The Conversation: 6 Questions on Business, Climate and the Environment

by Diana Drake

Arthur van Benthem, an associate professor of business economics and public policy at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, co-leads Wharton’s Business, Climate and Environment (BCE) Lab. Launched in the summer of 2020 as part of Wharton’s Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, the BCE Lab brings together stakeholders from academia, government, communities and the private sector to design public and private-sector policies related to business and the environment in such areas as climate change, renewable energy, biodiversity, and more. Wharton Global Youth caught up with Professor van Benthem to discuss some of today’s most pressing environmental challenges through a business lens.

Wharton Global Youth Program: The homepage of the BCE Lab says, “Environmental degradation and climate change may be the largest failures of free private markets that the world has ever observed.” That’s a dramatic statement! How has business failed the natural world?

Professor Arthur van Benthem

Arthur van Benthem: The world has been incredibly successful. If you look at the past 200 years and you look at GDP [Gross Domestic Product] growth, it’s been enormous. Not for everyone, but most people today enjoy a much higher standard of living than their grandparents. That’s a huge success by any standards. But, I think these official statistics are a bit misleading. They are only counting output or consumption, but they don’t take into account the losses in the natural world that have happened as a direct result of us increasing that consumption. What we’re seeing is that along with these record GDP levels and our six iPhones and iPads in every household, our forests and biodiversity are shrinking at a really alarming rate. Carbon emissions are leading to very costly disasters now — it’s no longer 50 years from now. I can just imagine how bad it could become in 50 years. It’s kind of an experiment with the planet where we take most of what’s left of the natural land and convert it into some sort of roads or cities. That’s an experiment we’ve never done before. Clearly, the markets that we had have not been able to prevent that. Governments and companies are working hard to change this, but I just wish it went a little bit faster.

Wharton Global Youth: We hear so much about the climate crisis, which is definitely an important issue for Gen Z. Where are we in this fight? Are we making real progress?

Van Benthem: We’re actually making quite good progress in the sense that a lot of governments and companies are now seeing climate change as one of the top areas of priority, which is very different than 10 or 20 years ago. At the same time the climate impacts seem to be more worrisome than we had predicted 20 years ago. If you look at the most pessimistic models from 20 years ago, the earth is actually warming faster than those. To call the scientific community alarmists doesn’t really resonate with me from that perspective. I am really quite inspired by what some governments are doing. The European Union – a large region of a half-billion people — is a phenomenal example where they have set themselves ever-increasing climate targets and are actually meeting those targets. And even though they are already doing much more than any country on Earth, they keep revising them upwards. You can say the same thing about certain states in the U.S., and Canada has reason for optimism. We’re seeing now that we can step up our game without going bankrupt. Europe still exists and it’s doing fine. But also the need to step up has grown.

“People need to take a broad view of what it means to be contributing to the environment. It may not always be in the places you think are the most obvious.”— Arthur van Benthem, Business, Climate and Environment Lab

Wharton Global Youth Program: While much of the focus is often directed at climate change, what are some of the other critical business-related environmental priorities and is progress being made?

Van Benthem: Renewable energy is a good one to start with. Over the last 10 years, the cost reductions for electricity generation for solar and wind have gone down spectacularly fast. Every year, we underestimate how much cheaper it’s going to get next year to the point where centralized solar in desert areas is now cheaper in many locations than fossil fuel generation, which is unbelievably exciting. The other example I could mention is offshore wind. People used to say that it was better wind quality than onshore, but it’s so expensive to build it. But the costs for offshore wind specifically have gone down spectacularly fast – 10% to 20% per year cost reductions for the last 10 years. We’re talking wind farms in the North Sea, and Europe and the U.S. Continental Shelf in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Partly because of innovations and partly driven by all kinds of incentives from states and the federal government, the amount of capital that is going to these markets is absolutely massive. Wharton students end up working for companies that build or otherwise invest in renewable energy, because they bring their expertise in operations or finance to the sector they’re passionate about. That is really great to see. When I started teaching nine years ago, everyone wanted to work in oil and gas investment banking. Now it’s hard to find an audience for people for the oil and gas sector. They all want to work at Tesla and solar companies. It’s been amazing to see how my best students go to these very impactful jobs.

