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Whole Foods CEO John Mackey Thinks Climate Change is Not Necessarily Bad

Raz Godelnik
| Monday January 21st, 2013 | 39 Comments

John Mackey - Whole FoodsJohn Mackey, the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods describes himself as an enthusiastic proponent of the First Amendment who believes “business leaders should speak out openly when they believe it is appropriate to do so.” Mackey certainly likes to exercise his First Amendment rights, whether it is in books (see his latest one – Conscious Capitalism), public appearances, or even on Yahoo Finance’s message board under the pseudonym Rahodeb.

Many times his controversial opinions on issues like unions, climate change and Obamacare get him into trouble. The latest example was last week when he told Mother Jones that “climate change is perfectly natural and not necessarily bad,” seemingly suggesting that climate change might be even a good thing as “most of humanity tends to flourish more when global temperatures are in a warming trend.”

As you can imagine, this wasn’t the first time Mackey expressed a controversial statement on global warming. Actually, this wasn’t even the first time he suggested climate change might not be such a bad thing. In 2010, Mackey told the New Yorker that he agrees with the assertion that “no scientific consensus exists” regarding the causes of climate change,” adding that “it would be a pity to allow hysteria about global warming” to cause us “to raise taxes and increase regulation, and in turn, lower our standard of living and lead to an increase in poverty.” Finally, he said that “historically, prosperity tends to correlate to warmer temperatures.”

Comparing both interviews, there’s actually some progress in Mackey‘s position. In 2010, he thought “no scientific consensus exists,” but in 2013, he claimed that “climate change is clearly occurring.” Nevertheless, he persists in claiming that climate change is a natural phenomenon and it might not be as bad as we assume it is.

If these positions sound odd coming from the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, you need to remember that Mackey is a libertarian, and this view on climate change is not uncommon among libertarians. Libertarians, in general, have a hard time accepting that global warming is a serious problem. Why is that?

Prof. Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve University  and Matt Bruenig provide some good explanations, as well as George Monbiot who tried to simplify the argument, which is based on the procedural justice account of property rights as follows: “In brief, this means that if the process by which property was acquired was just, those who have acquired it should be free to use it as they wish, without social restraints or obligations to other people. Their property rights are absolute and cannot be intruded upon by the state or by anyone else.”

So you can see why harmful manmade greenhouse emissions might be at odds with the libertarian view of the world – after all, as Matt Bruenig explains, “Greenhouse gas emitters have not contracted with every single property owner in the world, making their emissions a violation of a very strict libertarian property rights ideology.”

Yet, while questioning the contribution of humankind to global warming or the rejection of any government intervention or regulation are common among libertarians, the notion that climate change can actually be positive is rare. Still, it didn’t stop Mackey from stating in his interview with Mother Jones that “in general, most of humanity tends to flourish more when global temperatures are in a warming trend and I believe we will be able to successfully adapt to gradually rising temperatures.”

If there’s something Mackey is afraid of, it’s not climate change but rather regulation or intervention. “What I am opposed to is trying to stop virtually all economic progress because of the fear of climate change. I would hate to see billions of people condemned to remain in poverty because of climate change fears.”

This view is at odds with almost any study of climate change risks – OECD, IPCC, Goldman Sachs or PwC to name a few. Mackey might also want to take a look at the 2012 report, Physical Risks from Climate Change: A guide for companies and investors on disclosure and management of climate impacts, which explains how “virtually every sector of the economy faces risks from the short- and long-term physical effects of climate change—impacts across the entire business value chain, from raw materials through to the end users.” And did we mention Hurricane Sandy?

Does it really matter what Mackey thinks about climate change? The answer is that while Whole Foods is a public company, not Mackey’s company anymore, it still very much reflects his position and point of view. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Whole Foods has no climate change policy and I doubt if you can find the words ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ on its website.

It means that while Whole Foods is a leader on some sustainability issues, it lags behind on climate change and will probably continue to as long as Mackey calls the shots on this issue.

Does it change your opinion on Whole Foods? Please feel free to comment.

[Image credit: Whole Foods Market]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and Parsons the New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.


▼▼▼      39 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Jack

    Well I for one will now be boycotting Whole Foods until these gouging ignorant capitalists find that the is consensus on global warming and the changes in our climate are not natural. How dare he spread false information to the readership and why does the media give any time to time to these selfish clowns?

