Under President Donald Trump, the United States has seen an impressive run of climate change denial. The rollback of signature climate and environmental initiatives, including Trump’s abrogation of the Paris Climate accord, unsettles those who think scientific and economic consensus should guide policy. Many Americans take a clean environment for granted, ignoring its origins in sound science and responsive policy.
At the same time, China is taking a page from the US playbook – our research shows that China is making independently verifiable progress in reducing sulfur dioxide from coal power plants – and this is good news for the world. Meanwhile, the US has signaled its indifference and even disdain for global environmental progress. How much should we worry?
We focus on recent trends in environmental policy by the two biggest national players: the US and China. Here, the US and China are moving in opposite directions. We argue China’s improved policies are real and, moreover, more newsworthy and significant than the US retrenchment insofar as global emissions are concerned.
The oil industry is pinning its hopes on natural gas. To hear oil executives tell it, natural gas is a veritable “bridge between a fossil fuel past and a carbon-free future,” as Bloomberg News put it recently.
It’s a story that makes sense on its face: natural gas emits about one-half of the carbon dioxide of coal and about three-quarters that of gasoline. Power plants can get more electricity per BTU of natural gas than coal, giving it a further advantage. And in an electric vehicle world, the future of gas could look bright.
But natural gas is not our climate savior. The fuel—which consists primarily of methane—is cleaner than coal and oil, but it is by no means carbon-free. For regions of the world potentially new to gas, expensive investments in pipeline or ocean transport and distribution infrastructure are required.
At best, any “bridge” that the fuel provides to a future where zero-carbon-producing power generation technologies take over is short and narrow. True, gas generation may help firm up intermittent renewables, but the goal would be to operate these as little as possible, minimizing the use of gas. And yes, gas could come back with success of carbon capture and storage (CCS), but advances in this technology have so far not panned out.
Are big investments in new gas infrastructure worth it if fully utilized for only 20 years or so? The gas bridge is getting shorter and narrower as we delay serious action on fighting climate change.
When a group of students recently met with me about getting MIT to divest from fossil fuels, I suggested a more effective approach: If they really want to mitigate climate change, I suggested, start by calling out politicians and others who continue to deny the scientific consensus about climate change and its causes. And as I thought about the need to hold people accountable for the consequences of their science denial, I realized that institutions such as my own — not just our students — also need to get off the sidelines. We need to do a better job of defending and championing scientific truth.
And we cannot wait. The title for a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that opened on July 18 gets it right:“Climate Change: It’s Happening Now.” But so, too, is denial, and not just of the manmade causes of climate change.
Caroline Flammer, Lecturer, Global Economics and Management
We generally think of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a sort of feel-good policy, as something that is good for public policy or public relations but not a company’s bottom line. But my research finds that good corporate citizenship can actually lead to superior financial performance. A company’s social engagement is actually a resource that can create positive value and improve competitiveness. Read More »
Through a global survey conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group, we sought to determine where exactly sustainability sits on the management agendas of the more than 2,800 companies. It turns out that it’s prominent: more than two-thirds of companies have placed sustainability permanently on their management agenda.
Our study also found that two-thirds of companies see sustainability as necessary to being competitive in today’s marketplace, up from 55% a year earlier. In addition, two thirds of respondents said management attention to, and investment in, sustainability has increased in the last year.