Questioning Climate Change Business and Politics

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Image Credit Above: In this February 1, 2021 file photo, emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Kansas City, Missouri. (AP Photo | Charlie Riedel, file)

Elon Musk, miffed, tweets that Exxon is among the top 10 companies facing our climate crisis. Her baby, Tesla, fails to make the cut.

Kansas City’s own Evergy, right in the conservative center, rivals, if not surpasses, utilities in liberal California and Massachusetts when it comes to plugging in wind power and planting electric vehicle charging stations in the Kansas City area.

The River Market is home to one of the most energy efficient apartment complexes in the world.

The calculations that have governed business decisions and community aspirations have been muddied as America tries to avoid the most disastrous consequences of human-caused climate change. Are we doing enough? Are any other changes coming?

And insofar as we disagree on the magnitude of the problem or the dimensions of its solution: is dialogue possible between our divided political camps? What might that look like? And where will it lead us?

American Public Square will convene a panel discussion on all these issues at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24 at Donnelly College, in Kansas City, Kansas, as part of a program called “The Politics of Mother Nature – The Climate is Changing – Should You ?”

Panelists include Chuck Caisley, chief customer officer of Evergy, which provides electricity to 1.6 million customers in Missouri and Kansas; Dominique Davison, founder of DRAW, which focuses on sustainable architecture; and James Taylor, president of the Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based free market think tank. The event will have a live audience and will be viewable online.

The discussion could hardly be more topical.

In business, said Nick Donofrio: “The issue of climate change is at the forefront. Generations X, Y, Z and Alpha all understand this.

Donofrio served as executive vice president of innovation and technology at IBM and was a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. He served for 200 years on various boards, which gave him a broad view of corporate thinking and direction in America.

Radical changes have already occurred in most major companies regarding climate change. “Three quarters of the American economy has changed and reflects these values ​​today compared to the 1960s,” he said.

Business understands the demands of the moment, he said, while our political leaders are largely ignorant. “It’s a matter of leadership,” Donofrio said. “That leadership is on the business side, not the political side.”

This slows down the change, but does not stop it. Why?

“Companies are putting a lot of pressure on the government to get it right,” Donofrio said.

DRAW’s Davison agreed, seeing the same dynamic playing out in our cities and in the realm of architecture.

“Every conference room, it seems, is committed to having carbon neutral impacts,” she said in an email response to questions. “It’s clear that consumers want to support companies that care about the future of our planet and they are responding. There is a lot of activity in social impact investing and I see new funds focused on climate mitigation technology or positive impact companies popping up every week. The private sector is definitely trying to drive innovation that will solve the biggest problem we face.

On the other side of the question is James Taylor, the president of the Heartland Institute, a proponent of market solutions to our problems and limited government.

“No, climate change is not a serious threat at this time, and is unlikely to be at any time in the foreseeable future,” he wrote in an email. “A warmer climate has always been more beneficial to human health and well-being than a colder one, and it will almost certainly continue to be the case.”

As for American companies pushing an agenda that responds to climate change, Taylor said public policy should moderate or counter those efforts.

“Individual shareholders largely – and for good reason – don’t care about ‘fighting climate change’ with their investments,” Taylor wrote. “To the extent that shareholder pressure occurs, it is largely through large corporations colluding to impose an ESG (environmental, social, governance) agenda on other industries. In a democracy , however, public policy is made by the people through their elected representatives rather than by corporate oligarchies imposing their will on other people, businesses, and industries.

Either way, the change in attitude and behavior in companies and businesses is so drastic and profound that it won’t be undone, according to Simon Fischweicher, head of companies and supply chains for CDP America. North. CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, operates a disclosure system for companies, cities and states on carbon emissions and environmental impacts.

CDP now tracks the carbon emissions of 13,000 companies representing nearly two-thirds of the total value of the global market. Additionally, more than 250 companies that collectively purchase $5.5 trillion in goods and services have pledged to require their suppliers to also disclose their carbon emissions.

“Seven or eight years ago, the companies we were approaching were saying, ‘Why do we have to worry about climate change?’ “said Fischweicher. “The business environment has changed.”

Now, the persistent public ignorance about climate change must be addressed to spur the creation of government policies that match corporate resolve, he said.

“Without that, we can’t establish a common denominator that all companies need to embrace,” Fischweicher said.

Finding a common denominator — or at least restoring civil discourse across political divides — has animated Allan Katz since he started American Public Square more than seven years ago.

Reached in Portugal, where he works with students as a visiting professor at William Jewell College, Katz said he was first motivated to bring together diverse opinion-holders when he was an isolated city commissioner in Tallahassee, Florida, opposing the city’s involvement in the construction of a coal-fired power plant project.

Arrived in Kansas City to teach a course on money and politics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he launched American Public Square. Its budget has been multiplied by eight and its impact has increased

an even faster clip. At the height of the COVID pandemic lockdown, 30,000 people accessed its programs in 2020, he said.

Regarding climate change, Katz said, “We’ve done a lot of things that some of us thought 25 to 30 years ago. But there is still a lot to do. »

Katz, a former US ambassador to Portugal appointed by President Barack Obama, said we need a carbon tax.

Meanwhile, Evergy, which powers Kansas City homes and industry, has filed paperwork with the CDP expressing its intention to tackle carbon — carbon tax or not.

“In April 2021…Evergy announced a goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2045, which includes an interim target of reducing CO2 emissions by 70% below 2005 levels by 2030,” says the folder.

All of this and more is to be discussed Tuesday night at Donnelly College and online, courtesy of American Public Square.

Flatland contributor Martin Rosenberg is a Kansas City journalist who created and moderates the US Department of Energy’s podcast, Grid Talk, about the future of electricity. He was hired by the Kansas City Star in 1985 to cover Wolf Creek, technology and international affairs.

More climate change coverage from the KC Media Collective

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Michael J. Chiaramonte