Panelists discuss growing global warming concerns

The panel focused on the role of business in climate change and economic cost.

by Mike Enright

Businesses need to take steps to address global warming before it’s too late, experts said Friday in St. Paul.

The University’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment hosted a panel discussion that focused on the relationship between business and the environment. The hour-and-a-half-long discussion featured three speakers who talked about the role of industry in climate change and what it can do to fix the problem.

The panel’s first speaker, Bill Chameides, chief scientist for advocate group Environmental Defense, said the

scientific community no longer questions whether global warming is happening.

“The science of global warming is certain enough to warrant every nation to take urgent action to avert the dangers and consequences of climate change,” Chameides said, citing the National Academy of Sciences’ position. “If that isn’t consensus, I don’t know what is.”

Scientists believe the current warming of the Earth’s atmosphere is caused by humans because natural cycles of cooling and heating don’t fit the current situation, Chameides said.

“Basically, we’ve eliminated all sources of heat to the atmosphere except for the greenhouse effect,” he said.

Panelist Andrew Logan of Ceres, a group that seeks to create environmental and business prosperity, said businesses have started paying attention to the possibility of climate change having negative economic impacts.

The British Treasury Department recently completed a study analyzing the economic cost of not addressing climate change, Logan said.

“The conclusion is that the cost will be literally in the trillions of dollars worldwide,” he said. “It sort of flips on its head the idea that we can’t deal with climate change because doing so will hurt our economy.”

Logan said businesses need to take the lead in investing in clean technology, but governments can help by creating policies that give businesses incentives to change their behavior.

For this to succeed in Minnesota, leaders need to rally the business community around the idea of pursuing sustainable energy and get the conversation started, he said.

Mack McFarland, panelist and atmospheric scientist at DuPont, said businesses can be both environmentally friendly and profitable.

“If climate change is bad, it’s going to get worse for decades and stay bad for centuries,” McFarland said. “The ozone hole in Antarctica is going to stay with us until at least the middle of the century.”

McFarland said during the 1970s and ’80s, DuPont was the world leader in producing chlorofluorocarbons, which are known to damage the ozone layer. But in 1988, the company committed to phasing out CFCs, and from 2000 to 2003 DuPont reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 72 percent, he said.

In the same span of time, DuPont had also decreased overall energy use by 6 percent, while increasing total output by 30 percent, McFarland said.

“Reducing energy with the growth in output, compared to business as usual, has saved us over $3 billion,” McFarland said.