Geography and the Environment to the World of Business

This post was written by Dana Stewart ’20

Jaws dropped to the floor when I first told my friends and family that I was going to business school. Apart from my complete and utter lack of business attire, everyone was just really shocked and thought I was drastically pivoting. When I told them about the sustainability theme of the MBA their doubts softened, but still they were struggling to identify the connections between my undergraduate degree and the business degree I was about to pursue. I had no such struggles. 

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

I double majored in environmental studies and geography at Villanova University. The first two years of my education were heavily science based and focused on the challenges and opportunities we face as a result of world trends, environmental shifts and anthropogenic forces. I was taking classes like Environmental Chemistry, Global Changes in Local Places, Geo-techniques, Natural Resources, and Environmental Justice. I can pinpoint connections to the coursework of this MBA and those first two science-heavy years at Villanova even though, to the untrained eye, the two may be totally separate worlds. The environmental and business connections continued to grow through the second half of undergrad and are even clearer as I look back on the courses I took in my junior and senior years.

One of my favorite classes was Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is all about capturing, analyzing, storing, managing, and presenting all kinds of data and layers on top of geographic locations. GIS actually has really strong ties to the world of business and economics. We did projects that examined elements that make certain areas more appealing for commerce. We would even calculate the actual amounts and fluctuation of attention a business could expect to attract depending on what direction it’s storefront faced and the foot-traffic and other characteristics associated with an area. We also looked at degrees of economic success against all kinds of variables in order to draw out possible conclusions or connections.

Although there are huge differences between my undergraduate degree and this MBA, I’m finding more and more ways to thread them together. I hope in years to come this kind of “pivot” will become less dramatic. It is my hope that it even becomes commonplace for people from my academic background or any background that seemingly contrasts to slide into the business realm and begin a paradigm shift. If you are passionate and  determined to cultivate a connection from where you are coming from to this program, you can make this MBA work for you.

Trane Technologies: Building Resilience and Adaptability

This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

It is said that businesses don’t compete, supply chains do. Trane Technologies, a climate-innovation company with such heavyweight brands as Trane® and Thermo King® in its portfolio, has a multi-tiered global supply chain that will be put under enormous strain by ‘black swan’ events like the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge precisely because it affects suppliers across multiple tiers, with no regard for revenue, size, or location. How can large corporations like Trane Technologies make their supply chains more resilient to disruptions and accomplish their long-term goals of creating a circular closed-loop economy?

Photo by Štěpán Vraný on Unsplash

A global footprint necessitates that Trane Technologies use a digital supply chain management (SCM) tool to map its suppliers, reduce logistics costs, create long-term forecasts, communicate with suppliers, and maintain visibility over inventory and turnover. The company’s Oracle SCM portal allows their factories to put in requests for materials, and shows suppliers what materials are in transit, inventory already at the manufacturing plant, consumption patterns, and overall performance (such as shipping delays).

However, though Trane Technologies may have oversight over its suppliers, it’s likely that COVID-19 will create supply chain issues with their suppliers’ suppliers. Their subcontractors are smaller and typically wouldn’t have the resources to weather long disruptions, and their failure will negatively impact the company’s manufacturing operations and its push towards a circular economy.

So, what is to be done?

In the near-term, the company should analyse all tiers of their supply chain and communicate with key suppliers to ensure that supply continues without disruption. If needed, supply chain executives should attempt to secure alternate sources of supply, logistics, or manufacturing capacity in case vulnerable supply chain partners fail, even though Trane Technologies will have to pay a premium for these resources. To prepare its supply chain and stakeholders for future disruptions, the company should look to forecasting technology to model for and mitigate supply chain risk.

The first step in modelling is to map your supply chain digitally, including all tiers of supply chain partners. Once the nodes are mapped out, the supply chain risk management team can carry out discrete-event simulations to understand how the supply chain reacts to stimuli such as risk events or business initiatives[1]. Another long-term strategy is to shorten or regionalize supply chains; although it smacks of protectionism and anti-globalism, co-located suppliers can act as a supply chain safety mechanism in case international trade is restricted or impossible. Toyota has successfully implemented just such a strategy with its Kentucky operations, which rely on 350 suppliers all based in the US.

