Climate change: the science is irrelevant

If this sounds like an overly bold assertion, bear with me…

You’d think the science was undisputed. After all (as covered by the Independent recently), according to a leaked draft of its fifth assessment report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is now 95% certain that human activity is largely responsible for climate change.

That level of certainty has been increasing steadily with each iteration of the IPCC’s assessment of the science – from a smidge over 50% in 1995, rising to 66% by the time of the third assessment in 2001, and again to 90% by the previous report six years ago.

And it’s not as if this is some ‘back of a fag packet’ job; nor the product of some universally and rabidly biased group of pinko scientists. It’s the product of some 840 main authors drawn from 38 different countries (the largest number, incidentally, coming from Britain and the USA), who have collectively synthesized the results of thousands of peer-reviewed research papers from the last few years.

So, quite how some people can confidently declare as utter nonsense the possibility that mankind is contributing to climate change is beyond me.

But here’s the thing…

I really couldn’t give a stuff.

Seriously, it doesn’t matter.

Because evangelists on both sides of the argument are guilty of debating an irrelevance.

Look at Interface, for example.

Because I personally do believe in climate change – and because the idealist in me would like us to leave behind a planet in a better state than my generation found it – I marvel at the achievements of the first decade or so of their Mission Zero strategy:

  • Greenhouses gas emissions cut by 94%
  • Fossil fuel consumption down 60%
  • Waste and water use both cut by 80%

But, the realist in me knows equally well that you’ll never engage business and commerce in similar, widespread reform unless you can demonstrate the potential return on investment. That’s why I marvel all the more at the cold, hard numbers achieved over the same timeframe:

  • $438 million in cumulative savings from waste avoidance
  • Sales up two-thirds
  • Profits doubled

Look too at M&S – how Plan A was cost-positive within two years and delivered £135 million in value to the business last year; a combination, largely, of savings through waste avoidance and the development of new revenue streams from its M&S Energy business.

The point is surely a stark and obvious one.

While belief in climate change and diminishing natural resources is no doubt the spur that has encouraged the likes of Interface and M&S (and GE and Unilever and Walmart and…) to pursue the strategies they have, those strategies are by no means dependent on that belief.

Invoking Pascal’s Wager (as I do in my book), it matters not one jot whether you believe in climate change or not. From a purely commercial standpoint, it still makes logical sense to act as if you do.


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