The dirty politics of climate change
The following is an except of a Q&A from the Ideas Roadshow ebook, "Saving the World at Business School," which features a lengthy interview with Andrew J. Hoffman, the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and co-author of "Flourishing." Sustainable Industries published a previous excerpt of the Q&A in late July 2013.
A friend of mine has long argued that there is an inverse relationship between the popularity of a word and its meaning. The trendier a word has become, he says, the fuzzier it is, until eventually it’s used everywhere and means nothing.
“Sustainability” seems a perfect example for his theory. Once a word primarily associated with dour environmentalists, it’s hard to think of someone these days who does not avidly chatter away about its merits. Politicians of all stripes routinely vie to outdo one another to demonstrate their sustainability credentials. Corporations now have chief sustainability officers. We are all sustainability advocates now. But what are we actually talking about?
Into this yawning semantic void steps Andy Hoffman. A business school professor who regularly rubs shoulders with major players throughout America’s corporate landscape, Hoffman might seem an odd choice to be the driving force for a fundamental re-interpretation of the green lexicon.
– Howard Burton
Burton: In the real political world in the United States, you have this very clear fault line between the Democrats and the Republicans, as you pointed out in your article. There’s an overwhelming proportion of climate-change-deniers who are associated with the Republican Party and there’s an overwhelming number of climate-change-advocates who are in the Democratic party.
And my sense is that not only is this one-to–one correspondence between climate change and political affiliation different in other countries, but there is also a general and much broader accep- tance of the scientific evidence of climate change in those other countries compared to the United States. Why do you think that is?
Hoffman: Well, in the United States, this is where I get to the cultural components of these issues. Some people, when they hear ‘climate change’, they hear ‘more government’: you’re going to have to have a carbon tax or a carbon price of some sort. That’s an intrusive government program –
Burton: Yes, but hang on: one is a way to deal with the problem and the other is an acknowledgement that it exists.