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Markets and the environment - are markets enough?

Lecture to the Judge Business School, Cambridge, UK. 20 February 2009.

The discussion yesterday was highly relevant to my work on the Copenhagen Climate Council to take place in December, and, still sooner, the World Business Summit on Climate Change at the end of May. For the moment the current financial crisis has obscured a still greater crisis over the growing human impact on the environment. Our greatest need is to think differently across the whole spectrum:

We first have to recognize that our current situation is unique. Other societies and civilizations have collapsed before, for environmental and other reasons, but the circumstances of today have not happened before. As the title of a recent book put it: we have Something New Under The Sun. What is new?

These factors, together and separately, affect everything we do, and above all why we do it. We live in a consumer society, and thinking differently means thinking about consumerism and the role of markets. So where do we start?

How now to bring in the environment? First we must recognize that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. The damage we are now doing requires a change of mind in the business community as much as anywhere else. Already the message is coming through from market leaders with an enormous flow of funds into greenery (but beware of green-wash). My own experience with insurance, paper, agricultural and IT industries.

The question: "what's in it for business?" The answer: survival: how to assess the risks and make best use of the opportunities.


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