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Comment: Business leaders should think about net zero

Isn’t it time “business leaders” started to take our grandchildren’s lives seriously, and think about what they can contribute to achieving net-zero?
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Windmills and solar panels are shown in Kahuku, Hawaii on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Roland Clift says it is time invest in new industries rather than propping up sectors whose time is up. CALEB JONES, AP

A commentary by an adjunct professor at UBC, and a past member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. He lives in Victoria.

Gwyn Morgan’s Jan. 11 commentary, “Net-zero fantasy has empowered dictators,” describes attempts to cut emissions of climate-changing gases as “net-zero fantasy,” with a few other provocative phrases, including “net-zero zealots.”

I am a confessed example of a net-zero zealot. I have to be, because I have children and grandchildren and I have responsibilities to them. It is people like me who live in the real world; the fantasists are those who think we can continue to dig up and burn fossil carbon.

It is remarkable that the commentary makes no mention of the reason why what he describes as a “fantasy” is actually an imperative: the inconvenient truth of climate change.

There is a proverb, sometimes said to be Chinese: “Unless we change course, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” Where we are currently headed is misery for our descendants — what the secretary-general of the UN has aptly called “the highway to climate hell.”

Anyone who still denies this is blind to what is already happening across the globe. We are starting to see how global change leads to extreme events locally.

Because of the time effects involved, it will inevitably get worse. The possibility of limiting average temperatures rise to 1.5 C has already gone. “Net-zero” is about trying to limit the severity of the disaster we leave behind us.

Changing course will indeed require changes to the global economic order, but the longer we leave change, the more extreme and uncomfortable it will be.

The present combination of political and climate chaos has to be seized as an opportunity, not a cause for criticizing those who want to change course. Changing course has to include persuading our governments to stop subsidising the energy companies that are making profits by destroying the world for our grandchildren.

Let’s face reality and invest in new industries rather than propping up sectors whose time is up.

There are lessons in the changes that Morgan decries. In Germany, events are actually taking a very different turn from the one depicted by Morgan.

The country has greatly reduced its dependence on Russian gas, by investing rapidly in alternatives. This required them to find the courage and honesty to admit that they had made a big mistake and act to correct it.

Isn’t it time “business leaders” started to take our grandchildren’s lives seriously, and think about what they can contribute to achieving net-zero, rather than complaining about perverse effects of current policies and the short-term inconvenience of changing the way we power our lives?

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