If climate change is such an urgent matter, why isn’t it being addressed with more urgency? Some day in the sparkling green future historians might figure that out. In the meantime, the business community is finally waking up to the fact that a great change is coming, like it or not — and they better do something about it now, before the urgency of change forces policy makers to take extreme action. After all, looking down the barrel of chaos is not a comfortable place for the investor community.
The Search For Sustainable Materials
The urgency of climate change action on the corporate level is the main takeaway from the 5th Symposium on Sustainability in Venice this week. CleanTechnica is reporting from the scene as a guest of the sponsor, the high tech materials company Alcantara.
Alcantara specializes in an eponymous high end material used in auto interiors, watercraft and aircraft. It has also been adopted by Microsoft for its platinum-level Surface Pro, and the company is branching into creative applications as well.
The company has already taken on a carbon neutral profile and it’s looking for the next opportunity to engage in sustainability. At last year’s conference, Alcantara Chairman and CEO Andrea Boragno raised the possibility that the company would seek sustainable alternatives for its materials formula.
This year Boragno provided CleanTechnica with an update, though there’s not much to update at this point. So far, Alcantara is not seeing plant-based feedstock as a solution, at least not in the area of conventional crops. The main concern is not the technology, it’s that scaling up a biobased stream to match the company’s needs could bump up against food supply and land use issues.
Boragno does see some potential for investigating a microbial based supply chain. Nothing specific is in the works at this time, but if you take a look at the growing range of uses for microbes in clean tech, that could be a possibility. Microbial wastewater treatment, electricity generation, fuel cells, solar cells, fuel production (including hydrogen) and plastics production are already on the roster for the hard working little bugs.
The 2009 Global Recession: Climate Change Canary In The Coal Mine
One theme that emerged during the 5th Symposium is the challenge of getting consumers, business, and policy makers all on the same page in terms of urgent climate change action. CleanTechnica asked Boragno for his insights, and he drew a parallel with the need for companies to restructure in the face of dramatic financial upheaval (following comments edited for clarity and flow).
CleanTechnica: What motivated Alcantara to adopt a more sustainable business model?
Boragno: A high percentage of people are not taking climate change seriously, but for manufacturers it is absolutely clear. Sooner or later, climate change will have an effect.
Basically, this has been our approach since 2009. The world was in recession and facing a big change. We understood that this was not just another business cycle. It was clear that the structure of the economy was changing and we were going down, period.
It became absolutely necessary to introduce change in our way of doing business. In other words, sustainability is a business response to crisis.
CleanTechnica: How do you see Alcantara’s role in getting the climate message to consumers?
Boragno: About 98% of our customers are big corporations. They make cars, computers, and aircraft. They are interested in our approach to sustainability, and we see they are considering it.
Where Are The Policy Makers?
As for climate change policy, that’s where the rubber hits the road. Connie Hedegaard, a former EU commissioner and the current Chairman of KR Foundation, outlined the challenges and echoed the need for structural change during the symposium (following are snippets edited for flow and clarity):
Policy makers are aware of the challenges, but now we get to the difficult, the part where you need to translate all these nice intentions into real deeds and actions.
For example in the energy area, a lot is happening there, it’s really good, things are somehow starting to take off there. But, I would like to argue that is the easy part. The next steps are getting much more difficult. The next steps are getting bigger and bolder.
We need relative reductions, not just absolute reductions. We have to move much faster. We have to embrace really substantial structural changes.
As if that wasn’t hard enough, the global rise of authoritarianism and extreme political division is throwing a colossal monkey wrench into the climate action works, and a rising generation of activism is casting climate action as a struggle for survival:
Exactly at this time, the political and economic establishment is being challenged like never before. Their authority and credibility is really being challenged. Yet in this environment, they have to come up with holistic, across-the-silos solutions.
It’s not that easy, but it’s what we have to do now. Young people are getting impatient. If we can’t prove very very soon that our existing economic model can deliver the answers, then we will see a radicalization that will not be good for the climate fight.
Though cautioning that polarization is not particularly helpful, Hedegaard noted that the increased pressure is having an effect on policy makers:
Policy makers need to make the bold decisions while being challenged on their authority. Action used to be more dangerous politically than not acting, but now its getting more dangerous to not act.
We need political leadership more than we have done for quite a while, but those who have political power are afraid of the vested interests, they are still the majority.
It’s Time To Wake The Sleeping Climate Change Giant
World War II was the last time that authoritarian regimes sparked a global crisis. All seemed lost until the US woke up and jumped into the fray. It was a day late and a dollar short for millions of people, but it still made a difference.
Now signs are beginning to emerge that the US is finally waking up to climate change. What took the US so long to wake up is no big secret (you know who you are), but the cold slap in the face of reality is difficult for lobbying organizations and other stakeholders to paper over any more. The American Dream of home ownership is suddenly succumbing to floods, fires, and encroaching seawater, and people — aka voters — are paying attention.
Despite the absence of climate leadership from the White House, hundreds of US cities and state-level policy makers are taking action on climate change, and that is beginning to include more Republicans. In one recent example, the conservative Republican governor of the “red” state of South Dakota vetoed a bill that would cramp the state’s solar industry, and she signed a bill enabling more renewable energy development.
The bipartisan trend coincides with a sharp political change of fortunes for US fossil fuel stakeholders. Coal, oil, and gas stakeholders are beginning to lose a long run of influence over US energy policy, capped by the past two years, during which President* Trump has enjoyed the rubber stamp of a Republican majority in both houses.
One evidence of change in the political winds popped earlier this week, when newly minted US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a resolution kickstarting the legislative process for a 10-year climate action mobilization and social justice plan, aka the Green New Deal.
To be clear, the actual legislation will be a long way coming, and it will not get a hearing in the Senate even if it passes the House, and even if is heard and passed in the Senate it will certainly die under the veto of President* Trump assuming he is still in office.
Nevertheless, the resolution will finally give climate change a badly needed airing before the public, and that will pump up the pressure on policy makers to act — or else.
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Image: Paul.Wasnewski via flickr.com.
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