Wharton Global Youth: How is business damaging the earth’s biodiversity?

Van Benthem: Very few companies realize how much of an impact they have on biodiversity. They have a whole supply chain and they buy steel and other inputs from other companies to end up producing their products. At the same time, there are stricter and stricter requirements for disclosure about how much carbon and how much other pollution and deforestation needed to happen to produce your products all the way down the supply chain. This is terribly difficult to measure. Wharton has an ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) Analytics Lab that tries to make some progress on this. It’s unbelievably important for companies to look themselves in the mirror and not just say look what happens after the products arrive at their warehouse, but to fully incorporate the bigger environmental footprint. There’s more and more pressure from investors and environmentalist board members, and more regulation on this is expected. The need for companies to think more comprehensively about the full cost of producing is going to keep growing over time. It’s where knowledge from accounting and finance and traditional Wharton fields will be crucial to think of new ways to measure this full cost.

Wharton Global Youth: Your research specializes in environmental and energy economics (see callout box). How does this research influence public policy changes?

Van Benthem: When governments write regulation, they cite a lot of academic literature in the nitty-gritty details to justify whether some rule passes a cost-benefit test. I and my colleagues have been in touch with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Justice and the State of California quite frequently over the years. They are interested to hear about the results of our studies and our recommendations. For example, there is a lot to be researched about how to design new vehicle emissions standards. In the background, we are actually quite active in communicating with governments of different sorts.

Wharton Global Youth: Generation Z is passionate about the climate crisis and other challenges to the environment. Is activism and bringing awareness to these issues powerful in its own right? How can students effectively build on this foundation of activism and passion for the cause?

Van Benthem: I think that high school activism specifically has been unbelievably useful to put certain environmental issues like climate change on politicians’ agendas. It’s easy to connect with the idea that they own the future and what we’re doing now is affecting them, and that sense of a fairness issue that’s very compelling because our kids demand it. It’s a strong force. Then you go on to college and graduate. Should you work for some environmental NGO or do something else? Where you have the most influence is not necessarily where you show up on TV the most. If you can get a position in the private sector where you can influence large investment decisions and change the way a company thinks about whether or not to build a certain factory or avoid a location because it’s a wetland, the impact you could make as one person could be so much bigger than just from grassroots activism. People need to take a broad view of what it means to be contributing to the environment. It may not always be in the places you think are the most obvious. As an economist, I’m a big skeptic in general of relying on voluntary action where some companies want to walk the extra mile and are on the news all the time for doing more than what’s needed if it’s presented as an alternative to government regulation. At the end of the day, when people feel something in their wallets, it’s very powerful. It’s the most powerful thing for a company or a person to feel. The benefit of taxation or regulation is that you’re not just counting on a few firms and people that mean well, but you’re actually changing incentives for everyone. Leveling the playing field is much easier through regulation. It’s hard to beat a government that is willing to take a political risk and put a real price on pollution.

9 comments on “The Conversation: 6 Questions on Business, Climate and the Environment

  1. “Environment is the surrounding consisting of air, water, forests, and land on which we live and work” (Cambridge Dictionary). So, when we say that it is our surrounding, I think it is our moral responsibility to keep our vicinity clean and tidy. Just like we keep our home neat and clean, we should take care of home of 8.7 million species ,i.e., earth, as we are one of those species. I know that businesses work for profit, and it is money which keeps them in market. But it is not like that, the business world and natural world are connected. At the end of the day, the company is sourcing its raw materials from natural resources, like wood, rubber, etc. And if the organisations want that they should keep on doing business they should keep this natural environment healthy. If natural resources are not used wisely, then it may not be so long when the world will feel lack of their favourite products which used to be made of materials extracted from our environment.

    I totally agree with Assoc Prof. Van Benthem that not everyone can do a job in environmental sector. Rather it is important to make changes in the sector in which we exist. Then the real change to stop climate change and other pressing issues will be seen.

