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Monday, March 15, 2010

Guest Post from EMC: Speaking of Climate Change…

A couple of weeks back in Some Thoughts on Climate Change I shared some responses to the recent controversies within the climate change space and in particular how corporations should respond. Kathrin Winkler, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corporation shared her thoughts on the same topic on her own blog Interconnected World. I found them very enlightening and asked Kathrin if I could repost……

The subject of Climate Change has inexplicably (OK, maybe explicably) become a touchy one, particularly here in the U.S. (though I'm assured by a friend Down Under that we are not alone). I'm sure you've seen the polls, not to mention the press. One of the conundrums (conundra?) of being in an environmental sustainability job is deciding how to talk about Climate Change and how to react when the confronted by a challenge to the idea of global warming.

With nearly 43,000 employees, EMC has its share of people who are understandably befuddled by the barrage of conflicting information in the media and simply don't have the time to do the research to sort it out. And yes, we have our out-and-out skeptics and cynics, too. So what do I say when someone says to me "Did you hear? They've found out that the earth is actually cooling!" A woman on our Green Business Leadership team was asking my advice on this question the other day. And I'm not really sure what the best approach is.

We can…

…Tackle the objections one by one, starting with "don't confuse weather with climate".

…Get pedantic, delving into climate forcings and the carbon cycle.

…Go narrow, focusing on energy and how reducing dependence on fossil fuel is good for our wallets, for national security and for the economy.

…Go wide, emphasizing that even without global warming, the environmental insults we are perpetrating on the planet are devastating water supplies, destroying species, and hampering ecosystem services that communities depend on, never mind using up resources like water, tin, copper and much more.

…Appeal to people's competitive natures by highlighting how China is taking the initiative in green technology.

…Be selfish, maintaining that regardless of individual opinion, it's good for business to care about Climate Change since our investors, customers, and partners are asking us to demonstrating that we're responsibly managing the associated risks.

…Deflect. Expound on how increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations are causing ocean acidification that can be measured in the thinning shells of pteropods, endangering this critical link in the food chain. (Warning: this one can stop a conversation dead in its tracks!)

…Dismiss "ClimateGate", pointing out that the behavior of a few scientists doesn't change the science.

…Simply hold our ground with "the science really is unequivocal, and corroborated across many, many disciplines".

… Soft-pedal by only referring to "Climate Change" and avoiding "anthropogenic" (human-caused) so as not to inflame the most rabid skeptics.

…Cite well-known conservatives who have concluded it's a real issue - people like David Brooks and Rupert Murdoch.

…Play the percentage card, by seeking agreement with the challenger that there is at least a reasonable chance that the skeptics are wrong, leading to the conclusion that we can't afford to take that chance.

All of these approaches are legitimate, and I've use all of the above depending on the person, the nature of the comment I'm responding to, and the circumstance of the conversation. The problem is that whenever I sidestep the fundamental question, I feel a bit like a coward. On the other hand, my job is to drive change, and small detours can get you past roadblocks to progress.
How have you handled it?

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