By Kevin Tuerff and Valerie Davis, co-founders of EnviroMedia and business delegates at COP17 representing the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development
This op-ed published in Sustainable Business Oregon
“We are in a world where nobody is in charge, and that is equally true in the United States.” That’s a quote we heard from Brian Dames, CEO of the South African electric utility giant Eskom, at “Durban Business Day” at the recent 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Whether you believe the U.S. is the dominant world power or not, during our two weeks at COP17, we witnessed similar sentiments from people around the world who believe our country created most of the problem, yet have been blocking solutions.
Penny Urquhart summed up the quandary well in the South Africa Sunday Times COP17 review we read as we flew out of Durban on December 11: “We still have a massive disconnect between the science, which tells us what we need to do to avoid more dangerous climate change, and the politics.”
On the science side, as COP17 approached in November, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its report citing a “high confidence that both maximum and minimum daily temperatures have increased on a global scale due to the increase of greenhouse gases.” Meanwhile, on the political side, the U.S., China and India were at loggerheads for the entire two-week conference over committing to the same emissions cuts.
Surprisingly, as the beleaguered negotiations ran into record-breaking OT, the U.S. came out of COP17 a bit of the hero by suggesting the winning compromise language (“outcome with legal force” rather than “legally-binding”) and signing on to the “Durban Platform” with all major emitters agreeing by 2015 to commit to putting the same cuts into force by 2020. As for the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed but never ratified by the U.S., a second phase will continue in 2013 for 27 nations that were originally part of the 1997 climate treaty.
Let’s face it, climate change is just as political as it is complex — and it’s especially exacerbated by a flailing economy, headlines about “climategate,” powerful energy lobbyists and the pending 2012 election year. But no matter what your beliefs are about politics and climate change, extreme weather is a reality.
According to a new report from the National Resources Defense Council based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in just the first 10 months of this year, every state in the U.S. had experienced record-breaking weather events — from drought and high temperatures to flooding and heavy snowfall. In fact, NOAA reports that in the same period, we broke records for the number of weather events in the U.S. that have cost more than $1 billion apiece in damage, with the grand total at more than $52 billion. Additionally, the report put a price tag on health costs related to weather events, citing, for example, a two-week heat wave in California in 2006 that caused 655 deaths, 1,620 hospitalizations, more than 16,000 emergency room visits and a cost of $5.4 billion.
As environmental marketing professionals, we believe it’s time to simplify the issue, starting with rebranding politically charged terms like “climate change” and “global warming.” It’s the same strategy tobacco giant Phillip Morris took rebranding itself as Altria after the multibillion-dollar settlements years ago, and AIG Financial Advisors took after the financial bailouts, changing its name to SagePoint Financial.
Let’s try the same tactic for the greater good by rebranding climate change to represent what it really means — extreme weather planning and cleaner energy practices. Whatever we do, let’s build a dialogue in this country to make this critical issue more relatable to all Americans.