In the board room, climate sceptics are nowhere

Media Matters is right, serious business leaders have no time for climate denial

05 Jul 2013, 14:04

Everyone knows that large swathes of the press fail to reflect the fact that 97 per cent of climate scientists are convinced mankind is impacting the climate in a serious and unprecedented manner, but what is less often commented upon is the way in which certain papers also fail to reflect the thinking of the majority of business leaders on the topic.

The US media monitoring blog has a really good article this week exploring the disconnect between mainstream press coverage of climate change and business press coverage, where titles such as Bloomberg, Reuters, the Financial Times and the Economist tend to reflect the seriousness with which their core readers address climate change and as a result report on the topic in a relatively responsible fashion (with occasional exceptions).

In responding to CNBC's continued use of largely discredited climate sceptic tropes when reporting on climate change, the article pulls together a list of great quotes from some of America's top business correspondents.

"It's past the point of letting ideology shape the dollars-and-cents calculations that businesses are already making, it is not a question of whether business should do this, business is doing this," says Bloomberg BusinessWeek's Paul Barrett of most businesses response to climate threats. "The insurance industry, which is a key barometer of these things, has reached the conclusion that whatever your politics are on this, the costs of extreme weather are so great and the patterns over the last couple of decades are so distinct that the corporate establishment absolutely must recognise these risks."

He is echoed by Los Angeles Times business columnist, Michael Hiltzik, who says: "I accept the evidence of climate change - I don't think I've ever run into a legitimate business leader or business owner in the course of my reporting who doesn't. Keith Johnson of the Wall Street Journal is in the same boat: "Other than some oil companies that are probably less convinced, by and large whether its coal burning utilities or energy storage companies, or the US Navy, pretty much everyone I talk to is on the same page," observes .

For what it is worth, in over 10 years as a business reporter and six years as an environmental business reporter I've similarly never come across a business executive who thinks climate change is a hoax or a phenomenon we can just ignore indefinitely. It's hardly scientific, but most of the business journalists I know have a similar experience. There are a handful exceptions on the wilder fringes of the fossil fuel industry, but the vast majority of businesses accept manmade climate change is happening, are worried about the potential impact, and want to see action taken to tackle it and mitigate the risks. Inevitably, there is significant and important disagreement on how best to respond, but in most boardrooms there is an acknowledgement that an ambitious and wide-ranging response is needed.

Of course, climate sceptics will counter that they don't dismiss climate change as a "hoax" that often anymore, they just think that it's not that big a threat, that adaptation measures will save us, and/or that silver bullet technologies are just around the corner. This essentially business-as-usual argument may gain a little traction with some business execs, but again there are entire industries and plenty of big name businesses that are terrified of where the status quo leads and are investing to deliver ambitious climate action. As I've argued before, when a politician or columnist argues that climate change is not happening or not a problem, they are not just disagreeing with 97 per cent of scientists and a majority of the public, they are also disagreeing with GE, Wal-mart, Tesco, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Ford, GM, Apple, Bank of America, RBS, Nike, Sainsbury's, Virgin Atlantic, even BP and Shell, and not to mention virtually the entire global insurance industry.  

The problem is that while much of the business press is starting to reflect this reality by reporting more and more on climate change and environmental issues, business leaders are understandably reluctant to take on the anti-green press and the anti-green politicians they enable. Speaking to several people at the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards this week there was a common complaint that too often business leaders are reluctant to "put their head above the parapet" and publicly criticise those who are promoting a reckless do-nothing approach to climate change that will inevitably jeopardise their commercial prospects.

It is my view that this relative silence cannot last. As climate change impacts bite more business leaders will follow the likes of our BusinessGreen Leaders such as Jeremy Grantham, James Cameron, and Marks and Spencer, as well as other high profile green business advocates such as Richard Branson, Jochem Zeitz, and Bill Gates, by demanding more ambitious action to tackle emissions. They will be willing to use the political capital they possess to implore politicians to take seriously a problem that threatens their business and the wider economy. And if that means entering into an argument with the vested interests and ideologically media mouthpieces who continue to peddle climate misinformation, then so be it.

In the meantime, if you want to read a serious and accurate take on climate change stick to the business press.

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Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray

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