EDITORIAL: Getting past the science of climate change debate


GLOBE-Net, March 1, 2012 – Like many in my profession, I have grown weary of the divisive and polarized debate over the science of climate change that has been such a disruptive force in recent years.

This debate is too often carried out in extremes: Either you believe, or you don’t. There appears to be no middle ground. And the uncertainty about whether climate change is caused by human activity or is an unavoidable natural phenomenon is too often used as an excuse for inaction.

Doing nothing about climate change is a surefire recipe for disaster.

Let’s face it, very few of us have the knowledge base to prove or disprove the science of climate change. We depend on those skilled in climate science to tell us what they know and how it might affect us. Their work must continue, because we need to know the facts about the risks associated with our changing climate.

But you don’t have to be a climate scientist to understand the realities of the mountain pine beetle infestation, or tsunami-related risks to low-lying coastal cities, or the suffering of millions affected by water shortages and devastated crops. These climate-related risks are all too obvious. These are the things we understand and need to talk about.

We need to return to a rational discussion about the environment and the economy, because climate-related challenges we have to deal with in the years ahead are very real.

In fact, most of the global mega-risks we will face over the next two decades are sustainability-related. Climate change, natural resource scarcities, shortages of clean water, population growth and urbanization, ecosystems decline, deforestation, food security – these are the real challenges that require action now.

The 2012 World Economic Forum report on global risks over the next decade ranked rising greenhouse gas emissions and the failure of climate change adaptation as having the highest risk impact and the highest likelihood profile.

In many ways the pressures being placed on the world’s already stressed ecosystems are greater today than ever before. And the associated risks are more profound than ever before, not only in terms of bottom-line business performance, but also in terms of economic and social stability.

We simply do not have time for rancorous or polarized debates that only confuse the general public and lead us nowhere in terms of rational, forward-looking policies.

We must rationalize the environment and economy debate, and the best way to do this is to shift the discussion away from believing or not believing in climate science and focusing more on how best to deal with the realities of climate-related risks.

By viewing climate change as an issue not of scientific belief but of measurable risk realities, it is possible to plan strategies to mitigate or to transfer these risks through management frameworks and practices that our business and financial communities understand all too well.

Dealing with climate change from a risk-management perspective allows a much broader audience to understand the immediate and long-term impacts of these risks, which in turn would lead them to put pressure on governments at all levels to adopt policies and standards that to better address these issues.

Unfortunately the polarized debate over climate change has extended to the policy realm as well. The enthusiasm and hope that prevailed at the first Earth Summit in Rio 20 years ago, for example, has given way to a weary realization that after two decades of negotiations, we still lack a viable global regime for managing greenhouse gas emissions.

Nonetheless, I see room for hope. The business and financial communities recognize the bottom-line importance of responsible environmental risk management. They understand we have the technologies that can lessen our dependency on fossil fuels and that we can make greater use of clean energy sources to power our economies.

We have the capacity to do a better job not only in terms of environmental protection, but also in terms of managing the unavoidable climate risks that lie ahead. But to do this we need concerted and cooperative action from both the public and private sectors focused on common goals.

That is something that happens at our GLOBE Conferences, such as the one taking place this month in Vancouver. We bring together some of the best minds in the world from business and government to help us deal with these issues, because it is only through rational, open discussion that true progress can be made.

We also enable highly creative solutions providers and innovators to showcase the technologies and tools needed to build a sustainable future.

I am deeply concerned about the state of our environment. But I am equally confident that common sense will prevail.


John D. Wiebe

President and CEO

This article was also published in the Vancouver Sun, March 1, 2012

You may download a pdf version of this article here

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