Atkins
Despite the conservative climate denialists and venal fossil fuel conglomerate flacks, the banking and insurance industry isn't taking climate change lightly:
Nick Robins, who heads the climate change centre at HSBC, said business leaders will be studying the findings closely – especially those involved in managing risk.The big question here has to be at what point big business, including the banking, food production and especially insurance industries decide that something must be done about this. Ever since the Powell memo big business has been united against long-term thinking progressive policy under the idea that if one business interest succumbs to regulation, every business interest will suffer. But there has to come a point at which the rest of the American business sector realizes that if the gas and petroleum industries get their way, their own bottom lines will be irreparably damaged.
“The key thing now is taking this very high quality science and then translating it into a risk management strategy for business which is question both of size of impact and the probability of impact,” he said.”We actually need to avoid not just the most likely scenarios but those long tail high impact scenarios as well.”
Even if warming is kept to 2C – which the IPCC report made clear would only happen with extreme effort – the risk of climate disruption was still too high for the insurance industry and for investment managers, Robins said.
“If you look at those sectors they are well in advance of many sectors thinking about this issue. Those are the people in the economy we pay to manage risk for us,” he said.
Robins said the report is likely to provide further impetus for the move to a low-carbon economy – despite all the talk of a brief hiatus in warming.
“There are multiple drivers now that give us more confidence that we are going to accelerate the drive to a low carbon economy. We have much better science, and we are in a much better position to deploy solutions.”
The same could be said on other fronts, too. How long is American business going to suffer under the thumb of employer-provided healthcare just to let the health insurance industry avoid regulation? How long is American business going to put up with a sour economy and constant crisis economics just so Wall Street can try to steal more pension and Social Security funds?
American political battles are usually pitched between progressive interests using government as a regulatory force for the common good, against entrenched wealthy business interests. But when an entire political party goes far off the rails to harm 90% of the country to benefit just a few business interests, doesn't the rest of corporate America have to stand back at a certain point and wonder if it's all worth it? At what point does even Gordon Gekko decide it might be worth divesting from oil futures rather than resign himself to letting his beach house be swallowed by hurricanes and rising tides? Conscience be damned--even rational self interest should be kicking in here.
At some point the calculus for the majority of even American corporate interests has to shift. Most American businesses will be greatly harmed by the effects of climate change, while only the fossil fuels industry stands to lose from a shift to renewables. The demand-side effects of an Apollo Program for renewable energy would boost profits and sales. The Republican Party isn't even serving the majority of big business well anymore, to say nothing of small businesses, microbusinesses or regular wage earners across the nation.