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Where are the climate change denying CEOs?

Charlie Hodkinson-Ashford

I recently met a climate change denier. It was an interesting experience – when you’re surrounded all day by people for whom man-made climate change is just another fact, it’s easy to forget there are people out there who are prepared to aggressively deny its existence.

And this guy wasn’t having any of it. Global warming, he told me, was a new religion cooked up by atheist liberals. He wasn’t going to let anything as simple as the facts get in his way either – he majored in science, and knew what he was talking about. “In my experience, 97% of scientists think it’s baloney”, he explained.

In the end, I took the only sane course of action available. I gave up arguing. But it started me wondering – given the number of climate change skeptics in the media and in our governments, why are there not more prominent deniers in the world of business?

There are a few notable exceptions, of course. But on the whole, you’re far more likely to find a Global 500 CEO shouting about the CO2 reductions their company has made than you are to find them denying that it’s an issue.

The reason, I think, is risk. Businesses are well-used to quantifying and managing risk. And climate change, according to none other than PwC, is “the mother of all risks”. Even oil and gas companies are up-front about the science, with BP last week releasing a study predicting the effect of the shale gas boom on the climate.

Businesses are not only aware of the huge risks from rising fuel costs, food prices and sea levels, they’ve also noticed that public opinion is, slowly but surely, turning to accept climate change. As tobacco companies found out last century, it’s dangerous to be left denying something that the public has been convinced of.

So, well done CEOs. You are, at least, on the right side of this debate. We’ll leave the discussion of whether you’re doing enough for another day.

Comment (1)

  1. Grattan says:

    I agree that BIG businesses ‘get’ climate change and are planning for it as part of their risk provisions. I’m not so sure the general public have made the leap however. As you say, we all buy into it so it’s odd when we do meet people who simply cannot see it or who wilfully refuse to accept overwhelming scientific evidence. Gauging pub conversations on the topic of anthropological climate change – a useful barometer for most things – would suggest, in my experience that that public are still far from accepting the facts. CEOs have to shape up as significantly, the pension and sovereign wealth funds are now voting with their feet (and their $billions) by shifting holdings from investments with high potential climate change risks to those with a less risky profile. As you mention, extractive industries are recognising that a % of their assets could well become stranded, reducing their net value in the process. The worm is turning, as you suggest but I suspect the nay sayers will be around for a while longer.

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