COP26 finished on the 12th of November 2021. World leaders, diplomats and cultural influencers gathered in Glasgow for an event many hoped would usher in a renewed international response to the climate crisis. The end of COP26 means many things. The end of hope for stronger words. The beginning of hope for action. There was little innovation in talking points. And commitments were given no costs for failure. Only future actions will tell if the whole thing was (as Greta Thunberg suggested) just a PR stunt, or if it will create lasting change.
COP26 carried with it a backdrop of fear, dragging behind it like a toddler’s toy truck. ‘Avoid climate disaster’ was the central message. But people don’t tend to respond well to bad news. People panic in the face of dread. Ridiculous costumes to ‘flatten the curve’ and empty shelves in supermarkets are clear symptoms. However, there may be a counterbalance.
While COP26 was in full flow, Caroline Lucas was on BBC’s Question Time in Eastleigh, speaking about one of her favourite cartoons:
“[It] has a professor in front of a whiteboard, and on the whiteboard, they’ve listed all of the advantages of moving to a zero-carbon economy… and there’s a student with a speech bubble … saying: ‘but what if climate change is a hoax and we’ve created a better world for no reason?’…”
Can that better world be built by big business? It begins with investment. While being a boring topic for many, it might be the only way the world is saved. Edelman’s Trust Barometer suggested that 67% of the public believe that businesses are responsible for tackling climate change. However, only 27% of the general population believe that businesses are doing enough. When 66% of those surveyed believe that “tackling climate change is more urgent now than ever before”, there must be a gap in the market.
This is the primary way big business can benefit. Building reputations as environmental stewards now means those firms could redefine themselves as pioneers. The writing is on the wall, consumers are turning their eyes to the environment. And consumers vote with their wallets. If companies invest now, they could gain a competitive advantage, to even a monopolistic degree. As consumers witness more climatic events these votes will become more one-sided. These businesses could be heroes by investing early, for all stakeholders, including shareholders.
On the other hand, if these companies do not invest, they will die. If left to the last second, they will no longer be competitive. Big business must invest to be future proof. Why not do it early? Investing late may literally cost the earth.
The Future is Now
Major fossil fuel companies have the capital to invest in the future. The usually high barriers to entry are nothing more than a garden fence. Indeed, fossil fuel companies are already investing in renewable energy. But they can do more. Many have accused fossil fuel companies of being similar to big tobacco of the mid-20th century. Their funding of climate denial a particular point of contention. But if they lead the charge to save the planet, their companies need not die with the end of this destructive era.
BP, previously British Petroleum, has now been renamed ‘Beyond Petroleum’. This is supposed to represent a shift in direction. Although, many also accuse BP of greenwashing. This seems like a fair criticism considering their history in the Gulf of Mexico. However, they have begun to liquidate their oil and gas assets to begin buying into renewables. One of the reasons cited is ‘stability’ of the market. The dramatic rise and fall of oil and gas prices in the last two years is worrying. The time for fossil fuels is over and they know it. BP are said to be taking a gamble on a quick switch to renewables. But if anything, there is a sense among many that it’s more of a gamble to keep the fossil fuel stations open. Eventually, the demand for fossil fuels will fall to the point where the price begins to fall, one last time. Then the old fossil fuel giants will begin to close their refinery doors rather than sell them on.
The fossil fuel companies are only those on the front line of this crisis. Plenty of other businesses can benefit from a similar approach. Looking to the future is no longer a distant point. It is tangibly here; the money has begun to flow. These generations will witness a paradigm shift.
Beyond, Beyond Petroleum
Big businesses can no longer coast around this topic. Nor can media groups bait their publics. Media companies will need to educate people as to how their lives will change. They will have to provide that public service again. There is a need to reinspire hope. Hope that humanity can stick to below 1.5 degrees. Hope that those who will suffer from the climate damage can be helped. Hope that it hasn’t been left too late. If the media achieves the uphill battle that is ‘inspiring hope’, they might regain trust from the public. The same Edelman Trust Barometer suggested that the media are the least trusted entity in public life. Only 31% of those surveyed said they trusted the media. Telling the truth, educating, and inspiring hope is how the media can hope to fill in this widening faultline.
So how does big business benefit from the climate crisis? The solution is to look at the climate crisis as an opportunity. Governments need to look at the incentives states can give big business. The most cynical members of the population would state that big business isn’t naturally an altruistic entity. Why not play into that? The climate is out of time, there is no time to change the economic system and save the world. It is time to prioritise. Trying both is arguably irresponsible and self-involved. Indeed, all economic and government systems need to look past ideology to achieve the same goals.
The trust in a western system should not be tied to humanity’s existence on the planet. Pragmatism suggests use of the resources available. Big business will only benefit if they make the right calls. Not for their shareholders, but for the community. They only benefit if the system itself survives. Without a system, there’s no one to buy their products.