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Why Climate Change is the A-Bomb of the 21st Century

At the end of his life, my supercharged superhero George Orwell wrote a brilliant short essay called "You and the A-Bomb." In two pages, he summed up why the A-Bomb changed his life in industrial society.

It is the same now with climate change.

You and climate change are forever different.

Whatever is determined in Copenhagen this month, the change has occurred, and is occurring as you read this. It is idle fantasy to spend much more of your limited time thinking otherwise, no matter how much exaggeration or scientific flimflam is found.

In fact, the change is now as real to markets and to your home, computers and cars as an A-Bomb. In corporate boardrooms I visit, in Washington, D.C., and in each of the foreign mega-cities of this world where I have visited -- from Athens and Istanbul to Canton and Hong Kong -- rising waters are real, and the need for smart industrial mitigation is felt. We live now in a carbon and capital constrained world. To not see the sign for energy diversity is to run into a Mack truck smiling.

It really doesn't matter if this is man-made or naturally occurring.

While most of the coverage on climate policy remains limited by political or corporate spin, a few basic facts remain.

1.    It is good business to conserve energy.

2.    From now on, it is smart corporate strategy to hedge against further escalating costs embedded in an overreliance on fossil fuels.

3.    Regarding your personal life and consumer choices, it makes remarkable sense to be cautious when near an A-bomb or when near the subject of climate change. Do not make grand claims. The answer is efficiency, and learning how to make industrial society more frugal yet thriving.

4.    Ignoring any of these three higher facts explains why I am so pissed off with most of the current coverage. It is as immature as macho uncles fighting over the peas at Thanksgiving dinner.

5.    I am sure I am not the only one mad at all this. I welcome your comments at [email protected]. The quest for solutions has begun. Give us your ideas at www.worldincbook.com, the blog for this.

Climate Change is Just the Beginning of Social Change

Our world has limited resources. Climate change is another reminder, in our lifetime, where we see limitations to unfettered industrial growth. Growth is a good, but smarter growth in terms of efficiency and less waste is what's needed. Leaders give us what we need not just what we want.

As the world's largest governments reopen negotiations to curb greenhouse gas emissions in Copenhagen, most corporations still watch with some unease. They know the issue as big as an A-bomb in the room.

Yet the surprising solution, the sweet spot in all this chatter, is that many others have already thought beyond Copenhagen, way beyond. They are competing on sustainability, competing on new forms of energy, and the certainty that we need more efficient cars, computers and homes. Some are listed at www.ahcgroup.com and you can find others throughout www.greenbiz.com

For the past 30 years I have watched and participated in this corporate and policy debates and climate negotiations. They have advanced rapidly, in fact, within big business and big government. In fact, I first wrote about climate change in my 1990 book for Simon and Schuster, which led to an appointment on Al Gore's White House Council on Environmental Technology.

What I learned in this 20-plus intervening years is simple: My grandmother was right -- money matters. We must invest in efficiency. We must transfer from the petrochemical treadmill to renewable as fast as we went from the horse and steam to cars and boilers. She was also astute in noting that "money will not manage itself," but that waste must be audited and controlled by governments, third parties and investors. Human nature demands this oversight.

In the end, the only thing that can save us from this new A-bomb in our living rooms is a renaissance of frugality. The only thing that brings us a bright future is intelligent innovations based on carbon and capital constraint.

Bruce Piasecki founded the AHC Group in 1981. His latest book, "The Surprising Solution: Creating Possibility in a Swift and Severe World," was published in November as a means to helping frame how best to compete in this carbon and capital constrained world. 

Images CC licensed by Flickr user Mikael Miettinen (top) and Mendhak (inset).

Click here for full coverage of COP15 from the GreenBiz.com and ClimateBiz.com teams, including posts from Copenhagen by Executive Editor Joel Makower and Senior Contributor Marc Gunther, and from dozens of guest contributors from the business world.

 

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