  • Charles

    Climate change, Global warming blah blah blah….it’s all double speak to rationalize the pinking up left winging property grabbing personal liberties quashing movements of socialsm and communism in our time. Who is this yellow journalistic rag, “Triple Pundit”? And look at the reporter’s creds…a frickin unversity professor. When one reads garbage like this one needs to consider the source. Right on Mackey. And God bless Ron Paul and the Libertarians, and yes folks, the Tea Party.

    • Corley

      I assume this comment is a joke

    • lavrans

      Charlie my boy, you should go jump in the lake- the new one at the North Pole which was, in your opinion, NOT caused by global warming.

  • TheGrouch

    Prof. Adler, Mat Bruenig, and George Monbiot all shortchange the libertarian viewpoint by running to the far “laissez faire” side of capitalism for their weak argument. In fact, almost all libertarians believe quite the opposite of what these three stooges attempt to portray.
    Libertarians, at least most American versions, believe we are free to do as we choose, with one important caveat, AS LONG AS YOU DO NOT FORCABLY INTERFERE WITH THE EQUAL RIGHTS OF OTHERS TO DO AS THEY CHOOSE!
    So how does this apply to the businessman? He’s free to do whatever he chooses, make a product, treat his employees as he wishes, etc. If a libertarian, he fully understands that if he pollutes the air or water, he is forcing himself upon someone that might want clean air and/or water. Thus a true libertarian would go beyond government regulations to develop and provide an environmentally sustainable product or service.
    In terms of flopping over to hype, a libertarian would search all sources to determine if a viewpoint were accurate. In this case, this businessman has weighed the facts and determined that he feels climate change is occurring and its natural.
    I’m an environmental sustainability consultant to corporations, NGOs and government agencies. The first thing I tell clients is that it’s not important whether you believe the world is coming to an end because of climate change, or that the view is bunk. What is important is that you consider the effect of your operation upon the earth.
    Accurate science tells us that the air is getting dirtier, there is less potable water, and most fossil fuels are not replenishing themselves very quickly. Hence, one may want to do their best to discharge gases with the least amount, if any, of additional pollutants. Develop systems that remove all effluents from water. And reduce your reliance upon fossil fuels.
    This is the real libertarianism. Not some leftists hyped up rant that all libertarians are laissez faire, anything goes, individuals. That’s just a way to minimize the thoughts of the radical few that brought us the American Constitution AND the Bill of Rights.

    • lavrans

      The Libertarian viewpoint, while extolling individual freedom, is enabling the continuing takeover by the fascistic Corporatists by fighting against government regulations. The only Libertards who have any real power are the Republican Teabaggers, bought and paid for by the megalomaniac Koch brothers; the rest of you are just ineffective losers.

  • Harry

    Alternate headline: Wildly Successful Businessman Reveals Self to be Unconscionable Buffoon

    • Lu

      Good God you are hot Harry.

    • Kanon25

      Spot on!

      Mackey hasn’t learned much from his mistakes, as he keeps going off on rants way off the ranch. Last time it was rants over “Obamacare” that hurt him and his company and he had to scramble to retract and excuse them.

      If you run a food retailing company, heck try to keep your pronouncements directly related to what you do. Its just common sense. In this case what the guy is doing is completely underminding the marketing strategy of his company. If customers do care about the planet, well they should know then that despite the name WHOLE foods is clearly not interested in the WHOLE picture.

      This no surprise to me though – I noted very clearly early on that Whole Foods postures about sustainablity but its often very superficial and purely for positioning. For example a lot of their products are not only non-organic, but in fact they are marketed as “natural” while barely even qualifying for that label. The company is a huge sham.

  • Gerald Wilhite

    I happen to live in Austin. I urge you to carefully read what Mackey is saying. Our Constitution says that Mr. Mackey has a right to his opinion and a right to express it, just like you and me. If you want to punish Whole Foods because you don’t like his opinions, that is your right

    Personally, I believe the United States will be a better and stronger country if we have more business leaders speaking their minds directly to the public.

    I see Whole Foods as the grocery store equivalent of Apple Computer in terms of innovation and marketing. More than any other company, Whole Foods has made natural and organic foods available to us all. Mackey is one of the new breed of open innovative business leaders that includes folks like Warren Buffet, Jimmy Wales, Sam Walton (deceased), Bill Gates, and Ray Kurzweil.

