Dueling Perspectives on Anthropogenic Climate Change -- They Do Not Matter to Business

Dueling Perspectives on Anthropogenic Climate Change -- They Do Not Matter to Business

June 26, 2009 04:05
by J. Wylie Donald
Today Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal editorial board published an opinion piece declaring that the scientific debate regarding climate change has come "roaring back to life."  See Kimberley A. Strassel, The Climate Change Climate Change, The Wall Street Journal at A13 (June 26, 2009).  The piece catalogs new research, politicians, opinion polls, and academics challenging the science of global warming.  To give you the flavor of the essay:  "Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media) did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as 'deniers'" and "Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans." 
 
For balance, and also this week, The New Yorker profiles NASA scientist, James Hansen, the "father of global warming," who was muzzled by the Bush White House ("Hansenized" to the cognoscenti), and who takes a diametrically opposed view to the Journal piece:  "A stark scientific conclusion, that we must reduce greenhouse gases below present amounts to preserve nature and humanity, has become clear."  Elizabeth Kolbert, The Catastrophist, The New Yorker 39, 41 (June 29, 2009) (yes, we are writing about it before its publication date).
 
We are not scientists here at the blog.  But we try to understand what our learned brethren are saying and this is our take.  There are two issues.  First, is climate change occurring?  There is no dispute about that.  The ice caps are melting, the subtropical arid zones are expanding, average global temperatures are rising.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has thoroughly cataloged all this.  Second, is climate change anthropogenic?  If there is a dispute, it is only about the role of humanity in the climate change process. 
 
And from our perspective as lawyers trying to assess the risks and opportunities of climate change, the first issue is reason enough to pay attention. Lawsuits alleging climate change liability have been filed.  "Green" building is the rage.  Shareholders demand climate change disclosures.  If you are a shipping company moving goods from Europe to Japan, a polar shipping route is an opportunity that has to be addressed.  Travelers have increased risk from mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, chikungunya fever and yellow fever.  (Ms. Strassel, please see Taking the Bite Out of Travel, Wall Street Journal (June 10, 2009)).  The list can go on and on. 
 
Even on the issue of anthropogenic causation, businesses must address the the current popular and political discourse.  Some will be proactive a la Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers’ “If you don't have a seat at the table, you'll wind up on the menu,” or Novacem Ltd. with its investment in new CO2-absorbing cement.  Others will simply seek to take advantage of new energy efficiency grants or become entrepreneurs in new areas such as selling renewable energy to Mr. Rogers' utility.  These and other steps to address an environment anticipating restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, all encompass risks and opportunities that exist now regardless of whether a particular "doomsday scenario" is scientifically accurate.
 
Whether climate change is anthropogenic is an important question, but the fact of climate change and its impact on business can be addressed in many respects without regard to the answer to that question.  Thoughtful business-people will do so.

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