Editorial | Corporations take lead in tackling climate change while Congress lags

02/06/2014 12:00 AM

02/05/2014 7:41 PM

The following editorial appeared Jan. 31 in the Miami Herald:

If soft-drink giant Coca-Cola is worried about climate change, shouldn’t the White House and Capitol Hill be, too? In a Jan. 24 front-page article, The New York Times cited Coca-Cola’s and some other large corporations’ recognition of global warming as being “an economically disruptive force.”

Prolonged flooding, severe droughts and erratic weather patterns throughout the world are affecting the bottom lines of Big Business in a serious way. Coke lost out on a juicy operating-license deal in India because of a serious water shortage there in 2004. Droughts are also affecting Coke’s supply of sugar beets and citrus for fruit juices.

Severe weather – particularly flooding – is crimping Nike’s supply line. Floods temporarily shut down four Nike factories in Thailand in 2008. And droughts have had a deleterious impact on regions producing cotton, which Nike uses for its athletic wear.

These ill effects generate higher prices for food and commodities, which consumers ultimately pay. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, an entire day was spent on the threat of climate change, not just to corporate coffers, but also to national economies.

Third World countries, where many global corporations employ thousands of low-paid workers, see huge risks to their future welfare as the Earth heats up.

Economists have joined the chorus, with some seeing a carbon tax on greenhouse-gas emitters as a solution. Henry Paulson Jr., a former Treasury secretary in the George W. Bush administration, has linked up with former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, among others, to commission an economic study on the financial risks connected to climate change. The study will assess potential impacts of warming by region and sector of the U.S. economy.

But climate change is not just about warming trends. It’s also about extreme weather cycles. Consider the bitterly frigid temperatures that have gripped the Upper Midwest and New England states this winter, crippling routine business transactions, closing schools and hiking heating costs. And heat-induced extremes make typical flooding, with which low-lying regions like coastal Florida are accustomed dealing, longer, more catastrophic events.

Meanwhile, two growing economies – in China and India – are importing coal and oil, much of it from the United States, and building more coal- and oil-fueled power plants by the week. Burning fossil fuels is a major contributor of carbon dioxide, the emission most associated with global warming. So while Western nations and North America are slowly taking steps to reduce these emissions, China and India are producing more of them.

The Obama White House hasn’t ignored the threat of global warming. It increased vehicle mileage standards, and the EPA has implemented some stronger rules on carbon emissions, for instance.

But the administration needs the cooperation of the House and Senate in order to make meaningful progress this decade toward really reducing emissions that cause warming.

Unfortunately, there’s no fervor on Capitol Hill to accept climate change’s threat and its manmade causes. If anything, the opposite is true.

So the private sector, with the likes of Coca-Cola and Nike leading the charge, has taken on global warming for the huge threat that it is to the economy, leaving congressional leaders behind in the smog.

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