    John Mackey is demonstrating that free enterprise capitalism can make the world a better place. Want some hard evidence? Go to: http://www.wholeplanetfoundation.org

    • Harry

      Nobody is denying that Mackey has the right to say what he’s saying. We’re just saying that he’s very wrong, and given his influence, he is dangerously wrong. Either he’s stupid (very unlikely), misinformed (somewhat unlikely), or interested in short-term profit at the expense of long-term environmental stability. If the third option is true, then he is cynical and nihilistic, and it is equally everyone’s right to decline to patronize a business run by such a man.

  • BF

    So now we know, Mackey thinks that shitting in your bathtub is fine. Don’t let him bathe with you.

  • Edison 21

    Strictly speaking , Mackey may be correct… As long as you don’t live in bengledesh!

  • mbrenman

    This of course is absurd: ““In brief, this means that if the process by which property was acquired
    was just, those who have acquired it should be free to use it as they
    wish, without social restraints or obligations to other people. Their
    property rights are absolute and cannot be intruded upon by the state or
    by anyone else.” One is not free to use his property to injure other people.

  • April Dawne

    I was one of the folks in the corporate offices, laid off in 2008, the last time he opened his mouth. BECAUSE of his mouth. I still do most of my shopping at WFM because I believe in what they’re doing, but I can’t wrap my head around the fact that J Mack won’t keep his trap shut when he’s fully aware that he answers to Wallstreet, not to just his Team Members.

  • Elaine

    I guess it is wrong to have a personal opinion or a moral belief these days unless you have a liberal point of view. Think I will START shopping at Whole Foods. By the way, I love Chick Fil-A too. Imagine, they are a Christian Company who is closed on Sundays and their CEO believes in a biblical form of marriage. SHOCKING!!!!!

    • Dennis

      Oh poor, poor pitiful me!

  • Culler

    I don’t want my dollars supporting an organization that believes global warning is a good thing. I won’t shop at Whole Foods.

    • Eli

      Correct… Nothing “Whole” about it… This is when I really believe “you are what you eat”… Never in Whole Foods again…

  • Callista Shepherd

    Wow. I didn’t know this guy was such an ignoramous. I will never shop there again. Seriously. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  • http://socialk.com/ Rob Thomas

    While I, and 98% of scientists, believe the curent warming trends are because of increased carbon in the atmosphere, it is hard to penalize the employees because of a boss who still thinks with his ego and not his brain. Surprised his board has not asked him to differentiate between his private views and that of his company.

    I have enjoyed watching climate deniers back off their positions as it becomes painfully obvious we are in the middle of a crisis.

    • LordMonctonWonOxfordDebate

      What reference source can your cite to back up your wild claim that 98% of scientists believe anything?
      When admit that none exists and that’s is when you can admit that you are a perfect little slave for the new world order?
      Pay your taxes to
      Al Gore the man pig!
      George Monbiat loves dutiful little subjects like you!

      • http://socialk.com/ Rob Thomas

        The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, IPCC’s purpose is to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action, primarily on the basis of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature (3). In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities: “Human activities … are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents … that absorb or scatter radiant energy. … [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations” [p. 21 in (4)].

        IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members’ expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements. For example, the National Academy of Sciences report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, begins: “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise” [p. 1 in (5)]. The report explicitly asks whether the IPCC assessment is a fair summary of professional scientific thinking, and answers yes: “The IPCC’s conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue” [p. 3 in (5)].

        Others agree. The American Meteorological Society (6), the American Geophysical Union (7), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling (8).

        The drafting of such reports and statements involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it is not likely that they would diverge greatly from the opinions of the societies’ members. Nevertheless, they might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions. That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords “climate change” (9).

        The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensusview; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

    • http://www.facebook.com/glen.thamert Glen Thamert

      Yes. Good points. The CEO needs to get educated as to the Reality of Climate Change.

    • Tom B

      How can you call yourself a scientist (or claim to identify with them) and quote such a useless statistic, not to mention your sloppy reference to “carbon” as opposed to carbon dioxide. You are made of carbon. Carbon chemistry is the essence of life as we know it. Let’s at least be precise. As Richard Feynman famously said, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” and that could equally be rephrased as “Science is the belief in the irrelevance of consensus.”

      • lavrans

        What if the laws of science turn out to be the revealed Word of God? That would make unscientific nonsense beliefs a sin.

  • Not in my name

    First and last time at this pathetic blog. I saw it on Google News. I hope that Mr. Mackey continues to oppose all fradulent “global warming” taxes. I will shop at Whole Foods now that I know he is a libertarian and doesn’t kowtow to socialist Algorean alarmist scum.

