300 Business Leaders Ask Biden Administration To Double Emissions Cuts

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Something weird is happening. For generations, American business has slavishly followed the dictates of conservatives. You know the tune. Government regulations are killing jobs. Taxes on corporations are too high. Everything government touches is a disaster. The richer people at the top get, the more the poor benefit because of the magic of “trickle down” economics.  The free market is the best way to solve all of humanity’s problems.

Image retrieved from NOAA (public domain)

So what are we to make of it when a coterie of 300 prominent businesses sign an open letter to President Biden asking him to double the carbon emissions reductions proposed by the Obama administration? If enacted, emissions would be slashed 50% by 2030 from 2005 levels. Business screamed bloody murder when those rules were first announced. So why the sudden shift? It appears that rampaging forest fires, more powerful storms, rising sea levels, and extended droughts have finally convinced the business community that their profitability will be severely affected if their customers are all dead or decide to relocate to the lush tropical areas that await us once those pesky polar ice caps melt.

The letter was organized by the We Mean Business coalition and Ceres, a nonprofit that focuses on creating a sustainable environment. “I think this signals a major shift in the corporate community’s understanding of the urgency of climate change as a systemic financial risk,” Anne Kelly, vice president for government affairs at Ceres, tells the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs in the letter:

Millions of Americans are already feeling the impacts of climate change. From recent extreme weather to deadly wildfires and record-breaking hurricanes, the human and economic losses of the past 12 months alone are profound. Tragically, these devastating climate impacts also disproportionately hit marginalized and low-income communities who are least able to withstand them. We must act now to slow and turn the tide.

As business leaders, we care deeply about the future of the U.S. and the health of its people and economy. Collectively, our businesses employ nearly 6 million American workers across all 50 states, representing over $3 trillion in annual revenue, and for those of us who are investors, we represent more than $1 trillion in assets under management. We join the majority of Americans in thanking you for re-entering the U.S into the Paris Agreement and for making climate action a vital pillar of your presidency. To restore the standing of the U.S. as a global leader, we need to address the climate crisis at the pace and scale it demands. Specifically, the U.S. must adopt an emissions reduction target that will place the country on a credible pathway to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

We, therefore, call on you to adopt the ambitious and attainable target of cutting GHG emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. (Emphasis original)

A bold 2030 target is needed to catalyze a zero-emissions future, spur a robust economic recovery, create millions of well-paying jobs, and allow the U.S. to “build back better” from the pandemic. New investment in clean energy, energy efficiency, and clean transportation can build a strong, more equitable, and more inclusive American economy. A 2030 target will also guide the U.S. government’s approach to more sustainable and resilient infrastructure, zero-emissions vehicles and buildings, improved agricultural practices, and durable carbon removal. Finally, the commitment would inspire other industrialized nations to set bold targets of their own.

The letter calls the proposed cuts “ambitious and attainable,” calling to mind the words of JFK, who said, “We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.” Europe is already planning even bigger cuts. It is long past time for the so-called United States to start shouldering the burden of the environment damage it has caused on its way to becoming the most powerful nation in history.

Organizers of the letter hope their message — coming as it does from the private sector — will resonate strongly in Congress and other corridors of power in Washington. It comes at a time when many in the business community are opposing the radical racism that underlies the Republican party’s push to make it harder for non-whites to participate in American democracy while cheered on by radical white supremacists like Tucker Carlson. The American electorate is largely irrelevant today as corporate power has become the new repository of sovereignty in America.

Oddly enough, when the Supreme Court declared that corporations had the same rights of free speech as real people, no one envisioned they would actually embrace liberal ideas such as not poisoning their customer base with industrial pollutants. Now that some have chosen to speak up, the hard line reactionaries have weighed in with statements like this embarrassing drivel from Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who said in a statement, “The Paris climate agreement will result in increased energy costs for Americans while Russia and China increase greenhouse gas emissions.” He says any emissions targets will be “punishing.” On that point, John, please see the latest report by the US Department of Energy saying offshore wind will create 77,000 new, high wage jobs.

Patrick Flynn, vice president of sustainability for Salesforce, which signed on to the letter, said he hopes businesses will lobby Congress to support the Biden administration’s target. “We know it will create millions of jobs, we know it’s a good thing for the economy, and we know if we do it right we can do it in a way that leaves no one behind,” he tells the New York Times. He said his company has supported tax increases in the past and called Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal “a good investment” for the long term.

Despite pandemic related decreases in travel, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise. According to a recent measurement taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the level now exceeds 420 parts per million for the first time since levels have been recorded. Bill McKibben’s 350.org takes its name from the level carbon dioxide needs to be at in order to stave off a cataclysmic climate calamity. It’s the Smokey and the Bandit conundrum. We as humans have a long way to go and a short time to get there. If we are to succeed, the business community needs to be fully onboard. For that reason, this latest letter is a hopeful sign.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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