Trane Technologies’ ambitious 2030 Commitments include the Gigaton Challenge (reducing not only its own, but also its customers’ carbon emissions by one billion tons); carbon-neutral and zero-landfill operations; and the Opportunity for All initiative that focuses on diversity in leadership positions. Supply chain risk-mitigating strategies make Trane Technologies more resilient to disruptions and better positioned to achieve its strategic and environmental goals.


[1] Supply chain modelling software is a close cousin to the parametric design software used in architecture and aerospace. Both allow designers to see the link between design intention and design response.

Sustainability Summit: 50th Anniversary of Earth Day + The Impact of UVM Research & Teaching on Sustainability

Gund Institute + Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Jackson Berman ‘20. Connect with him on Linkedin

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2020 will be hosting a virtual Sustainability Summit on April 22, 2020 in collaboration with The Gund Institute for Environment. This summit, organized by SI-MBA students themselves, is a golden opportunity to apply Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and World Café tools learned in Professor Dr. Ante Glavas’s course, Driving Sustainable Change. The Sustainability Summit will kick-off with opening remarks from Sanjay Sharma, Dean of the Grossman School of Business, and include keynote speakers Taylor Ricketts, Director of the Gund Institute, and Patty Prelock, University of Vermont Provost.

I had the opportunity to chat (virtually) with Ante and ask him the story of how this summit came to be. “The Gund Institute for Environment and I realized the 50th Anniversary of Earth day this year was a perfect opportunity for SI-MBA students to organize a summit centered around creating lasting sustainable change and solving environmental issues.”

The Sustainability Summit will take a bottom-up approach to build cross-sector stakeholder-led initiatives which will contribute to the future of sustainability at UVM. We will measure UVM’s strengths in the sustainability space and co-create scalable strategies for driving future change.

Ante mentioned that “students are able to apply the tool of Appreciative Inquiry to map techniques for creating lasting sustainable impacts.” The summit will feature workshops and world café-style breakout groups to tap into the collective wisdom of all summit participants. 

In this new time of COVID-19 and social distancing, SI-MBA students have truly gone the extra mile, stepping up to quickly transition the summit into a virtual experience. Although originally Ante feared the summit would be canceled, the overwhelming feedback was that now more than ever is a crucial time for people to connect. “SI-MBA students recognize the importance of preserving a bottom-up, co-creative environment,” Ante said. Hosting this Sustainability Summit despite the new virtual learning circumstances provides such an opportunity to contribute towards building a better, more collaborative, and more sustainable future together.

Follow on Linkedin here and on social media using #EarthDay_Summit

Than Moore ’20 is on a Mission to Protect Healthcare Workers

This post was written, and the interview conducted, by Taran Catania ’20.

In the fight against COVID-19, medical facilities worldwide are lacking personal protective equipment (PPE). But The Sustainable Innovation MBA’s very own Than Moore ‘20 has teamed up with several classmates to launch a new initiative, Gowns4Good, to get graduation gowns in the hands of healthcare providers who desperately need PPE.

Now part of the Gowns4Good team myself, I sat down with Than to ask him more about his mission to protect healthcare heroes on the front lines of COVID-19.

Than, before we dive into the Gowns4Good origin story, tell us a little more about yourself.

My name is Nathaniel Moore, but I go by Than. I’ve been practicing as an emergency medicine physician assistant at the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center for the past five years. I’m also a current Sustainable Innovation MBA student at UVM and will begin medical school at the Larner College of Medicine in the fall.

What made you first think of the idea for Gowns4Good?

