The Age ~ Stephanie Hiller

Stephanie Hiller

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Can the rich do anything right?

Posted on March 23, 2021 by Stephanie Hiller

History shows that epidemics have been the great resetter of countries’ economies and social fabric. Why should it be different with COVID-19? — Klaus Schwab, Covid-19: the Global Reset

Recently, Tim Zahner, head of the Sonoma Valley Visitors’ Bureau, wrote a piece with the headline, “I miss you: An ode to tourism industry and tourists.” Zahner expressed his appreciation of tourists in ways I could not have imagined; but of course, interacting with tourists on a daily basis is his full-time job.

Tourists are good for the tourism business, the only industry we have here, but it’s not good for the climate. All those car trips back and forth across the county to drink the wines and visit the redwoods contribute greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere. And then there’s airplane travel.

Environmental attorney Jerry Bernhaut is ferocious on the role of vehicle emissions from cars and airplanes conveying visitors to our charming, historic town. You may recall that he sued the county in 2016 for its failure to include increased tourist miles in its Climate Action 2020 Plan. He was correct, and he won. 

The county apparently did not want to limit tourism by raising the climate bar too high.

Businesses, especially corporations, have resisted moving forward on climate change because of its potential to deliver a crushing blow to their existence; and governments have covered for them and provided financial assistance. But now, after a debilitating pandemic, and with less than a decade to bring GHGs under control to keep the temperature below 1.5C, businesses appear to be waking up to the challenge.

According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, an international organization of transnational businesses, governments and nonprofits, the pandemic has opened people’s eyes: “People are more open today than a year ago. Now they have noticed the fragility of global society,” he writes in his book Covid-19, the Global Reset.

Now, the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions. Every country, from the United States to China, must participate, and every industry, from oil and gas to tech, must be transformed. In short, we need a ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism

Such an overhaul of the system and institutions that run the world, though necessary, is frightening. The extreme right has reacted with cries of socialism, while the left seems to have ignored the Reset entirely, principally because it is manifestly not socialism. One writer has even called it a global coup. Such massive change is unprecedented and threatening. Weren’t we going to get back to normal, this month or this year?

Take heart; it will still be capitalism, but in a new form. Instead of pure shareholder capitalism, which we have today, in which corporations are obliged to serve shareholders (owners) with higher and higher profits, the global reset will rely more heavily on stakeholders, representatives from all relevant sectors including the United Nations, presumably for the common good. As a way to transform the economy from the current one without the blood and gore of revolution, the idea of a stakeholder economy, which makes change palatable even for large corporations, is a clever innovation that has the potential to shift the intention of corporations toward caring for people and planet.  

Brian Moynihan, CEO of the Bank of America, helped to develop the “metrics” for this new approach:

“We have to deliver great returns for our shareholders and help drive progress on society’s most important priorities. That is stakeholder capitalism in action. Common metrics will help all stakeholders measure the progress we are making and ensure that the resources capitalism can marshal — from companies, from investors, and others — are directed to where they can make the most difference.”

Accenture Dell,  Dow,  HeinekenIBMMastercardMcKinsey & CoNestléPayPalSalesforceSonyUnilever and dozens more have already signed on. 

Significantly, some of these companies are hardly models of enlightened capitalism. Nestle for example has a bad record of bottling water from public supplies and making a fortune on it.

The Biden administration has embraced the Reset; his campaign website was called Build Back Better, which is the slogan of the Reset. John Kerry, the Administration’s Special Envoy on Climate has assured the WEF that Biden is in full support. 

Can a pandemic make the corporate leopard change its spots? It’s no wonder people are dubious. Nick Buxton, with the Transnational Institute (TNI) asks, in an article published at tmi.org, Will this be the era of ethical corporations?  He is skeptical because participation is voluntary, i.e. no regulatory body has been established to monitor what these powerful actors may do, the very people who made the mess we find ourselves in today. “Time and time again, the profit motive wins out when it conflicts with any aspirational social or environmental target.” 

Certainly, that is history. But what if the profit motive and the environmental consequences are aligned this time around?

In an article generally bemoaning the lack of progress on climate change, Piers Forster, Professor of Physical Climate Change at the University of Leeds, finds that CO2 levels barely declined during the past year and concludes:

Unfortunately, green investment is not being made at anything like the level needed. However, many more investments will be made over the next few months. It’s essential that strong climate action is integrated into future investments. The stakes may seem high, but the potential rewards are far higher. 

Potential rewards mean money. Can corporations make money and also clean up the environment, provide good jobs, promote equity and inclusion, and arrest climate change? If so, we can expect them to participate. 

Clearly, we can’t stop climate change unless corporations work with governments to do the job. But can we trust them? Can we believe that the urgency of the situation has finally gotten their attention and evoked their better natures? Are we willing to give them the benefit of the doubt?

Because barring economic collapse or some other global disaster, it’s clear they are going to try to remake the world…in their own image. This is no counter-cultural earth-based utopian vision that hopes to localize economies, embrace the commons, regenerate the soil. Indeed, this is not our plan. 

Richard Heinberg, one of the pioneers in championing an effective response to climate change, has outlined several paths we can choose to deal with the present crisis. He believes that it can’t be averted, and that collapse is inevitable, and asks, why wait for a post-carbon post-growth world?  His advice is to build resilient communities now.

This is something we can do here in Sonoma.

We could begin to have a community conversation about how to strengthen our networks and prepare for whatever emergency may lie ahead. Because they will come.

The RAND corporation has a whole section of its website devoted to community resilience, as well as a brick-and-mortar Climate Resilience Center. 

We can find ways to create a more equitable, just, and caring society right here, while having more fun. We might even figure out how to reduce our dependence on tourism. 

I’d love to hear your ideas. Post your comments here, or write to me at [email protected]

 



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