We Should be Looking to CEOs, Not Politicians, for Climate Change Action

In May of 2014, Speaker of the House John Boehner responded to a climate change question with, “listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change. I am astute to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs. That can’t be the prescription for dealing with changes to our climate.” Speaker Boehner is not the only one reluctant to enter into the debate on climate change. In a March interview Mitch McConnell responded to a climate change remark with, “For everybody who thinks it’s warming, I can find somebody who thinks it isn’t…”

Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell are not the only ones on Capital Hill who have voiced opposition to the idea of climate change. Due to the beliefs of those in power, and the stalemate that they have caused over climate change policy, it is time for people to look elsewhere for an actual plan to combat and mitigate climate change. In the last several years, corporations have been taking the lead when it comes to making significant changes that will affect the way we deal with climate change.

A quick look at the websites of some of the world’s largest energy companies gives us a glimpse into their commitments. Shell Oil has hired a Chief Climate Change Advisor, David Hone who not only advises Shell, but also writes extensively to wide ranging audiences on climate change issues and possible solutions. In addition, Shell Oil has taken broad energy efficiency measures to change the amount of energy used in their day-to-day operations. ExxonMobil has begun to make changes as well, and goes a step further, suggesting that, “Industry and governments should pursue an integrated set of solutions that include developing new energy supplies, increasing efficiency and advancing energy technologies.” ExxonMobil does not just offer possible solutions, rather they are actively focused on emission reductions and carbon capture research.

It is notable that companies are not just saying that they will change their internal policies — they are actively making infrastructure adjustments that will curb emissions and hopefully reduce climate change. For example, in their 2014-2018 Sustainability Strategy, Maersk is already focusing on reducing their impact, “By reducing the CO2 footprint of containerized transport and optimizing the energy efficiency of global transport supply chains, Maersk can help ensure that global trade can take place in ways that are increasingly energy-efficient.” While the impact of one company cutting their emissions may not have a huge effect, the fact that these giants are moving to take action together, means that we will see global change. When companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil, and Maersk begin to make a change they set the tone for their respective industries, as well as others.

It is a sign of the urgency of climate change and its effects that corporations are paving the way without waiting for political action. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, sea levels will rise between 8 and 48 inches by 2100 (depending on location and rate of glacial melting). The effects of even a small rise will mean catastrophic changes for coastal cities. Not only that, but existing supply chains for things that we take for granted will be compromised. Items easily accessible like food, water, clothing, and gasoline will be harder to obtain. The actions taken by corporations today to reroute supply chains, adapt shipping terminals to higher sea levels, and ensure access to energy sources will hopefully be enough to ensure that citizens of every country feel less of an effect from climate change. 

In our globalized world, corporations are now in the driver’s seat. While it is unfortunate that politics within the United States have the ability to derail policy internally and internationally, the lack of action could be a benefit. Multinational corporations are free to invest in changes that they deem most appropriate in order to prepare us for the effects of climate change. In the long run, investments into research like carbon capture storage may prove to be more beneficial than anything Washington politicos could envision.

Lead image: Corner Office via Shutterstock

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Gabrielle is a current graduate student at New York University's Center for Global Affairs focusing on energy and the environment. She is currently working on her thesis which explores scenarios for U.S. foreign policy in the Arctic. Prior to coming to New York University, Gabrielle received her B.A. (with honors) in Political Science from Eckerd College and her M.S. in Applied American Politics and Policy from Florida State University.

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