As a single medical provider, I see a finite number of patients per shift. I so value my efforts to uphold the highest quality of care for my patients, but I felt like I had more to offer. There are so many individuals worldwide suffering tremendously from the effects of COVID-19. Reading countless headlines about this devastating disease, I was struck by the image of healthcare workers lacking PPE and wearing black trash bags as makeshift gowns.

While this news simmered in the back of my mind, I was also heartbroken for all the graduating seniors whose commencement ceremonies were being postponed or canceled to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Then, it clicked that there could be a helpful connection here.

So wait, graduation gowns work as PPE?

Compared to trash bags or other alternative forms of PPE, graduation gowns are more effective given their length, sleeves, and easy donning with zippered access. Although efforts are being made to increase PPE production, worldwide demand is increasing too quickly. There are so many new gowns that will go unworn as graduations are being canceled and used gowns collecting dust in people’s closets. Why not put these gowns to better use? There is no better way to honor your senior or your alma mater than to donate to desperate healthcare workers.

How did you go from this graduation gown idea to the full-fledged Gowns4Good project?

Well, it helps that I’m currently in a business school that emphasizes sustainable innovation. Like any successful project, it is only as good as your teammates. I bounced the idea off of a few medical colleagues and then turned to my classmates who shared my similar excitement. It was incredible to watch them utilize the tools from our curriculum and apply them in this real world situation. I am so impressed by their collaborative efforts and am thankful to be surrounded by a team of such talented friends. In two days, we went from a hypothetical idea to a fully functioning organization making national headlines helping those in need.

As a medical provider yourself, can you describe the significance of helping someone else have access to PPE in the fight against COVID-19?

It is scary enough for me to care for a panel of COVID patients with adequate protection, and I am devastated to imagine my colleagues practicing without proper PPE. I do not wish for anyone to feel unsupported through this pandemic. It is hard on families, friends, and strangers near and far. We are all in this together. I hope to do all I can to make an impact both within my community and beyond to provide support for those on the front lines.

Gowns4Good is just another way we can support each other. To all of the people who have believed in us and contributed to Gowns4Good thus far, we are forever grateful. Thank you for supporting our healthcare heroes. In the meantime, stay home, stay healthy, and stay safe.

To donate gowns, please go to gowns4good.net/donate-gowns. You can also support Gowns4Good by making a contribution to offset shipping costs or by recruiting your school. For any inquiries, please reach out to Gowns4Good@gmail.com. Find them on Gowns4Good.net or with #Gowns4Good on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Embedding: Co-Creating the Future

This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

I am interested in the ethical issues around climate change mitigation strategies. I found similar themes in our class examples of base-of-pyramid (BoP) settings – underserved communities around the globe have disproportionately greater vulnerability to a changing environment. This was memorably illustrated by the Tamil fisher Ezhil, who lamented that local fishing knowledge passed down from his antecedents didn’t seem to be much use anymore; shifting migration patterns and ranges of fish species, as well as the vagaries of a changing climate, threatened poor fishing communities that didn’t have the economic resilience to bear the shock. Ezhil’s story also highlighted the intersection of many sources of disadvantage found in BoP communities. In his case, Ezhil’s low level of education, coupled with his geographically-marginalised position as a coastal dweller, surely contributed to the hopelessness and pathos in his words. It’s also hard to imagine that caste did not play a role in his marginalization and the limited roles easily available to him and his descendants.

Photo by Rajesh Ram on Unsplash

A frequent theme across the readings was the necessity of ecosystem thinking; communities lower on the socioeconomic ladder each have a unique context that present considerable challenges to business creation. I think Simanis’ discussion of market creation was the first time I really considered that the free market’s failure to provide opportunities at the BoP was damning, because, if the market didn’t make it happen, no-one else would do it. I was less enthused with his three-step prescription to follow to develop new BoP markets. If such market creation is as complex as Simanis, Vishwanathan and others say, any sweeping solution is unlikely to be successful in every BoP context. For example, Simanis recommends growing a BoP business by expanding upon a base of personally-vested customers. Would this step happen in exactly this way in a more individualistic society, or one with different geographic challenges, or a different economic context?            

