Over the past week, furor ensued over the Pope’s upcoming encyclical this summer on environmental degradation. It is clear that it will detail the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, and on economic development. Will it help?
For many years, the strategy of those averse to change has been to either deny climate change altogether, deny its negative impact, or deny human behavior as its main cause. Recently, that debate has slowly shifted, as evidence mounts dismissing references to ‘fuzzy science’ and climate change is becoming undeniable. Pointing the finger at India and China does not work, either… the battle is right here, at home. The U.S. uses almost 19% of the worlds’ energy, with only 4.5% of its population. An American consumes twice the amount of energy of a European, and almost five times that of a Chinese. Believe in climate change or not, such statistics show that there is room for improvement, to put it mildly.
Sustainability is an economic opportunity
The ongoing resistance to change by economic conservatives is all the more surprising, as the U.S. has practically invented the concept of innovating its way out of economic trouble, and into new markets. The ambition to land on the moon spurned an entirely new industry, supporting decade-long effective global domination by the U.S. aviation and aerospace industry. The dawn of the internet has spurned a level of innovation, investment and economic growth in the U.S. unrivalled by any other nation to this very day. Sustainability is exactly such an opportunity, and likely to support decades of growth. It is high time to get off the denial and fuzzy science track, make the shift and grab that chance.
Conservatives in the US have been loath to support action on climate change in an effort to protect ‘old’ industry and economic interest. Liberals have not helped the cause either, by supporting ill-conceived subsidy-schemes such as the Solyndra-disaster. However, the upcoming intervention of the Pope is one that breaks those traditional blocks. It may bring about a change considered inconceivable until just recently. A religious leader on a global scale coming out in favor of combatting climate change should really not surprise us. Proper guardianship of a divinely created earth seems an inherently logical creed for any religion. Yet, the Pope is one of the first to foray into this political realm, forcing cracks in the traditionally deadlocked blocks in the U.S.
Can his linking man-made climate change to negative effects on economic development lead to a shift in convictions? Can it cause a move away from debating the existence of climate change by conservatives? Can it change liberal thinking, from subsidy and regulation driven solutions to seeking economic opportunity? Can it open the door to the U.S. taking its rightful place as leading light in the world in combatting climate change? Developing sustainable industries, markets and business models is surely the economic opportunity of the century.
Brundtland defined sustainability in 1987 as ‘development to meet needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. We can go one better. Sustainability is economic development that creates profit in the present while helping future generations to meet the needs of their future generations. Amen to that.