November 5, 2016

Electing a Climate Denier in 2016 is Lunacy

It’s disturbing to elect a racist and women-hater.

It’s dumb to elect a con man who's gone bankrupt many times.

It’s truly dangerous to elect a raging, thin-skinned narcissist with no self-control.

But electing a climate denier? Now that’s utterly insane.

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The media may avoid the topic, but climate change is the biggest challenge the world has ever faced. Acknowledging that climate change is a threat to humanity does not make you an emotional, tree-hugger, but just practical and science-based. I won’t try to pick from the abundant evidence of how screwed up the climate is getting. That's nearly impossible.

So let me just cite some perspectives from other people who are convinced – some of the least emotional, hard-headed people in society: CEOs.

· With $44 billion in revenue, Saint-Gobain is the world’s largest building products manufacturer. The CEO, Pierre-Andre De Chalendar, wrote a book on the climate crisis. His calm assessment of the situation: “…the Earth is entering a new phase of climatic change, threatening the edifice patiently built by man since the beginning of the industrial era. Our civilization could be in peril.”

· PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi has said, “Combating climate change is absolutely critical to the future of our world.”

· Mark Wilson, CEO of the $35B insurance giant Aviva gave his expert opinion on the danger: "Climate change in particular represents the mother of all risksto business and to society as a whole.”

· During a speech yesterday, the CEO of Walmart, Doug McMillon, announced new carbon reduction and renewable energy goals, based explicitly on the science of climate change. Can we agree that if you base your goals on science, you must believe that the science is compelling? And McMillon has said they just ignore the climate skeptics.

I could go on and on with CEO examples (even the CEO of ExxonMobil is no longer a denier). Or let’s listen to the Pope, whose encyclical last year was crystal clear: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications…it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity.”

We’re at a critical juncture for humanity, when the world is finally coming together to do something about our greatest challenge. So what’s at stake? The future of humanity. It’s all too easy to talk about elections in overwrought terms. Each side claims it will be the end of the world if the other is elected. I’m sorry to disappoint and fit some stereotype, but in this election, it’s actually true.

There are more reasons than I can count that Trump is a dangerous choice for President (and Slate has a tidy list of 230!). But for all his rampant racism, misogyny, and narcissism, his perspective on climate could represent his craziest ideas. Not only is it a hoax, he says, but it’s a Chinese hoax! (We apparently outsource everything now.)

Let’s put aside the extreme, but possible, scenarios like Trump starting a war or the economy crashing if he’s elected (the markets do not seem happy with his rising poll numbers). Even if he changes his tune and acts like some semblance of a decent human being toward women and minorities, but still maintains his position on climate change, we’re all in deep trouble (even the most intolerant among us).

Now is really not the time to elect a conspiracy-theory-spouting denier.

The core of global action on climate is the Paris accords, which, for the first time in human history, got all the representatives of humanity to agree to something. The deal is historic, but fragile. The former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, said recently at the Business for Social Responsibility conference, “This deal ain’t done yet…so celebrate the success, but maintain your rage.” Meaning, we have to keep the world focused on reducing carbon fast (the very new estimates from PwC say we need to decarbonize the world at a pace of 6.5% per year).

Rudd says that three things will keep the wheels moving on the climate deal: political pressure, corporate pressure, and finance. If the leader of the country that’s producing a fifth of the world’s emissions thinks climate change is bogus, and wants to stop all pro-climate policy and clean economy investment, it’s a big problem. His election would greatly weaken the political pressure toward climate action and certainly slow commitment from companies and the finance world.

Look, I’m sorry for the downer scenario here. The environmental movement has long been criticized for being doom and gloom and always talking about the end of the world. Fair enough – we in sustainability could do a better job painting a compelling picture of a better, thriving world.

But that said, it’s still true that sounding the alarm in an emergency is justified. When a doctor says you have stage 3 or 4 cancer, you don’t dismiss the diagnosis as some biased hoax. I hope someone will yell “fire” – even in a crowded theater – if the theater is, you know, on fire. And we should all want a leader that recognizes that there is in fact a fire, stays calm and level-headed, works well with others, and immediately starts doing something about it. We know who that leader is, and she’ll be terrific.

(This post first appeared on Huffington Post online.)

(Andrew's book, The Big Pivot, was named a Best Business Book of the Year by Strategy+Business Magazine! Get your copy here. See also Andrew's TED talk on The Big Pivot.

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