Rather than only consider successful ventures such as Essilor’s low-cost glasses or Padman’s sanitary pads, I think it would be useful to consider promising BoP ventures that failed. The obvious failures that couldn’t bring all stakeholders in to the creative process or fully consider the local context are less interesting than those where all the stars seemed to align but tangible results failed to materialize.

An Industry in Shake-Out Mode

This post was written by Juan Adorno ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

From Carhart’s landmark 1997 study on mutual funds that found evidence of lack of skills across fund managers[1], to the 2008 Global Great Recession that rattled people’s pockets around the globe, driving historical levels of mistrust in institutions, (particularly government and financial services!), add on the clear signs of the times of the retail investments business: extreme pricing pressures, oversupply, commoditization, and overall industry consolidation, and what we have is — an industry at a crossroads, an industry in shake-out mode! The Active Retail Investments Business is at a turning point! I’d be remiss not to fully disclose that the recent Franklin Templeton acquisition of Legg Mason Asset Management sparked my motivation to free flow some industry thoughts, provided I spent most of the past decade bringing myself up in the business from inside those walls.

In describing the signs of the times, future business history textbooks will reference Larry Fink’s letter to CEOs, A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance [2], as a demarcation point toward a twisty-turny long-winded path toward Sustainable Capitalism. The letter promotes the ideas of long-term value creation and sense of purpose: climate risk as investment risk; the importance of transparency and accountability; and, improved disclosures for shareholders. That “awareness is rapidly changing, and […] we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”[2]

Ubiquitous in nature, in the same way that sustainable investing has emerged as a major trend in the investments space, renewable energies will continue to increase their share of the energy mix [4] as electric vehicles will increasingly make their way on roads [5], and healthier foods will increasingly take share of dinner plates[6]—all interconnected developments that are a part of a wave of consciousness: A Great Awakening. Albeit nature works slowly, demographics, globalization and technology have seemingly spurred an emphatic spark in humanity [3].

“Sustainability,” (in the broadest sense of the word) is a thread that binds the retail investments business with the whole of humanity: a truth best channeled as unlocked blue ocean opportunities for long-term, multi-dimensional value creation. An idea to stimulate the inherent social purpose for corporations. Like concepts such as money and capitalism, it all starts with an idea, like that which says that we are inextricably interconnected to each other and this one planet we all call home. In this spirit, and in tribute to Black History Month, I’ll conclude with words from Martin Luther King Jr.: Commencement address to Oberlin College in June 1965

“All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.T his is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Works Cited

[1] Carhart, Mark. On Persistance in Mutual Fund Performance. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1540-6261.1997.tb03808.x (1997)

[2] Fink, Larry. A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance. https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter (2020)

[3] Rifkin, Jeremy. The Emphatic Civilization. https://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_the_empathic_civilization (2010)

[4] Nyquist, Scott; Manyika, James. Renewable Energy: Evolution, not revolution. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/oil-and-gas/our-insights/renewable-energy-evolution-not-revolution (2016)

[5] DiChristopher Tom. Electric Vehicles will grow from 3M to 125M by 2030, International Energy Agency Forecasts. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/electric-vehicles-will-grow-from-3-million-to-125-million-by-2030-iea.html (2018)

[6] Renner, Barb; Ringquist, Jack. Capitalizing on the shifting consumer value equation. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/us-food-industry-consumer-trends-report.html (2015)

Auto 2.0: How Electric Vehicles are Paving the Way for Modern Mobility

This post was written by Sam Alden ’20. Connect with Sam on LinkedIn.

In the rapidly changing automotive industry, one thing seems certain: the future is electric. From a record number of Super Bowl ads, to Ford’s new charging infrastructure, to Tesla stock surging following the opening of another Gigafactory, firms are jockeying to take advantage of the burgeoning market for electric vehicles (EVs). While this seems like cause for celebration after years of trying to gain traction, EVs are simply the first step in dealing with the larger issues plaguing the auto industry and the future of mobility. Admittedly, it’s a positive step — much like hybrids were an incremental gain on the combustion engine — but larger industry disruption is on the horizon.


