Shortly after the election of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States in November last year, Jane Lê and I were asked by the University of Sydney Business School to imagine what the US would look like in 2019, two years into the new Presidency. So we cast caution to the wind and decided to record a ‘What If’ podcast imagining what Jan 2019 might look like in the US with respect to the environment, energy and climate change.
As part of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre ASEAN Forum to commemorate 40 years of Australian engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), on Thursday September 11th, Sydney Ideas will be presenting a public event focusing on issues of sustainability in Southeast Asia .
We find ourselves in an era of what we might call creative self-destruction. We’re destroying ourselves – it’s as simple as that.
Economic growth and exploiting nature’s resources have long gone hand-in-hand, but as repeated warnings from scientists and reports such as the latest from the IPCC tell us, they now constitute the most ill-fated of bedfellows. Climate change, the greatest threat of our time, is perhaps the definitive manifestation of the well-worn links between economic progress and devastation.
…many have pointed out that my position allowed me to protect the environment. But that never sat well with me, especially as it relates to fossil fuels with their broad and wide externalities. After much introspection, and a couple of tears, I realized that an opinion like that is a flat view and it ignores the fact I have enabled interests that are contrary to human existence. It’s the enabling that drives us nuts. To this end, I now flatly refuse any work that deals with fossil fuels interests. It makes life much simpler for me and I suspect it will for others.
In the decade ahead, Australia and the world will face environmental, social and financial challenges of an unprecedented scale. These include tensions between economic growth and environmental degradation, a need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to climate change, and pressure to improve social inclusion and equity in a world of significant poverty and inequity. Businesses are clearly key players when it comes to responding to these challenges, but can businesses look beyond their short-term bottom line and better balance their economic needs with social and environmental priorities?
In researching the practice of corporate sustainability, many of the people I interview highlight the problem of trying to promote and live in a more sustainable way. Here, they stress how trying to take public transport, reduce your carbon footprint, choose renewable power, or build a sustainable home, seem to be increasingly difficult and costly, as if our entire economic system is biased against sustainable options. As one manager put it ‘I feel like I’m working upstream all the time.’
In March this year, the Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society in association with the University of Sydney Business School organized a one-day symposium exploring how businesses as social actors have responded to the emerging climate crisis. The symposium featured a keynote address by Professor Andy Hoffman, the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, followed by contributions from other influential academic writers on climate change, and insights from a range of business practitioners at the leading edge of corporate environmental sustainability.
‘Sustainability’ has become a pervasive part of social and business discourse. However getting down to specifics on sustainability is a much debated issue.
This is of particular relevance for climate change. In particular, how can we speak of, or imagine ‘sustainability’, given the underlying conflict that emerges between the pursuit of ‘economic progress’ defined in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services, and the ever escalating production of greenhouse gas emissions.