  2. The impact of climate change on the enjoyment of all human rights, including the rights to life, housing, water and sanitation, food, health, development, personal security, and an adequate standard of living, is both direct and indirect. Moreover, the effects of climate change intensify inequality, disproportionately harming vulnerable individuals, groups, and populations, such as children, indigenous peoples, and people with disabilities. Effective responses to prevent, mitigate, and adapt to climate change must be based on international human rights and environmental standards and principles, such as solidarity, cooperation, transparency, access to information, participation, equality, equity, and accountability, as well as the polluter-pays and precautionary principles. This is where the business sector can play a significant role to promote environmental sustainability in our society, as the majority of the CO2 emissions driving climate change results from economic activity led by businesses. However, commercial operations may also contribute to innovation and solutions for preventing, mitigating, and adapting to the harmful effects of climate change on the world and its inhabitants. Thus, while all members of the society should take up a fair amount of environmental responsibility, it is clear that the business sector, among all members, must take a great amount to prevent future climate damage and achieve climate justice.

    In a practical sense, I believe examining our opinions on the environment from a broad viewpoint is necessary. Narrow vision driven by emotional and illogical arguments may not only hinder in our nation’s policies or attitudes but also misguide the acts of many indivdiuals, and negatively influence people’s everyday lives. In a large scale, I believe that all members of our society have some responsibility to delve into what they could do to save the environment. One of which could be stopping the overconsumption of resources without consideration, which creates unnecessary wastes and inequitable distribution of resources that ultimately damage the global environment. To put an end to the excessive consumption culture, I think that the governments of different nations should take on a more significant role in educating the pressing issues around our planet and create practical eco-friendly policies that all citizens could follow.

    Reading this article makes me ponder upon a particular March 2021 school activity. It was commonly known among the pupils of our school that the school has failed to fulfill most of the sustainability goals they promised to achieve by the end of the year 2020. This has generated a great deal of negative responses from school pupils and parents, where students, including myself and parents, marched in front of the school every day. When our daily march was screened on a local news broadcast, our school finally came up with an official statement, apologizing to us and promising that they would fulfill a sustainable mission by the end of the year 2022.

    In trying to initiate greater changes in our school as teenagers who dream of becoming social entrepreneurs, at the start of the autumn semester of 2021, my friends and I founded the Green Tigers, a student-led environmental group in our school. Our goal was to increase student interest in promoting environmental sustainability around the school’s surroundings. With much effort, we could create practical changes in our school by placing recyclable garbage cans in our school cafeteria, and running a monthly education session to teach how the little pieces of trash strewn around the classroom could be recycled to save the earth. Also, since our school has primary school, me and my friends produced educational videos for primary school students, who were unfamiliar with recycling and held a quiz show based on the video for students. In addition to these efforts, there are new projects we plan to implement soon. One of which is Tigers Make Uniforms (TMU), an whole-school activity where all students from our school could join to compete to see who can make the most eco-friendly T-shirts, which will later be used as our school uniform.

    As my school changes slowly, I also see hope in realizing my goal of promoting environmental sustainability to protect the dying earth.

    • Hi Daeyoung K., its great to hear that you have been able to make most of promoting sustainable goals via grassroot activism. It is important to note that at current stage it is more important for businesses and decision makers to respond first by saving environment as said by Benthem in article. Yes, I agree that at individual local activism is necessary but its impact at wider scale is lower, and even to collectively act globally-to have more impact- we need time, which is in crunch. So, grassroot activism is appreciated but at the same time high-level responses are needed desperately.

    • Daeyoung, as the same member of Generation Z, who is also eager to find ways to promote environmental sustainability, I am grateful for the effort you have put in to achieve the same goal. Your story provides insight on practical solutions that young students could follow to reduce environmental solutions, inspiring many others who have read your comment. Furthermore, I agree with your assertion that pollution is ultimately detrimental to human society and all members must take responsibility to reduce it, especially the business sector. However, I disagree with your opinion regarding the role of government in educating citizens about extreme climate change and implementing eco-friendly policies to guide them.

