This headline was one of the quotes in a new book I’ve been reading called: “Climate Capitalism,” by L.Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen. The read is alternately terrifying in its predictions and hopeful that efficiency, renewable energy and other new clean-tech innovations can save not only the planet–but our economic system in the process.
On the jacket cover, the first few lines of copy tell it all: “Believe in climate change. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. But you’d better understand this: the best route to rebuilding our economy, our cities, and our job markets, as well as assuring national security, is doing precisely what you would do if you were scared to death about climate change.”
With all the talk about recycling our trash, using CFLs instead of conventional lightbulbs and seeing more and more wind farms, I–like many others–have been lulled into thinking that we’re on the way to solving some of our environmental issues. As this book points out, we are innovating our way out of danger thanks to many start-up alternative energy companies, but our government is way behind the rest of the world.
China is now the world’s largest consumer of wind energy (surpassing the U.S. in 2009). Cuba, who was 57% reliant on foreign oil, pesticides and food imports, shifted its entire food system to organic agriculture in 1990 out of necessity when Soviet oil dried up after the fall of the Soviet Union. Scotland, whose first minister announced in 2007 that Scotland would move to 100% renewable energy, is now testing a technology to harness tidal and wave energy with “wave farms.” The dominant solar country in the world is…Germany, despite it’s cold, grey northern latitude. These forward-thinking examples go on and on, while our special interest groups try to lobby and legislate subsidies to maintain business as usual.
Business isn’t usual anymore, in case there’s anyone in America today who hasn’t been harshly affected by the new normal.
If our government is in a quagmire, then cities, states and businesses need to lead the charge. But isn’t being “green” just for businesses with big, profitable businesses who want to be seen as do-gooders?
No. By eliminating the waste that comes from oil and coal, businesses actually gain brand equity. This was demonstrated in a study by “those wild-eyed environmentalists” (direct quote from the book) at Goldman Sachs. The results of this study showed that business leaders in environmental, social and good governance outperformed the MSCI world index or stocks by 25% since ’05.
Walmart, the largest retailer in the world (if it were a country, it would be #20 largest), has 60-90,000 suppliers worldwide that have been put on notice they they will have to comply with the companies aggressive goals to build a more environmental and socially responsible global supply chain. How aggressive? By 2015 Walmart intends to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain–not necessarily within the company’s purview, but emissions by their suppliers. And just wait until they introduce their innovations to long-haul trucking that they’re developing with GM, Cumins Diesel, Peterbilt and others working together on hybrid trucks. It’s all about the bottom line–oh, and the environment, too.
The quote that I used as my headline comes from the motto of the Mason Dixon Farm in Gettysburg, PA. The farm is a dairy operation that uses “cow power” from manure to make the farm energy self-sufficient. Ninth generation family farmers, the Waybrights have found that climate protection activities are more profitable than conventional farming. If farmers can make the change to using renewable energy and making more money, what are the rest of us waiting for?
The first companies to become carbon-neutral have captured first-mover and marketing advantages. What about those of us who are cash-strapped, small businesses, struggling to get by in this economy ? Here’s another great quote in the book from Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Farms: “Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference has never been in bed with a mosquito.”
Aren’t we hearing about more and more renewable and clean tech companies having problems? Sure. Aren’t we hearing about even more conventional companies going out of business? Not all enterprises will succeed. But as Clint Eastwood said in the “Imported from Detroit” SuperBowl commercial: “…we’ve rallied around what was right and acted as one…It’s half-time America.”
While “Climate Capitalism” isn’t an easy read, with lots of statistics loosely woven together with anecdotes (particularly at the beginning of the book), it’s a real eye-opener for anyone who plans to stay alive on this planet for more than a few years.
Climate change isn’t for tree-huggers or Al Gore anymore. It’s about survival. And it can be our next leap forward in capitalism and economic recovery.
“Climate Capitalism” © 2011 L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, Published by Hill and Wang
Photo: Wave farm technology