Heat waves, wildfires and droughts are among the most severe consequences of global warming. But a number of huge corporations have found ways to profit from a warmer world. Can we afford the bill?
By now, we have grown all but numb to the headlines. The storylines about climate change are usually as gloomy as they are alarming:
- Wildfires ignited 4.3 million hectares of the Siberian wilderness last month. Greenpeace asserts the fires released as much carbon dioxide into the air as emitted by 36 million cars in a year.
- A massive, fast-moving fire burned through entire suburban neighborhoods from Redding to Santa Rosa to Ventura, in California, last November. Community leaders had once believed the area to be fireproof.
- Bushfires across Tasmania, Australia, burned for months over the past summer. Fire managers from the Tasmania Fire Service say it’s the new normal.
- Meanwhile, from India to Iran to Botswana, 17 countries are facing a looming water crisis. Over 255 million people face extremely high water stress, which has implications on public health and social unrest.
As the days grow hotter, more water evaporates from reservoirs just as demand increases. The results can be devastating. Mexico City, for example, is now drawing groundwater so fast that the city is literally sinking!
“Still possible”, but …
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says it is still possible to reduce emissions quickly enough to keep global temperatures from rising by 2 degrees Celsius.
How we are to achieve that reduction, however, is a bit more complicated. Most plans to control greenhouse gas emissions propose a combination of initiatives. These include carbon taxes, international treaties, increased subsidization of renewable energy, and a reduction in the incentives offered to fossil fuels industries.
Some governments have made outward gestures toward better resource management, and investments in energy storage and carbon-capture technology, as well.
Clearly, tackling climate change requires sweeping economic and political reforms. Equally clear, however, is that no such reforms appear to be taking place on the scale required.
The plans exist, but many legislators have demonstrated a reluctance to actually pass meaningful laws.
Discrediting the science
Political machinations in the United States, the world’s largest economy and second largest polluter, can prove instructive.
Over the past two years, President Donald Trump has hardened his attack on the environment. He has pulled the US from the Paris climate deal and brushed aside all dire forecasts on climate change.
The American Commander-in-Chief has also rolled back environmental regulations and turned the term “global warming” into a punch line!
Many argue that there is a concerted effort to discredit the scientific consensus over global warming in Washington.
“This has been continuing for two decades in the United States, and shows no sign of weakening,” writes Jean-Daniel Collomb in a paper published by the European Journal of American Studies.
Business as usual?
Collomb believes the effort is an attempt by corporate America, the fossil fuel industries, in particular, to hinder government regulations on their activities.
It would be bad enough if the influence served only to deepen public ignorance. But Collomb suggests the lobbying has exacted a toll on policymaking.
In fact, only a handful of the 197 Republicans in the House of Representatives have endorsed even the basic concept of a carbon tax!
The demand for oil is in the meantime rising. The energy industry, in America and globally, is planning multi-trillion-dollar investments to satisfy it. No firm exemplifies this strategy better than ExxonMobil.
The mammoth corporation intends to pump 25 percent more oil and gas in 2025 than in 2017, according to The Economist. If the rest of the industry pursues the same strategy, the consequence for the climate could be ruinous!
It’s not just the fossil fuel industry!
It’s not just the fossil fuel industry that sees opportunities in the escalating climate catastrophe. Recently, the London-based non-profit, CDP, scoured 7,000 corporate disclosures to study corporate attitudes towards climate change.
The researchers concluded that a growing number of businesses are exploring ways to turn escalating catastrophe into a business model. “More disasters will make iPhones even more vital to people’s lives,” Apple predicts.
The company based its appraisal on the increase in demand for its products following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. In all, the company estimates that climate change could add another US $920 million to its bottom line!
Pharma companies see profits in disease
The pharmaceutical industry’s disclosures to the CDP were even more stunning, as Bloomberg’s Christopher Flavelle reports:
- Merck & Co.:“As the climate changes, there will be expanded markets for products for tropical and weather related diseases including waterborne illness.”
- Abbvie: “Climate change may create a greater need for existing or even new products … higher temperatures and drought conditions are becoming extreme … Our immunology product line could see an increase in sales as a result.”
- Eli Lilly: “These risks may drive an increased demand for … our diabetes products.”
- Pfizer: “There could be an increased demand for products related to diseases impacted by climate change.”
The solution to the most pressing problem the world confronts today is so simple you can express it in four words. Stop burning greenhouse gases!
The question is, it seems, whether our capitalistic society will choose to reduce carbon emissions or continue to build business models for a warmer world.
If you want to know a little more about global warming, you may want to watch this video.