      I strongly concur with your argument that all forms of environmental pollution have detrimental effects on human society, risking our health through increase in cardiovascular problems and the lives of other species through global warming. Furthermore, what concerns me the most is how environmental pollution is resulting in a disruption in the food chain, which is not only destroying the habitats of animals but also putting necessities for humans in danger. From a young age, I have learned the severe negative side-effects of the broken food chain such as the fragmentation of ecosystems, loss of food sources and biodiversity, dramatic climate change, and harmful effects on humans’ health. For instance, during my 6th grade environmental and health class in Ms. Irland’s class, our class watched a documentary video called “Air pollution- a major global health issue.” After watching this video, I highly recognized the severe effect of air pollution. The effect was more dramatic than I thought, which included heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. As soon as I learned about it, I was worried about my grandfather and his close friends, as most of them often had breathing problems. This made me ponder upon questions like what if they die due to air pollution? What if this doesn’t stop? Wouldn’t this lead to the end of the human race? As a young self, I wanted to stop this adverse cycle of humans hurting themselves, which led me to research about solutions that could put an end to increasing air pollution to prevent lung diseases. One of the solutions that I found was raising awareness on the environmental benefits of recycling and reusing products. With the help from my family members and my close friends, I put up huge posters that contained information about how to properly recycle different materials on the corners of the streets around my school in Wisconsin, Madison. Even though at first, I was afraid that nobody would seem to be interested. However, as I saw a decrease in burning trash in my neighborhood, I felt confident that I could bring positive changes in my local community that could ultimately help to protect our environment..

      In addition, I agree with your idea of how the business sector should take great responsibility in promoting environmental sustainability because breakthrough innovations from new businesses can change the world. An exemplary company would be Tesla, established to achieve its vision of preventing the excessive amount of CO2 emission from fossil fuel automobiles by replacing them with electric cars. Despite several safety issues that made the public doubt the practicality of Tesla’s technology at first, people are now purchasing Tesla, joining the company’s goal towards the “green” movement. I personally experienced how the innovations from the business sector could eventually improve lives of the human society. I recall breathing in an excessive amount of CO2 that was emitted by my school bus when I got dropped off by the Manroe street. Once I realized the harmful effects of car oil and petroleum on the human body and plants, I immediately considered preventing my peers, neighbors, and my community’s environments from being exposed to toxic chemicals. I wrote an email and letters to my teachers and principal regarding the harmful effects of school bus gas emissions and politely asked for the alternation of oil to natural gas or vegetable oil instead of motor oil. I also asked my friends, Jose, Nicolas, and Jason to join my cause in promoting the usage of eco-friendly materials in school buses in order to help our environment. Thankfully, my school accepted me and my friends’ suggestion and changed our school buses’ oil to be fueled by vegetable oil and natural gas. From this experience, I realized the importance of promoting usage of eco-friendly materials and how small corporations among individuals can make big improvements in our society.

      Still, I have a slightly different perspective on your opinion that the government should take on a significant role in educating how severe climate change problems are, and implementing eco-friendly policies to guide the citizens. I wonder if these changes would actually change people’s perception of how crucial environmental issues are. I think that forcing citizens to follow environmental regulations would create negative side-effects on environmental problems which could backlash and cause people to resist caring for the environment. One can easily notice this by looking at how people reacted to government regulations during the recent Pandemic. When the government mandated U.S citizens to wear masks in public and indoor places, there were numerous protests refusing not to wear masks. Even though the government’s intentions were to prevent the dramatic increase of infection, rather than understanding the reason behind the regulation, people felt as if their freedom was violated. So if new environmental regulations were to be introduced by the government, they would rekindle protests as trust in the government has already been lost among the American people.

      I realized from my own experiences that small changes from young individuals can bring great changes in our society, shifting people’s hearts and opinions. As a member of Generation Z and an uprising social entrepreneur, I want you, Daeyoung, to join my cause in order to promote environmental sustainability. Continually, we must raise awareness about global warming and disruption in the food chain, and get other businesses involved to restore our land to its original beauty.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on global warming, Daeyoung! I applaud your efforts to raise awareness and promote environmental sustainability in your community. I think that your initiative to introduce environmentally friendly uniforms to your school is a powerful statement to your community regarding climate change and high school activism. Perhaps you could host a contest where students can submit their designs: the winning design, chosen by popular vote, could be featured on the new school uniforms. As high school students, we have the most to lose from a climate crisis, and it is frightening to think about how our world could be affected by the catastrophic consequences of greenhouse gas emissions 30-50 years from now.

