During the four years of the Donald Trump administration, U.S. business leaders have had to step up and fill a leadership void on climate action and other issues of fundamental public interest. That work must continue under a new administration in order to repair the years of damage and neglect. It will be no less difficult due to the persistence of conspiracy theories partly aided and abetted by the president himself, and one early test of leadership will be how business responds in the upcoming United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
At first glance, supporting the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration would seem to be a piece of cake for businesses seeking to burnish their green profiles. After all, public support for environmental action is strong, and U.S. businesses have years of experience in preserving butterfly habitats, sponsoring litter cleanups, raising public awareness about environmental issues and, of course, planting trees.
The Decade on Ecosystem Restoration takes efforts like these to the next level, calling for a global, all-hands-on-deck effort by governments, NGOs, and private businesses to preserve and restore ecosystems. The initiative dovetails with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for counteracting climate change, protecting and improving the well-being of local populations, and preserving biodiversity.
To amplify and reinforce the effort, the U.N. is encouraging all participants in the Decade to make use of its brand book, complete with a colorful logo, social media cards and messages, and the hashtag #GenerationRestoration. The branding provides businesses with a readymade pathway for lending their support to the effort and identifying themselves globally with the cause of global ecosystem restoration.
The new U.N. Decade will officially launch on World Environment Day, on June 5, 2021. That leaves U.S. business leaders with plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the U.N. resolution that established the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and plan ahead for initiatives and activities that connect with the Sustainable Development Goals.
What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, if history is any indication. Long before Trump took office, conservative pundits and politicians poisoned a generation of voters against global action through the United Nations, drawing on the emotional tug of thinly veiled anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
One red flag occurred during the Barack Obama administration, when the John Birch Society and other influential conservatives began a full-fledged attack on the U.N. Agenda 21 initiative.
Agenda 21 was adopted as part of the 1992 U.N. summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is a non-binding planning document intended to provide guidance for sustainable development efforts. Unfortunately, it gave fodder to conspiracy theorists who raised the specter of communism and the abolition of private property. By 2012 it had become a political hot potato in the U.S., stifling serious debate over a national plan for sustainable development.
The climate change “hoax” is among a list of conspiracy theories regularly promoted by President Trump before and during his term in office. In his first year, he moved to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, playing right into conspiracy theories about the U.N.
Those conspiracy theories are bound to endure long after President-elect Joe Biden takes office, along with the voter fraud conspiracy theory, the white supremacist movement, the socialist takeover theory, and the web of fantasy drawn by Qanon believers, among others. The result is that businesses supporting the new U.N. Decade will expose themselves to a hotbed of hysteria fueled by social media and conventional media alike, even leading to the potential for violence.
That makes it all the more important for business leaders to support the U.N. Decade, if not through direct branding then by taking more aggressive action to push back against conspiracy theories about sustainable development and climate action.
Business leaders have already ceded far too much of the public square to crackpots, bad actors and self-interested politicians. They cannot rely on the goodwill of the incoming Biden administration to change hearts and minds on sustainable development.
The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest example of the potential for lethal consequences on a massive scale when misinformation runs amok. Now is the time for U.S. businesses to take control of the climate debate, stake their brands on truth and science, and fight for a more sustainable future.
Image: James Wainscoat/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.