One of the joys of exploring San Francisco is walking along the trails that meander from the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza along the Presidio to Baker Beach and eventually to the exquisite Sea Cliff neighborhood. Even on a cloudy day (as seen above), the lush vegetation and salt spray makes you forget you’re in a city where about 885,000 people are crammed into a space seven by seven miles.
But the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, could put this gem along the Pacific Coast at risk, along with other coastal communities worldwide.
To that end, sea-level rise was top of mind as the annual Ceres Conference kicked off today in San Francisco’s Union Square.
More than 700 people, including those in the worlds of finance, business, social impact and environmental advocacy, are gathered here. The size of the group shows how far Ceres has come since it started in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill 30 years ago. That disaster sparked a small group of investors and environmentalists to take action. Today, this Boston-based nonprofit represents investors with over $32 trillion in assets along with hundreds of companies doing their part to transform 19th- and 20th-century business models into alternatives that are more suited for the modern global economy.
If you doubt Ceres’ impact and reach, then listen to the organization’s CEO, Mindy S. Lubber. She’s all business—as in urging business to take even bolder action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists agree is crucial to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And she reminded the crowd in San Francisco that companies can prosper, while becoming more efficient as they mitigate their impact on people and the planet.
After all, climate change “is the nexus of every sustainability challenge we face,” Lubber told the audience this morning. “We knew early on that rising greenhouse gas emissions were not just environmental threats; they were financial threats; they were human threats; they were challenging the very future of our planet.”
Lubber reminded the audience that our political leaders are finally getting their heads wrapped around how climate change can start affecting us sooner rather than later. Climate change legislation is currently floating in the U.S. House; of course, it won’t pass the Senate, but there are conversations unfolding on Capitol Hill. One Democratic presidential candidate is touting a bold $5 trillion climate change plan. “We finally have a proposal that matches the scale of the challenge,” Lubber said, “Political leaders on both sides of our aisle are starting to wake up.”
To those who dismiss legislation, or even mere talk about climate change as “radical,” Lubber offered this response:
“Our problems are radical; stealing our children’s future is radical.”
Companies by nature hardly want to be defined as “radical,” but when you look at what more businesses are doing now, they are taking on actions that would have been unthinkable in the early 2000s. And this shift is occurring partly because climate change-related risks can open the door to new business opportunities, as in improved efficiency and leading-edge technologies that morph into new products and expanded markets. Furthermore, investors are far more emboldened than ever before, as they now can reward companies that are proactively integrating sustainability within their core strategies.
As Ceres’ work has made clear, taking on climate change isn’t radical—it’s actually good business.
Image credit: Leon Kaye
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.