      I strongly agree with your stance on how climate change disproportionately affects different groups of people. In his book “How to avoid a Climate Disaster,” Bill Gates argues that the climate is changing in ways that will impact low-income farmers in Africa and Asia much more than the relatively well-off farmers in America and Europe. The reason behind this is that natural disasters are becoming more intense due because of greenhouse gases. Worldwide, millions of people are displaced, and the climate is threatening their livelihood. Arable land is being destroyed by record-high floods, heat waves, and droughts. Rural India, where many of the farmers rely on subsistence farmer, In a good season, they might have enough crop yield left over to sell to afford education and necessities. However, greenhouse gases, heat waves, and severe droughts are haunting these villages more and more frequently. Bangladesh, another underdeveloped nation, is nearly 75% submerged. Both of these nations illustrate the disproportionate impact of climate change

      However, I must disagree with your stance on the business sector and the strategy you mentioned to address climate change. Simply cutting back on the consumption of resources to halt climate change and stop waste production is only a poor, temporary fix. Certain greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years: greenhouse gases won’t dissipate and reverse the effects of climate warming. You’ve also forgotten to acknowledge how the potential higher cost of products and services if businesses adopt cleaner technology (green premium). How far can cutting back on consumption really take us? How far can cleaner business practices take us? What happens when the global population crosses the 10 billion threshold? For this method to be effective, everyone must contribute, which begs the question, how would governments even enforce this? During the height of the COVID pandemic, when the entire world was on lockdown, greenhouse gas emissions declined by a mere 5%, barely making a dent in emissions. For this 5% decrease to happen, millions of people died, productivity fell in many industries, and the world experienced massive economic hardship. I think that the most feasible and cheapest solution to significantly reduce in greenhouse gas emission is through a combination of scientific innovation and government support, rather than placing the responsibility on the business sector.

      Currently, 31% of greenhouse gas emissions come from cement, steel, and plastic manufacturing, 27% can be traced back to energy production (electricity), and 19% come from agriculture and livestock. Huge reductions in emissions in the energy production sector can be achieved through improvements in nuclear energy. Nuclear reactors are by far the safest and cleanest method of energy production. It is the only carbon-free energy source that can deliver power reliably. In 2018, MIT researchers analyzed hundreds of scenarios in reaching net zero emissions and concluded that all of the cheapest paths involved nuclear energy. While many people may counter nuclear proliferation by recalling devastating events like Chernobyl and WWII, nuclear power has killed far fewer people than any fossil fuel. One could make the same argument regarding transportation accidents. When cars and commercial planes caused fatalities, scientists and engineers analyzed the problem and improved on design rather than giving them up. Why can’t the same thought process be applied to nuclear energy?

      Furthermore, innovations in cement manufacturing and agriculture would further reduce greenhouse emissions to a large extent. Currently, in 2022, the market for plant-based imitation meat has grown exponentially. Also, lab-cultured beef, synthesized from animal stem cells, shows promise because direct nutrient delivery to stem cells, skips the greenhouse gases released during cattle fermentation and digestion. Similarly, steel and concrete manufacturing innovations can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recycled CO2 during the cement-making process can be reused in making new cement. Another approach that scientists are investigating is using seawater and CO2 from powerplants for cement manufacturing and carbon dioxide: this method could potentially cut down carbon emissions by over 70%. Furthermore, instead of using coal in steel manufacturing during the Bessemer process, clean electricity can be run through cells containing a liquid iron oxide in molten oxide electrolysis. The electricity breaks the iron oxide part, leaving behind pure steel.

      Ongoing research in these manufacturing processes and the efforts of Gen Z activists like you, give me hope that the we can still avoid a climate disaster. Perhaps within our lifetime, these technologies, which are now only in their infancy, may come into fruition and bring about a greener future.

  3. An economics professor once told me that we will never run out of oil. His reasoning was that by the time humanity is desperate enough to mine for the last ounce of oil in Antarctica, the cost to extract that ounce will astronomically outweigh the benefits we received from burning the oil as fuel. Sometime in the future, the price of continuing to utilize fossil fuels will force the world to develop infrastructure mainly focused on renewable energy. However, when is that sometime?

