Climate change threatens profit


Predicted near-surface air temperatures (F) for Wednesday morning, Jan. 30, 2019. Forecast by NOAA’s Global Forecast System model. Pivotal Weather, CC BY-ND

By Sandhya Sivakumar, Columnist

Last week shaped up to be one of the coldest in Champaign-Urbana’s history, and it’s all thanks to the polar vortex. It’s crazy to think that it’s colder in Champaign than it is at the North Pole — even crazier is the fact that it’s all because of global warming.

Maybe it’s unexpected that bitterly cold temperatures could be caused by the Earth warming up, but as researcher Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University reports, that’s precisely what’s going on. The Arctic has warmed up twice as much as the rest of the globe, and as the temperature of the North Pole increases, cold air vortices that normally center around that region are beginning to wander from their homes.

The -40 degree wind chill at the University was just one small consequence of a much larger problem with incomprehensible repercussions. Scorching temperatures have already taken thousands of lives, and despite measures taken by governments across the globe, the problem is likely to get worse. People around the world are going to have to face natural disasters on a scale that nobody is prepared to deal with.

But some are finding a silver lining to the worst crisis our planet has ever faced — profit.

A Vox article from 2015 outlines one of the major avenues of profit as a result of global warming. As ice melts in places like northern Canada, Greenland and the Arctic, reserves of oil that were previously inaccessible are now gold mines. A much more recent study by a London nonprofit called CDP showed that pharmaceutical companies are also seeing a window for opportunity. Companies and even organizations such as the NIH and CDC are expecting global warming to bring with it disease, and a demand for medication.

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The same study also showed that many industries are bracing for the costs of climate change as well. The Coca-Cola Company, for example, worries that water shortages could affect their bottling operations. In the mid-2000s, Coca-Cola was forced to restructure its approach to sustainability after facing severe backlash for exploiting water-stressed regions. They pledged to make their operations “water-neutral” — essentially, to give back as much water as they used. Coca-Cola claims they are water neutral, but a 2018 investigation by The Verge shows they are anything but.

Despite branding themselves as sustainable, touting their meager efforts at water conservation and openly recognizing the consequences of their uncontrolled consumption,  Coke’s business model hasn’t changed, and the math shows they certainly aren’t meeting the goals they say they are.

Coca-Cola is just one example. Almost every corporation has realized that, in order to maintain their image and avoid a scathing and public media scandal, they need to at least pretend to be environmentally conscious. A CDP study does show that more companies are truly thinking about the consequences of climate change on their profit margins. The same data shows we can’t trust companies to regulate themselves. The only thing we can trust corporations to do is look out for their own skin and chase a profit.

Sustainability is profitable in the long run, at least as much as the continued existence of the human race is profitable. Can we count on corporations to recognize that?

Sandhya is a sophomore in LAS.

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