Nestle CEO pooh-poohs global warming fears
Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe claimed in Davos Friday that global warming is not really a problem. He didn't use those exact words, but he said as much in a number of amazingly iconoclastic comments he made on a panel at the World Economic Forum devoted to potential obstacles to global growth.
Brabeck-Letmathe said, among other things, that today's warming is not unusual compared to periods before the year 1000, for example, when "Greenland really was green." He also said that around 1830 there was a warming period when the glaciers in Switzerland, which Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth depicts shrinking rapidly, were even smaller than they are now. He asserted that villages now emerging from underneath the shrinking glaciers demonstrate how much smaller they were in earlier times.
He suggested that such facts were deliberately left out of the movie by the distorted selection of time periods in the display of charts and graphs. "Anybody can use statistics to prove their case," he said.
The tone of his remarks was in stark contrast to those of other CEOs on the panel and elsewhere in Davos, who are openly acknowledging the gravity of the climate crisis. Michael Dell, for example, now talks enthusiastically about the work being done by Greenpeace. This isn't merely because such companies are seeking to score marketing points, but also because increasingly their executives share the concerns of environmentalists.
Even the Financial Times' Martin Wolf, who was attempting impartial moderation, was impelled before the session ended to invite anyone from the audience to contradict Brabeck-Letmathe's strident and arrogant-sounding statements. Someone did, but too politely, it seemed to me.
Later, I ran into Vinod Khosla, the longtime Silicon Valley venture capitalist now focusing on energy-related startups. I related Brabeck-Letmathe's onstage comments to him and asked what he thought. "You should tell him to see his proctologist so he can find his head," said Khosla, "and you can quote me."
Carbon footprints in the snow
Fortune's Robert Friedman writes:
Climate change is in the air here in Davos, and not just because it has started snowing again. Last night I moderated a dinner discussion about whether markets can save the planet. Nearly 100 people showed up, including London mayor Ken "Congestion Charge" Livingston, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, former U.S. Kyoto Treaty negotiator Stuart Eizenstat, Britain's boyish environmental minister David Miliband, wellness entrepreneur Steve Case (yes, that Steve Case), and Yale University professor Dan Esty, author of the recently published "Green Is Gold."
The question before the assembled guests: Are market mechanisms, like Europe's cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, capable of making a significant difference in reducing or slowing the pace of global warming. The consensus, agreed upon before the soup hit the table: No. But are governments any better at solving the problem?
For 150 years, companies have been polluting the atmosphere without having to pay the social costs, and governments have stood by idly. Now, in the last year, thanks largely to Hurricane Al (as in Gore), the winds are changing in the U.S., as they have in Europe. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who couldn't come to Davos because he broke his arm in a ski accident last month (a melting snow pack, one California Democrat joked), has endorsed a radical carbon-reduction plan in his state. The U.S. may never sign the Kyoto Treaty, as Eizenstat argued after dinner, but companies like GE and Wal-Mart have gotten religion, and green has become the new black. Esty argued that government needs to prod business with incentives, regulations, and taxes, to push the process forward. Frances Beinecke, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council in the U.S., said the developed world, which developed most of the problem, should figure out a way to help developing countries find ways to reduce emissions without strangling growth. And Miliband, on the fast-track for British Prime Minister, said government clearly had to lead the way--in Britain's case, by committing to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2050.
That's a long time away, maybe too long for the sake of the planet. But as Financial Times economics columnist Martin Wolf pointed out, humans don't like to take action until disaster strikes. That was a disonant note for the Davos crowd, which prides itself on optimism. Nick Francis, who runs a group in Australia called EasyBeingGreen dedicated to taking immediate actions to improve energy efficiency, jumped up from his chair, got in Wolf's face, and accused him of crimes equivalent to genocide.
It made for good theater, one of hundreds of such moments here this week. I'd like to think all this talk will do some good when the collective power represented at Davos descends from the mountain. But I fear it may add up to nothing more than carbon footprints in the snow.
Fear of Flying
Flying by jet may become uncool. I'm concluding that based on early signs I've picked up this year at the WEF in Davos. When you fly, you become a polluter. And for the first time, that reality may be sinking in.
Last night at a meeting of top journalists and leaders of media companies, I talked to Peter Gabriel, the rock musician and social activist. I was struck by how he started talking, spontaneously, about his worry that global understanding could wane as people fly less.
Gabriel says a number of his friends are starting to take significantly fewer trips by airplane because they’ve come to believe that flying is environmentally irresponsible. The energy used per passenger mile by someone in a jet is generally far higher than in any other form of transportation.
Gabriel was the second person I've talked to in Davos this week who, out of the blue, brought up the notion that flying may wane. An environmental activist CEO who lives in London separately told me, unprompted, that he is convinced flying may significantly diminish within five years as people get more and more worried about global warming.
Gabriel, who has devoted much of his career to promoting world music, has a specific concern, even as he sympathizes with the desire to fly less. Music is a bridge to cross-cultural understanding, and encourages our interest in learning more about others, something he believes is deeply important. He is concerned that our perception of others and sense of all being in this world together could change for the worse if we travel less. But it sounded to me like he believes it could easily happen.
This would be a major new development in the galloping trend of environmental awareness in the age of global warming.
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