    Professor Van Benthem speaks on the disastrous trajectory global climate is currently on. The world is warming faster than even the pessimistic predictions from twenty years ago. Yet, he also says North America has “reason for optimism.” I agree that the European Union’s successful advances should be positively acknowledged, but in no way should it be fuel for optimism. Optimism creates the mindset that everything will work out and every victory will incrementally lessen the focus on the main issue. Setting climate goals and achieving them is supposed to be a given, the minimum. By setting climate progress on a pedestal instead of existing amongst them, the world will not successfully maximize resources towards a solution.

    Earlier this year in May, I remember studying for a calculus AP test. I decided to check Twitter and saw a New York Times article announcing that the 2022 tropical storm names are Martin and Owen. After about fifteen seconds of wondering why they chose Owen instead of some name starting with N since the storm names should be in alphabetical order, I realized “Oh wait, more storms already?” Tropical storms and hurricanes have been increasing in recent decades due to global warming and each time these events happen people lose their livelihoods, properties, and lives. My own house was completely destroyed by hurricane Harvey in 2017, but fortunately we could afford to repair everything and on one in my family was harmed. Others weren’t so lucky. I was already stressed out of my mind trying to keep trigonometric derivatives in my head, I literally could not comprehend the ramifications of global warming that I just read about. However, Benthem says activism from high schoolers is beneficial. How? Most high schoolers are already preoccupied with school and personal problems, but I suppose there are those that have the time and energy to raise awareness for climate change. Although, what is the awareness raised going to achieve? It is not like politicians do not know the negative effects the planet is currently experiencing. Awareness can be powerful, but unfortunately, ignorance is stronger.

    I believe kids in high school really do not have enough outlets to affect real change regarding global warming. The responsibility should be on the shoulders of elected officials around the world who actually have access to billions of dollars and policy decisions. Yet, the people in charge keep making seemingly idiotic choices. On June 30th, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the EPA’s ability to regulate climate change should be limited. If incidents like this continue, the state of the world in a few decades or years becomes increasingly frightening. Officials should be held to higher standards, only then will the youth be allowed to properly optimize their energy and real progress be achieved.

    • I strongly agree with all of your points. As a local activist that sometimes works on climate action, it is definitely overwhelming to balance school, extracurriculars, relationships, and activism. When it comes to climate activism specifically, there is this fiery passion that drives us forward, but there is also a lot of fear. We are advocating for the climate because we are terrified for our future. Many adults often say that “the youth will save the world”, but we are still kids. It’s nice to know that older generations have so much faith in us, but it’s also a lot of pressure on such young shoulders. Your paragraph about “optimism” really resonates. Saving the planet is truly the bare minimum of survival. Not only should we be trying to prevent our world from ending, we should be trying to make sure that it will be regenerative for many generations to come. For the long term, it should not just be “sustainable”. That’s the bare minimum for survival.

      Another thing that I’ve learned is that climate change is massively a corporate issue. While everyday citizens can certainly do things that impact their individual carbon footprints to overall better the planet, environmental issues are not exactly stemming from individual issues. There’s often the type of idea that if everyone switched to electric cars, we would drastically reduce emissions. It’s certainly not false that this would help the environment, but 71% of global emissions come from 100 companies. Many of these companies also happen to be oil, gas, and coal companies. Seeing anything interesting? These major companies are the number 1 contributors to environmental detriment.

      Another way to put this idea into perspective is when it comes to single use plastics. Recently, there’s been a zero-waste movement. People often bring reusable glass jars to buy things in bulk, reusable bags, and pretty much everything in their houses are reusable (think mugs, hankerchiefs, you name it). This is a good idea, but it’s incredibly inefficient for global action. Most people don’t have the money to buy all these reusable supplies, don’t have the time for making sure they bring their own mugs to coffee shops, or are just simply lazy. What we need for actual change is a huge number of people to make changes. Now let’s imagine that a large water bottle company switched their water bottles from plastic to aluminum and created a system where everytime a customer brings a bottle back to a store to be reused (and sanitized), they get some kind of reward (incentive).

