When settlers arrived on Easter Island in the 14th century, statues were all that remained of a once advanced civilization. The former society had used wood for almost everything and eventually depleted the island’s resources, causing the demise of its people.
On Thursday, Timo Busch, a visiting professor from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, used the example of Easter Island as a cautionary tale in a talk at Concordia University on the future of the global economy.
In his talk, Busch discussed the constraints on the supply of carbon, the limited supply of fossil fuels, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Busch has conducted research on the effects of carbon emission levels on the economy that shows that companies with lower levels of emissions are more financially successful. Many companies, however, fail to invest time or capital into emission reduction.
Busch expressed concern that managers and CEOs were not willing to work on reducing their carbon footprints. He explained that due to the transient nature of their jobs, upper-level employees tend only to think from one financial quarter to another and fail to see the economic benefits of a long-term plan for carbon emission reductions.
“It’s an urgent call for companies to consider climate change and energy issues, especially given the outcome of Copenhagen,” said Busch.
The Copenhagen Accord, drafted in December, calls for international action to limit the global average temperature increase to 2 C between now and 2020. But at the current emissions rate, some studies predict that temperatures will exceed that 2 C limit. This temperature increase, Busch said, could lead to severe depletion of food supplies, damage to ecosystems, and increased likelihood of major natural disasters.
Busch suggested hesitant managers start with “the low hanging fruit,” such as turning off light switches or reducing fuel usage when possible. He also recommended carbon trading-where companies reduce CO2 emissions and sell their reductions to other companies incapable of reducing their own carbon output-as another useful method.
Companies often begin efforts to reduce carbon emissions by comparing themselves to their competitors. Busch suggested that these relative measurements are a good first step, but relative progress is not the same as real progress.
“For something to be green it has to be better for the biosphere, not better than the alternative,” said Alex Oster, Manager of Student Life relations at Concordia.
The talk was part of a lecture series hosted by the David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise. The centre brings professors from around the world to Concordia to speak and collaborate with the university.
Pascual Berrone, another visiting professor in the series, attended the lecture and believes Busch has the right idea, but is concerned companies might not put Busch’s ideas into practice.
“My doubt is whether or not managers and CEOs are really keen to make this big investment or engage in highly risky endeavours,” he said.
Busch, however, argued for immediate action.
“Companies should act now, do the right things right now, and reduce the uncertainty of having a serious breakdown.”