Prodding business into responsibility on global warming

by Jay Stevens 

There have been a couple of interesting articles I’ve linked to in the past few days about corporate responsibility and their role in how they can be steered to do good. Of course “good” is a wildly subjective term, and some feel big business shouldn’t be “steered” at all. But most reasonable people realized unchecked corporate power is bad and that there are serious issues that need addressing.

Leon Gettler of The Age admits that even libertarians’ grandpappy Milton Friedman realized a need for corporate social responsibility even as he railed against it. Gettler notes that companies can attract workers and customers through social responsibility, they can make profit off of new markets that cater to burgeoning social responsibilities (like alternative energy), but that they should also be aware of negative social consequences their products

For example, Health Minister Tony Abbott’s accusation last week that Coca-Cola was fuelling Australia’s childhood obesity crisis should be put in the context of calls around the world for controls on the marketing of fast foods.The tobacco, oil, mining, banking, forestry and pharmaceutical industries have all felt the long-term impact of social issues when they were caught out by society’s changing expectations.

With an issue such as obesity, for instance, the public’s view once upon a time was that the responsibility lay with the individual. Now the blame has shifted to the way companies are marketing fattening foods. The same applies to the tobacco industry.

That is, a company can suddenly find its product sales dropping precipitously if it doesn’t remain aware of the social conditions in the environment where the sales are made.

But while it’s clearly arguable with whom the blame lies in the problems created by things like fatty foods or tobacco products, these products revolve around individual choice. That is, the only person directly impacted by a Big Mac is the consumer eating it.

Other products affect more than the person consuming it. For example, a manufacturer who dumps toxic waste into a public water supply is adversely affecting the community where the plant is based, not the consumers of the plant’s product. Relying on the market to correct the damage done by the plant is foolish. For those situations, where a company’s practices are clearly harmful to the public good, we must regulate.

Helping corporations do the right thing through regulation—which, it should be noted, also levels the playing field so that a greenish BP doesn’t have to worry about a dirty Exxon¬Mobil—is not exactly a new idea. It’s more or less what we used to do, in the long period from Teddy Roosevelt and the trustbusters on to about the 1980s.

Enter climate change. It’s a problem. There’s a near-unanimous scientific consensus that says human activity, at the very least, contributes considerable to climate change and, if unchecked, that will lead to serious consequences to global living conditions and economies. The problem of leaving the market to “correct” the problem of global warming is that it’s a delayed effect – our behavior now will make the climate worse later. By the time consumers realize there’s a serious problem with their habits of consumption, it’ll be too late.

There were a lot of arguments against regulating change to combat climate change, and most of it from those with vested interest in big energy profits. First it was “global warming doesn’t exist.” When the temperatures rose, it became “it’s a natural temperature shift.” Now that scientific and popular consensus recognizes the problem, it’s now “too late to do anything about it.”

Global warming is real, it’s here, it’s our fault, and we can do something about it. We can raise emission standards, for example, sign on to international treaties to reduce CO2, raise gas mileage requirements, give subsidies or loans to energy-saving improvements on public and private buildings, and invest heavily in alternative fuels. None of these things would be difficult or overly expensive.


  1. It may yet be determined that global warming is a myth.

    If you look through the internet you’ll see that the scientific community is divided on the subject.

  2. Yeah, the scientific community is divided on global warming. It pretty closely parallels the division between independent scientists and industry owned scientists. The only myth that exists about global warming is that there is anything left to debate.

  3. Squid

    When you libs can figure out how to control nature’s contribution to your global warming hoopla, I might start paying attention. And when you start setting the example by curtailing all of your personal activities that supposedly contribute, I’ll think about giving up all of my stinking motorized lawn manicuring toys and my Chevy Avalanche. Until then keep your hot air out of my space, I want to enjoy the upcoming single digit temps we’ll be having here shortly.

  4. Your space? Sorry Squid, I didn’t realize you had taken over this blog.

  5. Squid

    I guess you haven’t heard. As of 0100 hours on 27 November 2006, 4&20 Blackbirds will cease to exist and from that point in time forward this site will be known as 5&21 Pigeons. Picky…picky…picky….:~)

  6. Big Swede

    Yes, there is global warming and I’m confident that the Democrats will be able to stop it with their new strategy…..nuclear winter!

  7. Just curious: why do you all steadfastly ignore the overwhelming amount of evidence that global warming exists, and largely as a result of our activities? You’re not getting big bucks from the energy industry, I assume. So why do you care so much?

  8. Squid

    Overwhelming evidence. From whom? Nut cakes like Al Gore. And I care because everything these idiots come up with is directed at the good old United States while every other nation gets a pass. Everything is directed at destroying our economy by people who detest our country.

    That Huffington ding bat is another one of the nut cakes. She has a 20 car garage full of SUVs and parks her butt on private jets everywhere she goes and then spouts global warming gibberish. It’s all hogwash meant to bring this country down to third world status like the rest of the countries the Left so admires and adores.

    I still don’t understand why, if things are so so much better in these other countries, the hell there isn’t a mass exodus of liberals leaving this country for the “better” life? I’ll tell you one reason why. These other countries wouldn’t put up with them.

  9. Google it, and look at what the scientists have to say.

    Some say that the Earth has a normal cycle of ‘Heating’ and ‘Cooling’.

    Some say that by careful measuring, the earth stopped ‘warming’ in 1998.

    I’m a salesman, not a scientist, and when about 1/2 the scientific community thinks global warming is a myth, I think I’ll reserve judgement, and so should you.

  10. See, that’s exactly the problem with the media on this issue. Look up those scientists who say global warming is caused solely by natural processes and see where the study was published and who it was funded by…

    Big Energy has taken advantage of laypeople by presenting phony research and studies as fact. You don’t have time to parse all the stories. I don’t have time. That’s what the media should be doing, but they blew it on this issue.

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