      The reason that people use so much plastic is because they have no other options. Grocery store brands don’t normally carry good recycling programs or offer foods packaged sustainably. If we can get companies to make being sustainable more convenient, then people will automatically become more sustainable. Going to your point about elected officials carrying their weight, this is where they can do something. Legislators can make laws restricting plastic use or encouraging businesses to implement recycling programs. These are the things that will actually create change on a large scale, and with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the EPA, that’s where we go backwards in our conservation progress.

    • Jianyi, while reading through different comments left under the article, what caught my attention is the inspiring perspectives presented in your thorough and honest reflection, as well as your brave attempt to break out of mindless compliance with Professor Benthem’s opinions. Your comment raises pivotal questions that investigate the practicality of our society’s current approach to the climate change issue. I believe your experience with hurricane Harvey makes your takes invaluable for viewing the issue through the eyes of those most heavily affected by it. For these matters, I have looked through your points carefully and would like to address my opinion on a few of your arguments.

      In your comment, you criticize how Professor Benthem saying the U.S. and Canada can be more optimistic could lull them into a false sense of security and consequently lead them to neglect the pressing environmental issue at hand. In this case, however, this may be a misinterpretation of what Professor Benthem had truly intended with his use of the word ‘optimism’. In the original article, he begins discussing climate change alleviation efforts by highlighting the impressive feats of the EU. He then proceeds to list the North American countries as examples of nations that he also regards highly in a similar aspect. In the context of this article, it can be implied that North America has “reason for optimism” not because their efforts thus far have been sufficient, but rather because they are headed in the right direction. The EU’s exemplary response to combat global warming paved a way for the U.S. and Canada, giving them a clue on possible solutions that they too could implement to promote environmental sustainability. Therefore, the professor’s argument is sound, as it is reasonable to expect that the aforementioned countries would follow suit, putting their status in an optimistic light.

      You later emphasized the need for government officials to be held to higher standards, citing the recent Supreme Court decision about the EPA as an instance of “people in charge making idiotic choices.” Upon researching further about the possible outcomes of this jurisdiction, I was completely appalled, realizing how this will only accelerate the escalating carbon emission trends in the United States. What makes this all the more concerning is that this is merely one of the countless situations where officials in power have acted out of self-interest, while being inconsiderate of how their decisions could possibly shape the future of our planet to devastation. Furthermore, it is an indisputable fact that the U.S. government’s attitude towards tackling climate change issues influences that of the other governments around the world, as the U.S. plays a leading role in international institutions such as the UN and NATO. So, for any international treaty to be viable and truly effective, it is crucial for the leading countries like the United States to conform to promises made by the treaty with great respect. Despite this, former U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw the country from the 2015 Paris Agreement that binds 194 other countries in a pledge to mitigate climate change. The main motivation that drove his decision can be inferred to be fueling the partisanism of his supporters, and his personal vendetta against the Obama administration to fully dismantle Obama’s environmental legacy – none of which pertain to the goal of protecting our environment. It was only in 2021 when the U.S. rejoined the climate accord under President Biden’s signing; the effects of the withdrawal, however, cannot be undone, in which the Trump administration has been a boon for the fossil fuel industry while being a threat to the planet. It is clear that the environmentally-unsafe business practices brought up in Professor Benthem’s discussion may only be regulated once the elected officials of the world take initiative in showing concern for the imperative problem that is climate change.

      This brings me to my last thought after reading your comment. In order for environmental issues to be solved, systemic change needs to occur, and therefore, all members of the global community should take a part in promoting sustainability around the world; this includes the involvement of high school students like you and me. I’m not suggesting that all high school students should take time out of their busy schedules to partake in grassroots activism, nor will this be the panacea for global warming. However, I believe that there is unlimited potential in the curiosity and the innovative minds of young students, and one way to express this is through student activism. Ultimately, as Professor Benthem said, in a capitalist society, any business decision is made to satisfy as many of the stakeholders as possible. In other words, companies will only opt for ethical business practices if the evidence is clear that doing so will lead to greater demand from their customers. The same applies to many politicians; they are often seen apostatizing to fit conventional expectations and to gain popularity from the general public. The choices of individual students to voice out can amount to a lot when students can collectively agree to boycott a company or retract support for a certain politician. Remaining silent in the face of this imminent threat to our planet only gives those in power the freedom to pursue their own greed and act freely as they please, even if it leads humanity down a destructive path.

