If business leaders were to deal with the issue of climate change like today’s politicians, they would be accused of delayed bankruptcy filing. But what is the reality? Is there still time to turn the tide?
When a company can no longer pay its debts through foreseeable income or remaining assets, then it’s considered insolvent. At this point management is obligated to declare the company to be in a “state of emergency” – or bankrupt. Managing directors who delay this step can then be held personally liable for the financial consequences. As far as today’s management culture, the reality is that we try to legally protect future creditors from business leaders who in times of crisis simply carry on as they please while others eventually pay the financial consequences.
But it’s the politicians, those loudly clamoring for managers to be held accountable for their actions, who are precisely the ones sitting around in talk shows, relying on flimsy arguments todefend their unwillingness to act when it comes to global climate change. Meanwhile their creditors – the future generation – are putting their education on the line by taking to the streets every Friday to remind our politicians of their responsibilities.
And no, we’re not talking about a generation of pupils and students playing hooky and looking for an excuse to have one day off a week. These young people are part of a generation that knows exactly how important their education is to their future, especially during a time when digitalization will cause many jobs to disappear over the coming years. They are nevertheless prepared to put their education on the line in order to remind us of the consequences they will have to pay because we ignored the greenhouse effect for so many years. This is something they are doing simultaneously around the world, with one increasingly loud voice.
Illusion and reality – politicians with smoke and mirrors
It’s disgraceful to watch our elected policymakers simply disqualify these outcries by suggesting that an analysis of the causes of climate change are better left to the “professionals.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the most recent IPCC report, which warns us of the impacts of a more than 1.5 degree rise in the average temperature and urgently calls for us to switch our growth strategy, which relies on fossil fuels. Researchers have also clearly observed that a one degree increase in the earth’s average temperature is causing the melting of polar ice masses and glaciers, both of which play an essential role in reflecting a large part of the sun’s energy back into space.
It’s also easy to comprehend that because of unusually high temperatures in permafrost regions of the planet, where to date enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, and in particular methane, have been encased in the eternal ice, these substances are now being released into the atmosphere.
In fact, if we were in a position to leave the decisions to the professionals, then we would have turned the tide long ago and would already be charting new waters that are no doubt challenging, but not impossible to reach. Instead, we have to listen to politicians use ozone depletion and deforestation as an analogy in an attempt to reassure us with the illusion that just like the ozone, surely nothing will ever come of climate change.
It would certainly be a wonderful thing if we could simply go on as before while these issues fix themselves. Upon closer analysis however, these examples mean exactly the opposite – and this fact is being hidden from the truth. The reality is, the reason why the ozone hole began to close and eventually recovered enough to act as a shield against the sun’s energy-rich rays after 35 years, is the simple fact that two years after discovering the effect it was having on our atmosphere, we signed a global agreement to reduce CFCs. The production and use of CFCs was then banned 15 years later.
We also got a handle on deforestation because among other things, we rapidly reduced cross-border air pollution through a transnational agreement and thus reduced acid rain to acceptable levels again. Back then, no one would have dared argue that reducing or banning CFCs would mean placing unreasonable demands on the refrigerator manufacturing or automotive industries.
Believe it or not, we once had politicians who were willing to act courageously when faced with an undeniable set of facts. We really do have these people to thank for the fact that we were able to survive some number of manmade environmental threats unscathed. Today we unfortunately face a different situation. Much like focusing the rescue efforts on the orchestra as the Titanic sinks, so that the passengers can continue to enjoy the music, some of our elected representatives cling to the illusion that perhaps global warming is not really manmade and will just disappear on its own.
For those who are not convinced that the opinion of the overwhelming 95 percent of all scientists is sufficient to ring the alarm bells, they are encouraged to take a glance at the climate change section on the NASA website. What they will discover is that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has meanwhile reached levels that are 50 percent higher than at any time over the last 400,000 years. We exceeded this historic threshold in 1950. And since then we have seen a continuous increase that is undeniably tied to the period of massive growth of carbon-based industrialization that occurred during the middle of last century.
Evolution of the earth's temperature, 1880-2018. Source: NASA
I can imagine the collective uproar that would arise during an annual shareholders meeting when the manager of a large company, whose financial indicators point to an “existential crisis,” would ignore the opinion of 95 percent of the institutes who agree on the market analysis, and then attempt to discredit the creditors by suggesting they’re not professionals – all with the sole purpose of sidestepping the necessary changes and avoiding the challenges of having to come up with a new strategy. Making the manager personally liable for the financial consequences would be completely justified in this case.
We can assume that by the time we have experienced the consequences of the uninhibited release of emissions into our fragile climate system, which has taken thousands of years to learn to function together, and by the time rising sea levels, or regular droughts displaced by torrential rains, have become commonplace, many of those who are resisting the implementation of effective measures will be in retirement. But that assumes they won´t already be “washed away” by a wave of disappointed voters. Perhaps It’s high time that we begin discussions about making our politicians liable. After all, their delay tactics only mean that it will take even longer before we begin thinking about the alternatives.
The fact is, we only have 10 years to take action, and by the year 2050 to return greenhouse gases to levels that will allow what remains of nature – which continues to shrink through further clearing and deforestation of the rain forests – to compensate. Otherwise, we will be dealing with a climate change process that cannot be stopped. To do this, we urgently need to create guidelines for action now!
Rescue measures and contributions – there is strength in numbers!
To also avoid simply waiting for the problem to resolve itself, the global textile industry, under the leadership of the UN during the global climate conference at the end of last year, became the first to recognize its role in climate change, even going so far as to initiate a global fashion industry charter with measures aimed at becoming a climate-neutral industry by the year 2050 as called for by the IPCC.
As a co-author and one of the initial signatories of this charter, for us it was always a given that we would pursue this initiative, despite the fact that the measures require several company-wide endeavors from Sympatex, as well as from our colleagues, and which involve challenges for which we still don’t have all the solutions. After all, as managers we have the responsibility to recognize when things are getting out of hand and to respond with timely measures, even beyond our own boundaries.
It’s our hope that more and more partners from our industry will join this initiative so that policy makers will also muster the courage to face the reality at some point. At least they can no longer use industry as an excuse to avoid taking action. And perhaps one day, instead of just the younger generation, every well-informed consumer will take to the streets and make the decision to buy merchandise only from companies who have pledged a willingness to share in the responsibility for this transformation.