Business May Be Our Only Hope For Climate

Our crises grow. Governments are slow to act. Business has an opportunity and a responsibility to take the reins, and even to save the world.

These are not ordinary times for business. Nor are they ordinary for the world. This is a crisis time. We face challenges that, if not addressed, could doom us. Businesses must thus behave differently going forward.

As a 35-year business journalist, I doubt if I could or would ever have written such words in the past. But today I look around at how much our climate is degrading, how political life is cheapening and failing to address our challenges, and how even democracy feels frighteningly precarious, at home and around the world. We at Techonomy find things to be, decisively, different. 

So since our work here is convening leaders to better understand paths to progress, and how tech and business can help, we are underscoring the urgency of the changes needed for business. Since the government has almost completely failed to take sufficient action to halt global warming, it appears business is the only part of society that can move quickly enough to save us all from enormous global suffering. Too many are suffering already. (Here is the World Meteorological Organization’s Severe Weather Information Center.)

Fifty years ago the Club of Rome published its celebrated and highly-influential report The Limits to Growth. The report was based on early computer models that simulated the environmental and social consequences of continuing on the path the world was on. It concluded that continued headlong economic growth would essentially doom us all, unless the world made conscious efforts to take stock of effects on planetary resources, emphasizing global fairness and equality. Failing to consider all would doom all. Now, sadly, in a new book from the Club of Rome, Limits and Beyond, the group’s co-presidents write: “We have collectively wasted 50 years of valuable time.” 

Club of Rome co-president Sandrine Dixson-Declève will speak at our upcoming conference on business and sustainability in New York—The Health+Wealth of Our Planet. It’s September 20, hosted jointly by Techonomy and Worth, our sibling media company. Dixson-Dècleve will help us understand how bad it is and the scope of changes we must make now.

We have wasted too much time, but at least today more activists and those who study climate, business and society recognize that everything is connected. We cannot remediate climate change without addressing inequality. It is just untenable. This is a collective problem, for a world that has failed to think collectively, time and time again. The U.S. and Europe cannot solve the problem, for one thing, without engaging, encouraging, and helping the developing nations. Those less advantaged places, many of them in the tropics, have suffered disproportionate harm even as they emitted far fewer greenhouse gasses. Now they need their own often-still-impoverished societies to grow. It is impossible to deny them that. But if they grow and use resources like we have, everything is over. A new model for fair and inclusive global growth and development must emerge. But governments, increasingly buffeted by xenophobic nationalists, seem less and less likely to take the steps we need. So climate action means business must act. 

Our September conference will focus resolutely on the need for business to proceed, from now on, only if it can contribute, not detract from, environmental and social health.

This is a significant shift that most business leaders are not prepared for. Business is building the systems that run global society. They cannot destroy the planet and the environment, because we will suffer if they do. And customers, partners, and other stakeholders will simply eventually stop doing business with harmful companies.

So to help a global audience, in town for the United Nations Global Assembly and Climate Week, understand how we all can proceed from here, we are gathering leaders from across business on September 20. Along with Dixson-Dècleve you’ll hear chief sustainability officers from companies like Ericsson and U. S. Steel, visionary thinkers like Seth Godin, who just published The Carbon Almanac: It’s Not Too Late (“The definitive source for facts and the basis for a global movement to fight climate change.”), activists like Julia Jackson, who runs the NGO Grounded (“A community for action and viable solutions that can mitigate the worst impacts of our climate emergency.”), leaders of climate and sustainability startups, an inclusion software leader, and CEOs of companies taking serious action. All will be there for this day-long event.

It’s no ordinary time, so it will not be an ordinary conversation. We’re privileged to be able to host it at the beautiful and spacious City Winery in Chelsea. 

Join us for as much of the day as you can. Help us figure out where we should all go next.  Register here at an early discounted rate.

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