    • lavrans

      Go jump in the lake, the new one at the North Pole, which was created by global warming, as revealed by socialist Algorean alarmist scum. Take along your water wings.

  • LordMonctonWonOxfordDebate

    The blind acceptance of the scary notion that man made global warming is something we all need to make great sacrifice to prevent, shows one thing; he who pays the piper picks the tune. You’ve been conned!
    How many of you that fear carbon also parrot the notion that 95% of scientists believed our influence on the climate is catastrophic.
    To you I say, “What is the reference source for that little sound bite?”
    I challenge all of you outraged, lemmings to do a little research and watch some speaking engagements of this man; Christopher Walter, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley.
    Pay attention to him speak of the agenda behind your brainwashing. Follow the money and you will soon see that there is a powerful group behind the need to keep people parroting the global warming fear mongering mantras. These people have an agenda and you all are unwitting pawns in their game to create a neo-feudalistic, de-industrialized globe where the mega rich profit from the whole scheme they create by you paying indulgences for carbon creation absolution. They demonize the West and those icky coal burning power plants that release little more than CO2 and water vapor, while China turns on new coal burning power plants with little to no emissions oversight every day.

  • LordMonctonWonOxfordDebate

    Here is the deal!
    They use environmental issues to mobilize the limp-wristed, impressionable, NPR voiced liberals and convince them to all kil themselves in the name of saving mother earth.
    Then they use a phony radical muslim boogey men ploy to fire up the hawkish, foolhearty conservatives so that they demand we give up our rights and finance foreign wars for trumped up reasons al in the name of having the nanny state protect us.
    This two pronged approach has made incredible strides since the false flage staged terro event of sSept 11 2001.
    Much of this agenda has been admitted for years but since the 4th estate is no longer the watchdog but rather the lapdog of the global corporate fascist dictatorship, you need to move the Overton window and wake the F up people.
    So much ignorance and so little time!

    • escapetheinsanity

      you’re not angering anyone but you are demonstrating that you are a lonely pathetic attention seeking troll… Your old, useless, and done. The next generation is coming and they don’t care what you think so you might as well take that gun in your closet put the barrel in your mouth and pull the trigger.

    • lavrans

      I just wish that I might live long enough to see you suffer the consequences of your blind stupidity. But alas, I’m old, and my days are numbered, and I will not have to opportunity to watch you and your ilk starve and die in a desolate wasteland of your own making.

  • Seatacky

    Good news. I will shop at Whole Foods with pleasure now that I know it wants to keep the Algorians at bay.

  • BOS29

    Mackey reveals himself to be a fraud. His comments regarding the ACA led me to do a little research on his views; which led me to this article. I find his views on global climate change even more objectionable compared to his statements regarding the ACA. As such, I will no longer be a patron of this company; and will instead support my local grocers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/glen.thamert Glen Thamert

    My wife and I have shopped at Whole Foods for a long time, driving 125 miles (round-trip) to do so. Now, with this Denial of Climate Change .. No More spending $100 plus at WF, weekly. With a CEO who is Out-of-Touch with reality (Climate Change) as seen by Most scientists, worldwide, our shopping will go elsewhere in ABQ, NM. Wish this was Not the case. Here’s hoping the man gets real. We want a world for our children and for theirs.
    Regretably, Glen Thamert & Myra Maher – Jemez Springs, NM

  • A message

    There’s a difference between the climate change that’s the natural course of the earth’s process and the climate change brought about by human practices which impact and speed up the natural process. It’s this later change that is of great concern as it will cause natural processes to happen more quickly and with more force than they otherwise would, such that human survival, regardless of political affiliation, is in question.

  • greenmoose

    Just because he knows a thing or two about food-related issues does not mean Mackey has studied other sustainability issues such as climate change. It appears that he if ignorant in that area and that he does not seem interested in learning more for fear it might conflict with his management of the company. While his opinions about climate change are not surprising, the fact that he does not see that changing weather patterns are already impacting his business is troubling.

  • James

    Makes me reconsider shopping at Whole Foods.

  • lavrans

    When I compare the offensively ignorant rantings of the Libertards with the useless bleatings of the liberal sheep, I am convinced that the path of the Pragmatic Progressive is the best choice. At least the liberals shows signs of intelligent thought, while the Teabaggers appear to have trouble with keeping their ears from slamming together. I don’t agree with Mackey’s nonsense, so I will stop shopping there. My $200 a month will undoubtedly bring this evil empire to its knees.