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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: How a conservative thinks about climate change

Tim Nixon

30 Mar 2018

“I believe firmly in the ability of the marketplace to solve most problems, given the proper foundation in economic and scientific truth.”

Climate change is often thought of in the United States as a political issue.  Conservatives tend to be less interested than liberals.  Positions on the issue tend to form along party lines.

This is not how it works in the rest of the world.

To illustrate, we sat down the conservative party head of the UK Committee on Climate Change, Mr. John Gummer, or perhaps better known as Lord Deben of the House of Lords.  Deben is a blue-blooded conservative from the beginning.  As he says it, “I believe firmly in the ability of the marketplace to solve most problems, given the proper foundation in economic and scientific truth.  And we have this obligation to our children and subsequent generations”.

On Climate Change, his view centers on the economic opportunity for those who can adapt.  “For those companies, cities and nations which can plan a methodical decarbonization over the next 20 to 30 years, there will be great economic benefit.  Just look at the United Kingdom.  Over the last 25 years, our GHG emissions are down 42% and our economic growth is up 68%.”

Indeed, Deben points to the increasing evidence that transforming an economy in anticipation of a much more carbon constrained world is a huge driver of innovation.  “Our renewable energy industries are massive growth engines for us.  Who would have imagined that wind and solar can now provide energy at a cost lower than the fossil fuel alternatives, and without doing any damage to the natural environment on which we all depend!”

He adds that, “as the trillions of dollars of global subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are phased out, the renewable alternatives will continue to gain competitive advantage.  The trend in innovation and lower costs is clear and undeniable”.

And to those who remain skeptical, he has the following caution.  “If we are doing all of this transformation, and are wrong about climate change, then we end up with much cleaner air and water, a lot of economic growth, and lots of solar panels and wind turbines.  On the other hand, if we do little or nothing in response to the clear scientific guidance and evidence, then we end up with a planetary catastrophe, with all the mass suffering and economic devastation that implies.  The choice is quite clear.”

And looking ahead, Lord Deben cautions those leading industry who are still waiting on the sidelines, which still consists of a fairly large percentage of the top 250 global GHG emitters.  “The window of opportunity is closing.  Many global energy, transportation, utility and mining firms are beginning to transform their business models for the world in which we will almost certainly live.  For those who are not, there will be increasingly difficult discussions with policymakers, investors, business partners, and the general public.  And then they will have a business which is too late to save as the world passes them by.”

And it’s clear listening to Lord Deben that these discussions are already happening in private hallways and corners, many of which will remain unseen to the public eye, but quite real to the leaders of global industry.  Those charged with the caretaking of our global economy see climate change mitigation and adaptation as a very high priority indeed.  The sea will rise on conservatives and liberals alike, and Lord Deben is preparing his nation and economy for that day.




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