Climate Change: No Longer on the Backburner

By Peter Berger

Thousands of heat records were broken over the past few months in one of the hottest summers in recent history. Thankfully, this heat wave has reengaged the public’s interest in climate change and what can be done to curb the emission of greenhouse gases. The fact of the matter is that consensus has shifted. At the turn of the 21st century, skepticism with regard to climate change was acceptable; this is no longer the case.

Richard Muller, a University of California physicist and self-proclaimed skeptic of man’s effect on global warming, stated in a New York Times article that “Humans are almost entirely the cause.” This change in viewpoint was the result of a systematic and objective analysis dubbed the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project, performed under the gaze of the Novim Group, an objective auditor. This study analyzed data dating back 250 years (1753-2003), comparing global temperature trends to a variety of factors. Scientists from this study say that there is a “clear agreement between global land-temperature rise and human-caused greenhouse gases.” Despite evidence suggesting that global warming is largely due to human activity, significant policies encouraging corporate responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions have not been introduced.

The disconnect between science and policy is in large part due to strategic responses by corporations, such as ExxonMobil and Chevron, who have spent fortunes challenging scientific research and lobbying against emission controls. These privately funded contending studies, which produce inconclusive data, have enabled such companies to plant seeds of uncertainty in the minds of policy makers and the general public alike. According to OpenSecrets Blog, a lobbying watchdog, “pro-environmental groups spent a record $22.4 million on federal lobby efforts [in 2009].” This is less than ExxonMobil spent over that same year, and is dwarfed by the $175 million spent by the oil and gas industry in 2009.

The attitude of some of the old guard in Corporate America with regards to climate change is egregious. But what’s worse is the possibility that it will go unchecked due to the perception that emissions curbing legislation would cause economic harm. Economic stagnation can be reversed over time, but the damage done to the environment could be irreparable. There is no single solution to overcoming the social vampirism that results from unsustainable business practices. Millennials, Generation Y, or whatever you want to call those that will soon enter the workforce, must begin to take responsibility for our actions as a society and instill a culture of transparency and accountability. Together is the only way forward.

Peter Berger is a Junior Finance and Neurobiology major at the University of Maryland. Peter is originally from Baltimore, Maryland and is a graduate of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program at the University of Maryland.

image: Justin Cozart via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)

The posts on this page are contributed by students from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business in conjunction with the newly launched Center for Social Value Creation. The center's mission is to develop leaders with a deep sense of individual responsibility and the knowledge to use business as a vehicle for social change. These posts are a way to continue the dialogue outside of the classroom and share the viewpoints of Smith students on the challenges and opportunities of triple bottom line thinking.