Photo, Forbes: The future of autos will soon be defined by ACES trends (autonomous, connected, electric, shared).

Recent excitement and inertia can be traced to rapid advancements in battery technology, an expanding network of charging stations with increased speed, and the success of niche player Tesla. While both battery range and cost have been historically prohibitive, tech advancements have led to an 87% decrease in cost over the past decade while simultaneously increasing their range, as found by a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). It is expected that these advancements will put the cost of an EV level with its gasoline-powered counterpart by 2022, which many experts consider “the point of liftoff” (Deloitte). Automakers are jumping on this, with Ford announcing the construction of North America’s largest EV charging network, “helping customers confidently switch to an all-electric lifestyle”…before they even have a single fully-electric vehicle on the market (Ford). Why? As Ford’s sales decline, Tesla delivered 367,500 EVs in 2019: up an astounding 50% from the previous year (CNN).

So, what’s the problem? 

While EVs eliminate tailpipe emissions, they are only as clean as the source of electricity that powers them. Renewables account for a mere 17% of total electricity usage in the US, making the shift to EVs not quite as clean of a solution as it initially appears (C2ES). Further, as demand for EVs rises sharply over the coming years, the demand for electricity to power them will follow suit, increasing the strain on America’s antiquated energy infrastructure (which recently received a D+ rating by the American Society of Civil Engineers). The future of the auto industry and its push for electrification rests on the ability of the nation’s electricity grid to keep pace with growth. Given recent failures in California, the risk to the industry is already on display. But maybe this type of issue is just the impetus that the renewable energy sector needs to achieve liftoff of its own.

What is abundantly clear is that a transition to EVs ignores the larger issues facing mobility. Rapid urbanization, gridlocked city centers, and the rising costs of owning a car in these areas are the main drivers of change. The emergence of services like Uber, ZipCar, and Waymo One have meant that consumers can increasingly rely on a combination of public transportation and ride sharing services instead of owning a car at all. In fact, it is estimated that US auto sales will decline a staggering 40% by 2040, which paints a pretty stark picture for the auto industry and the need for change (McKinsey). EVs do not provide a solution to these broader issues.

The intent of this post is not to pour cold water on the enthusiasm surrounding the undoubted progress being made by the auto industry. In fact, investment and innovation are both at all-time highs. Rather, it is to make a broader case for sustainability: one that is both strategic and long-term. Yes, the future appears to be electric, but it is also shared, autonomous, and data-driven. Consumers seem to be ready for this transition, but critical infrastructure must be too. As Auto 2.0 enters a make or break period, the industry must get key strategic decisions “right” in order to stay relevant. Firms are starting to realize that their best chance of doing so is by breaking down traditional rivalries and moving forward together. Here’s to hoping that electric vehicles are just the first step.

Sources

My Goals, and Life, After The Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Ruchi Nadkarni ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

I remember I was 10, when I watched the cartoon network show ‘Captain Planet’ for the first time. It was a show about teenagers who would team up with Captain Planet to keep the spirit of the earth (‘Gaia’) safe. Eerily, little did I imagine that I would live to see the destruction that was only imagined in a cartoon show, come to life. I started my journey at 21, with a nonprofit for animals. It was the most pristine love I could have ever imagined. As life went on, I pondered being another version of ‘Captain Planet’ and 10 years, and millions of happy animals later I hope to expand the course of this odyssey.

The influential driving forces of everything I do in my life stem from uplifting the distanced and forgotten in our world. To me, at this juncture, the environment including waterbodies, land and air combined with the quickly disappearing animals of today are of immediate concern. I am especially passionate about aiding frontier markets with sustainable business solutions addressing their immediate environmental problems using environmental business and sciences. I am passionate about effective solutions that are about more than band-aid remedies, a panacea for most difficulties if you will. This includes creating business solutions for developing countries that especially address their environmental strains.

