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Sunday, 27 October 2013 22:00

Q&A: Bill McKibben, author and climate change activist

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Bill McKibben Bill McKibben COURTESY PHOTO / Nancy Battaglia

Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben has become a prominent figure in the national discourse about global warming. Having led the largest act of civil disobedience in 30 years in the nation’s capital to protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, McKibben even spent time in jail for his actions, but his cause won out — at least for now. The activist lectured earlier this month at Western Michigan University. McKibben spoke with MiBiz about the role business leaders have in combatting climate change.

Why should business leaders care about climate change?

To the extent that businesses are going to be citizens in any meaningful sense they have to step up like any other in helping us face our biggest crisis, and this is probably the biggest crisis we’ve ever faced. If you don’t believe the scientists for some reason, you can ask the insurance companies, the people in our economy who we’ve asked to analyze risk.

What should be the role and responsibility of businesses in addressing the issue of climate change?

The biggest problem is that I think everyone else has sort of left the political playing field around these issues to the fossil fuel industry — the only people who have a real vested interest in the status quo. So it’s time for other businesses to step up and get more engaged in the politics of this. Businesses realize there are definitely costs associated with changing, but they’re probably much smaller than the costs of not changing. 

What can business leaders do to better educate themselves and find out how climate change might impact their bottom lines?

Information is widely available online, but they can also get in touch with groups and organizations that have been working on this issue for a while. Parts of the discussion around climate change relate very easily to how companies think in terms of the bottom line. Energy savings go straight to the bottom line. But some are not bottom line calculations at all. Rather, the thinking follows that we need a working planet and working people if we’re going to have working businesses.

Is it possible to balance the needs of the state’s growing manufacturers with our environmental needs?

In the end, a balance isn’t what we’re after. Frankly, physics is driving the train here and physics isn’t interested in compromise or negotiation or halfway measures. It’s demanding that we adapt. That said, Michigan in particular has a lot of leverage in the automobile industry and it should be changing faster than any other (industry). And there was a time we were headed in that direction, but we did slip back into the large SUV thing for a while, but hopefully there is enough innovation underway that we’ll see a real burst of change in one of our driver industries.

How should businesses executives approach climate change as it relates to their businesses?

Too many business people do just think very short term — quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year. If we keep thinking like that, the probability of dealing with larger problems continues to go down. That’s irresponsible as individuals and irresponsible as business leaders. I’d like them to apply their political power so that things change. Businesses could bring an enormous amount of change, and they’re not. Scientists are very clear now that what we’re seeing is what one expects. It’s very clear this is what the warming world looks like.

How is climate change affecting businesses now and what can they expect in the long-term?

Businesses that pay insurance are going to see insurance premiums go up and up and up because risk is getting unimaginable. People that depend on logistics are increasingly seeing costs go up because of weird weather. There are a hundred things starting to happen that are affecting the cost of businesses in a number of ways.

Interview conducted and condensed by Elijah Brumback.

Read 4096 times Last modified on Sunday, 27 October 2013 22:05