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Corporate Climate Strategists

History

Human beings have "very likely" been the primary cause of changes in the climate since 1950, according to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2007 report, "The Physical Basis of Climate Change." And we have actually been affecting the environment for far longer than this. IPCC cites that human activity has contributed strongly to climate change for almost three centuries, starting at the time of the Industrial Revolution in 1750.

Global warming is the result of the increase of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—most notably carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Because the concentration of these GHGs has grown too large to escape into space, heat gets trapped in the atmosphere, which then causes temperatures to rise. This has a domino effect: Rising temperatures affect climate and weather patterns, which can alter the length of seasons, which can cause more storms and coastal flooding, all of which can impact species' migration patterns as well as survival. The use of fossil fuels (e.g., coal and oil) has contributed to the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Changes in the climate are linked to emissions from automobiles, airplanes, power plants, buildings, agricultural practices, and even deforestation (fewer trees means less carbon dioxide being converted to oxygen).

People started tuning in to the impact of pollution and litter on the environment in the 1960s and early 1970s. Environmental awareness was raised through natural history writer Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring (published in 1962), which pointed out the harmful effects of insecticides. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, another highlight came in 1963, when New York City utility company Consolidated Edison announced its plan to build a power plant on Storm King Mountain, located near the Hudson River. Longtime residents launched an opposition campaign and organized a conservation group to preserve the scenic environment. This was the first conservation group permitted to sue on the behalf of public interest, and the court's decision in its favor—Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference v. Federal Power Commission (1965)—set a legal landmark.

The first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) brought environmental issues into the global spotlight, triggering the passing of thousands of environmental laws throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Environmental Pesticide Control Act.

Unfortunately, a number of lessons were learned from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989—one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. Global media coverage showed the world the desecration of a once-pristine, natural ecosystem due to a string of poor decisions by a large corporation. When the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, it spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan waters, impacting over 1,100 miles of shoreline in ensuing years, hurting ecosystems and injuring and/or killing much wildlife, and depressing the economy of the local communities. The cleanup took three years and cost over $2.1 billion, not including the millions of dollars involved in legal fees and penalties. Today, scientists are still monitoring the ecosystem, testing for long-term impact and recovery. Because of the accident, environmental regulations have tightened for many industries, and tankers are now built with double hulls—if one layer ruptures, the internal layer protects the oil from spilling.

Despite tightened regulations, in 2010 the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig operated by BP (British Petroleum) in the Gulf of Mexico near the Mississippi River Delta, exploded and sank. The disaster claimed 11 lives and discharged nearly 210 million gallons of oil in a seafloor gusher that lasted 87 days. The U.S. Department of Justice and BP reached a settlement in 2012 in which BP pleaded guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two misdemeanors, and a felony count of lying to Congress. The company agreed to pay more than $4.5 billion in fines and other payments. Today, the damaging effects of the disaster are still being felt by the region's fishing industry, marine and wildlife habitats, and beaches.

A growing awareness of their impact on the environment has led companies to begin taking active steps to address environmental issues in their business operations. Corporate climate strategy is evolving into a standard part of business for many organizations. According to a report by Ceres (a national network of investors and environmental organizations), companies are responding positively to climate change by taking such steps as establishing climate-change task forces and incorporating climate change into strategic planning processes.

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