Surviving Climate Change: Where Should We Place Our Hope?

With the level of knowledge that humans have amassed, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to address this challenge BUT we’re are complicated creatures…

Climate change is a human psychological issue and sociological challenge for our species and we’re stumped. We can’t figure out how to save ourselves.

This is the type of thing that will force a party to suddenly change leaders, force the entire Parliament to have an unprecedented emergency vote of confidence or even some kind of new coalition coup d’etat. What will the Australian people put up with? Your country could be next. the world is watching to see what Australia will do.

Surviving Climate Change: Where Should We Place Our Hope? Business, Government or Ourselves. This is the first episode of our series ( Part 1 of 6)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word hope as it relates to climate change. We all hope for a better future and many of us do our best to make it happen, but the truth is, we need help to get there. So I ask…where should we place our trust and hope; Business and Markets? Government and Politicians? Or Ourselves? How do we move from hope to survival?

Hope Is In Us
Hope is an innate human quality. We are driven to solve our challenges and make things better with innovative thinking, both individually and collectively. Hope motivated us to come down from the trees and find a way to survive and evolve for 4 million years. Mind you, not all of our hominid cousins made it. Will we continue to survive? Or will climate change relegate us to the annals of history, like so many of our cousins from the past? I believe there is still room for us to remain hopeful.

Flower in hand

In the photo: Flower in hand, Photo Credit: Lina Trochez/Unsplash

Green Growth Fantasy
We know that massive carbon reductions are necessary and yet we seem completely incapable or unwilling to act accordingly. We exist in an individualistic culture that celebrates personal choice.

The idea of inconveniencing ourselves runs contrary to our internalized belief system. Rather than take a serious look at what sacrifices each of us can make, we buy into the fantasy that we can smoothly transition to green growth or find a magical solution to remove carbon from our atmosphere. But so far it doesn’t seem to be working — yet I still cling to hope.

Can Business Deliver?
Business is single-minded in its desire to maximize shareholder returns. This is nothing new but there’s more to the story than just playing hard to win. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy have spent decades and billions of dollars influencing policymakers to design a system that limits environmental and social protections, lowers taxes, and allows unlimited corporate political contributions that undermine the democratic election process.

Owners of corporations have been left relatively free to maximize profits and shift any harm that may result from conducting business away from shareholders and onto society.

Some might call this good business but a better description would be greedy, sociopathic or just plain old cheating. The tactics used by business and the super-rich are evidence of an elite class who are using their wealth to enrich themselves by tampering with the democratic process and rigging the system for personal benefit at the expense of workers, families, the environment and society as a whole.

But the elite still wants more.

Tall buildings

In the Photo: Tall buildings, Photo Credit: Samson/UnsplashIn addition to the victory of lower corporate tax rates, they also lobbied hard to alter the rate and method of individual taxation — specifically the method of taxation for stock appreciation, which is the primary way that the super-rich make and access their capital — not salaries.

Changing the tax code in this way was a windfall for those who’ve accumulated the biggest fortunes. It’s what allowed 2229 billionaires, worth 9.1 trillion, to collectively increase their wealth last year by 2.5 billion a day, or 12%, while the world’s poorest 3.8 billion people saw their wealth decline by 11%.

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Wealth Creation Isn’t The Issue
The system is failing the majority of people. So much wealth is being created but it’s mostly flowing upward to the top 0.1% while the bottom 90% are sinking down the economic ladder. The problem isn’t a lack of wealth creation — it’s that government has failed to distribute the wealth in the best interests of society and our corporate-owned media has normalized this as being acceptable.

These policy changes have left the government with enormous shortfalls in revenues needed to clean up the environmental and social mess that business has downloaded upon them. Environmental degradation has reached unprecedented levels and climate change presents a real existential threat to humanity. Yet, rather than ask business and the super-rich who have hoarded trillions in the last few decades to help with the shortfall, government shrugs, and goes on to cut vital services to millions of people who are struggling with salaries that have been stagnant for decades and whose employment is precarious at best.

Why do so many of us still look to business to lead us to salvation? The very notion that business, with decades of targeted lobbying to create a global economic system that hoards wealth and externalizes harm, could possibly lead us to the promised green future shows just how brainwashed we’ve become.

Dollar Cash

In the Photo: Dollar Cash, Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

It’s About Control
Climate change has no borders — the very nature of this challenge intrinsically means that we need a collective solution, but business and those that influence policy don’t want to admit it. They have worked too long and too hard to create a narrative that business, when left alone, without pesky regulations to protect employees and the environment, could solve all of the world’s problems. The super-rich have been increasing their fortunes while their corporate-owned media have been advancing a neoliberal fantasy that ensures that they maintain their royal status above governments and regulators.

A Poor Marriage
Business has never understood that corporate sustainability or CSR isn’t about finding the business case with a measurable ROI. It isn’t about initiatives like Walmart’s Food Program to help solve hunger in the richest country in the world while simultaneously fighting against unions that could help their employees maintain liveable wages. And it certainly isn’t about trading one harm for another with initiatives like Starbucks’ plastic campaign that “replaces plastic straws with plastic strawless lids — like a Sippy Cup for Adults.”

Business working within free-market capitalism is simply ill-equipped to address global ecosystem destruction and in hindsight, it never should have been put in that position — the incentives simply aren’t there, making the chance for success nil. You can’t quantify the financial benefit of leaving a livable planet for the next generation — because it’s not about money — it’s about long term survival and the “system” doesn’t know how to measure it.


In the Photo: WindMill, Photo Credit: Zbynek Burival/Unsplash

Not As “Woke” As They Think
Some companies tried to be leaders but they always ended up tripping over their own feet. Other than some well-coined phrases and vague promises, when it comes to business, meaningful change isn’t really on the agenda. CEOs might like you to think that they’re “woke” but don’t buy it; the structure of the system that has caused the harm is still firmly in place and until it is disrupted and replaced with a model that brings more accountability, sharing and well-being into the business model, the path towards a crisis will remain mostly unobstructed.

We’ve lost decades by hoping that business could lead us out of this mess but the dream is over — it’s been a massive market failure and it’s time to wake up. I was one of those who fell under the spell of the early promise of the Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, and Profits.

But I now realize that we simply cannot put our collective future and very survival in the hands of business. Business will certainly be part of the solution but it cannot be the leader — the sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can be honest about the dangerous direction in which we are headed and take real action to change it.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of 
About the Author /

Brad Zarnett is a Canadian sustainability strategist, writer and speaker. He is the Founder of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS). Brad writes about why Corporate Sustainability and our attempts to address Climate Change are a massive systemic failure and what to do about it. You can follow Brad on Twitter: @bradzarnett.

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