      I know that both of us are striving toward a common goal, which is to find the best way to slow down the progression of climate change. It is becoming increasingly important that everyone is prudent and intentional with what they advocate for. This is why I appreciate your comment; it raises essential questions that must be addressed in the current society to foster support for a sustainable environment from government officials, businesses, and the public alike. You unwittingly became the exact model of what Professor Benthem was looking for in high school activists. And for that, I am grateful to you and the effort you have put into your comment!

  4. Do you believe that bad always follows good? I strongly agree with the previous question, that there is always an unwanted consequence that follows with an innovation. In a digital world, the technologies and businesses of different industries are rapidly changing. When high-tech innovations are newly introduced, people tend to focus only on the benefits, while neglecting the downfalls of the modern technologies. It is significant to be aware of the fact that our nature and diverse minorities are being excluded from benefiting from these developments; in fact, new businesses are failing our natural world. I was deeply emphasized when the article stated that the new businesses “are only counting output or consumption, but they don’t take into account the losses in the natural world that have happened as a direct result of us increasing that consumption.” The negative impacts on the natural world not only ruin our environment but also are detrimental to the health of the young and old generations of our society.

    Though I was born in South Korea, I spent most of my childhood in the States because of my dad’s business. When my father told me and my mom that we were finally heading back to Korea, I was eager to go back to my home country. Of all the nostalgic places of Korea, I especially missed going to my family’s summer house in Jeju island. On every summer vacation, my family and I took an hour-long plane and swiftly arrived in Jeju. As soon as I arrive at the airport, I always see two tall palm trees and a bright sun greeting me. This summer, we visited our favorite park located next to ‘Jeju Global Education City,’ where most of the international schools were built. Full of excitement, I could not wait for this day to come; picnic with my family on the green grass, listening to my mother’s childhood stories. However, when I arrived at the park, the first thing that caught my eyes was the masive construction sites lined up right next to the park . The transparent lakes, where I use to swim with my brother, had changed to a grey puddle beside the building. The trees and grasses that filled my eyes in green were gone. Our family’s favorite picnic spot by the giant rock had become an outdoor basketball court. Through this experience, I recognized the harm of new businesses to the nature and the environment.

    With the shock of losing a place full of my memories, I learned that I was neglecting the problems related to environmental pollution, as I thought it would not affect my life. Being ashamed of myself, I started researching how the environment of Jeju island had changed over time. Past 80 years, Jeju’s average temperature had increased by 1.5 celsius over the last and over the last 40 years, the sea level has increased by 23 centimeters. This is twice the global average, which shows the serious environmental change in Jeju island.

    Relizing the urgency of the problem, I was motivated to take steps and put them into action to raise awareness of about environmental pollution and promote sustainability. I started a business-environmental club at my school, to spread awareness of the danger and seriousness of this issue. We have created several campaign videos and a report that analyzes the greenhouse gasses and ocean heat content, and submitted them to ‘KFEM(Korea Federation for Environmental Movements) in Jeju.” Although it is difficult to bring a massive change as a high school student, high school activism is useful for certain environmental issues on society and political agendas. Through our club’s effort, our school had scheduled several activities to save our planet, such as planting trees and running non-violence protests in front of a construction site. This allowed Jeju-island to become safer and more secure for the students who live in Jeju, I believe that small efforts would grow our generation to be more environmentally friendly, being aware of our nature as well as the future business world.

    Because the long-term change in our environment is not easily noticeable, not a lot of people realize the seriousness of our planet’s health. Our society tends to only focus on improving numerous businesses, but often overlooks negative side-effects of the innovation. As a future entrepreneur, I dream to create an organization that allows more people to experience the natural beauty of Jeju and prevent losing them. I hope our generations to more actively engage in saving our shelter, and to improve with our nature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *