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Apartheid a Model for Climate Change?

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 1, 2012 10:56:22 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

How many of us remember the “Crying Indian” from the early 70s? In that public service ad, a Native American (played by an Italian-American actor) canoes down a gorgeous stream, encountering floating trash, smokestacks and a beach littered with refuse. As he passes a crowded highway, a passenger throws garbage out the window. The camera pans to his face, where one tear makes its way down his craggy cheek.

That unforgettable image marked the start of the mass ecology movement and became a symbol almost as powerful as Earth Day. It also reinforced Native Americans as powerless victims of our culture’s wanton appetites.

Last week, some forty years after the Crying Indian, Native Americans are taking mattersclimate change into their own hands. Four tribes from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State hosted a symposium in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian to address climate change.

Called “First Stewards: Coastal Peoples Address Climate Change,” this gathering of coastal tribes from all regions in the US and its Pacific Island territories engaged sponsors from US land management services within the US Department of the Interior and partners from environmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy.

As I read the daily blog from the symposium, I was struck by the heartbreaking stories of tribes whose livelihoods are built on the rapidly disappearing bounty of nature. These embattled peoples are once again suffering the brunt of our collective rapacity, this time in territory degradation and species loss.

But this time, Native Americans insist on being part of the solution. And some elements within our government agree. Daniel J. Basta, director, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, says, “Coastal indigenous people have internalized thousands of years of rich, place-based knowledge of climate change and its impact on humans, and adaptive behavior. Their experience is extremely valuable today and can help all of us as the world looks for ways to adapt.”

We need knowledgeable people to offer ideas for adaptation. But we also need passionate leaders to lead the fight for a long-term solution. Native Americans have rarely been successful at holding off those with great power from doing exactly what they want. But Natives are angry. Ann Marie Chischilly, an environmental professional and Navaho tribe member, urges fellow Natives, “Get mad! Get motivated and get involved.” And what better symbol in the fight to stem climate change than America’s first inhabitants?

But any good fight requires an antagonist, the more ruthless the better. And who could we blame that could make any real difference? The car companies have already embraced higher mileage requirements and electric cars. Who else is there?

In his cover story for Rolling Stone, “Global Warming's Terrifying New Math,” Bill McKibben suggests a candidate for villain, the oil companies. His “terrifying new math” estimates the value of fossil fuel reserves held by the fossil fuel industry at tens of trillions of dollars. Hence the seemingly endless resources the oil industry spends to stop any attempt to regulate its businesses.

And if we burn all of those reserves as the oil companies and their investors hope? CO2 levels will rise way past the level at which the human race can survive.

Indeed, this all-powerful adversary can only be stopped through a planet-wide moral outrage not seen since the anti-Apartheid movement. McKibben quotes Bob Massie, a former anti-apartheid activist who helped found the Investor Network on Climate Risk:

"Given the severity of the climate crisis, a comparable demand that our institutions dump stock from companies that are destroying the planet would not only be appropriate but effective. The message is simple: We have had enough. We must sever the ties with those who profit from climate change – now."

The successful battle to end Apartheid had its clear villains, Apartheid supporters, its effective change agents in the international investment community, and its victims and symbols, the “non-whites.” We have our bad guys, a group already resented for spills like the Exxon Valdez and the BP Gulf Oil Spill.

[csrhubwidget company="BP-PLC" size="650x100"]

Click "Oil and Gas Extraction" in the CSRHub Sustainability Ratings widget above to see all the companies and their ratings in this industry.

McKibben suggests a divestment strategy kicked off by students outraged either by the threats to their own future or by the same empathy that drove their reaction to Apartheid.

While Natives have not had a lot of success going up against the powerful, they are effective and deeply moving as symbols as was seen with the Crying Indian. Only this time, they’ll be lending their own images in support of their own cause. And images of suffering Natives will be angry instead of sad. And they won’t be actors.

Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in apartheid, climate change, Exxon, First Stewards, NOAA, Uncategorized, Native Americans, BP, Carol Pierson Holding, National Museum of the American Indian

When Orcas Are Shareholders

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 24, 2011 9:11:23 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

Merging Environmentalism & Business Process


By Carol Pierson Holding


This month, the Orca Whale was added to the constituencies fighting for the West Coast’s beloved but increasingly degraded Chinook Salmon population. This after 60 people spent 4 years developing a plan to protect the Chinook in Puget Sound. The compelling goal, “to lead the region toward a legacy of healthy, harvestable salmon and improved water quality for future generations,” brought together citizens and scientists; community, business, and environmental groups; and local elected officials and public agency staff. And, just two months ago, their science-based plan was ratified by 24 local governments.                               

Now the plan must be re-formulated.

It turns out that the Orca, an endangered species itself, requires enormous quantities of Chinook salmon to survive. Far more than previously estimated when the agreements were conceived. NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has asked Washington state and Indian tribes that fish in the area to submit a two-year plan for insuring that the endangered whales have enough salmon to sustain themselves.

The backlash has already started. "You can't bring back Orcas just on the backs of fishermen," Joel Kawahara, who fishes commercially in Washington and Alaska, told UPI. "What about improving habitat? What about the effects of the dams on the Columbia River?" The constituents who worked so long and so hard might have to come together again to deal with NOAA’s new requirements.

What strikes me about this issue is that, by injecting a new environmental parameter, the Orcas are adding the pressure needed for a true breakthrough— a new paradigm modeled on environmental processes rather than capitalist structure. Think of the progress we’ve made in less than 25 years to balance the needs of man and nature. First, US business, with the help and prodding of the insurance industry, figured out how to integrate environmental risk into business projections. This was the first successful monetization of the cost of bad behavior toward the environment, but it relied completely on the capitalist model, on boiling everything to down to its economic value.

Then business learned to negotiate with opposing groups, even radical activists like Greenpeace, and still make a profit. To the monetary value of good environmental practices was added the value of relationships, which both diffuse activists and protect or even grow brand loyalty with those customers who are environmentalists themselves.

Now the Orca in Puget Sound add another twist: environmental preservation requires not just a broad cross-sector effort but also an on-going effort. Because the physical world is so interdependent and always changing, an environmental agreement or “fix” is never permanent. Instead business must create structures for a permanent relationship with nature, just as it has with human impediments; structures that insure constant interaction.

So how does the concerned citizen/consumer/investor judge which companies are most prepared to manage the on-going environmental challenge? The attributes measured by CSRHUB are the best way to look at a company’s current behavior. But for those looking to predict the future, it may be most useful to look for evidence of organizational structures for on-going collective action on the environment.

Look for companies that have teams in place for permanent environmental interaction, councils on which senior executives participate led by skilled negotiators. Once common, these councils are disappearing as the economic malaise continues. Use your consumer and investor power to force companies to fund these councils. They establish the importance of relationships — with humans and nature — to succeeding in business. And we save the whales too.

Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Alaska, CSR, fisheries, fishing, NOAA, preservation, Puget Sound, Uncategorized, UPI, Washington, insurance industry, Orca Whale, Orcinus Orca, sustainability, Joel Kawahara, business, Carol Pierson Holding, Chinook Salmon, corporate responsibility, CSRHub, environment, environmental, Greenpeace, Killer Whale

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