This is especially important as developing countries struggle as their environmental degradation is a result of the last priority given to it. Countries like India place such a high importance on the development of their economies, that this often comes at the cost of environmental disregard. The lack of facilities for waste processing, soil health, water health and air quality are quandaries we are all too familiar with. The existing large corporations do very well on empathetic marketing to get their products in these markets – however rarely ponder the consequences of their products. The lack of knowledge, education and concern for the immediate environment and the widespread effects of an impaired ecosystem cause relentless practices, that destroy the planet far more rapidly in these places.

Since economy and survival is at the center of these communities, I plan to permeate through these issues, in ways that are coveted. To introduce a way that is sustainable and utilizes environmental gains as well is a triumph in my eyes. From environmental impact measurement, strategy, finance and restoration; I hope to beget measures that will gradually change the way business is done. More specifically I intend to do this by working within consulting companies before venturing out with my own consultancy, as well as business incubator a few years down the line. In this way I plan to start working with corporations, businesses and entrepreneurs to introduce business in these markets. The intentions of these businesses while economy driven of course, will not be to create new markets, but instead disrupt current markets and gain existing market share. Additionally, authentic intentions and shared value creation will be at the core of these solutions.

Whether with renewable energy, soil sequestration or pollution control practices – the businesses I will work with will combine environmental engineering, science and business. The merit of being able to affect all three facets of environmental well being in this way not only widens the scope of my practice but also satisfies my altruistic tendencies. I was often told growing up, that I need to hone my focus on one thing, and that I cannot fix everything in the world. While adult life has made me utterly aware of the fallacies of my childish fantasies, I think I have found a way to address this dilemma.

At the core of it all, I believe that we are transient beings in a home that we stay in for a little while. Our gracious host is currently sick and needs more from us. I am hoping I can influence enough businesses and people across the world to join this movement and that one day my aspiration to be ‘Captain Planet’ will be redundant.

Regenerative Agriculture: A Case for Glocalization Agriculture Practices

This post was written by Bavin Balakrishnan ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

It is common knowledge that carbon emissions is a major contributor to the climate impact crisis. It is even more common to hear about the reduction of carbon emissions to mitigate the impact.

Photo by Roman Synkevych on Unsplash

What about the carbon already in the atmosphere? A common solution to develop carbon sinks is to plant trees, which is a great start to replace the deforested area. However, as the population grows and more land is converted into cities, we need to re-assess the previously suggested solution.

During our first semester in the SI-MBA program we were introduced to the following equation regarding human impact to frame what factors affect this developed by Commoner, Ehrlich, Holdren[1]:

As established earlier, the population is expected to continue rising with estimates of world population reaching 8.5 billion by 2030.[2] Similarly, affluence (or consumption) of people will continue to increase as developing countries are increasing their GDPs, which is commonly used as a proxy to judge consumption. Finally, technology represents the resources required to produce the units of consumption, thus increases with affluence.

So, what’s the solution? Simple algebra can reframe this equation to our benefit and reduce the human impact:

This equation represents that using our resources efficiently can significantly deter our impact. A resource that we are currently failing to make more efficient is the soil. Carbon naturally belongs in the ground and is the prime factor that creates an efficient ecosystem within the soil.

https://www.thegreendirectory.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/RegenerativeAgrictulture-1024x818.jpg
Source: Graphic produced by General Mills, 2018

The image identifies fundamental concepts behind regenerative agriculture, however, these holistic practices are not currently applied by majority of farmers as they believe it is not financially feasible. A common misconception in the farming community, especially within developing countries, is that monoculture farming will generating the highest revenues. Though this may have been true in the early days, with strong soil health and support from large enterprises such as Monsanto, those practices have depleted the soil of its natural benefits.[3]

Contrary to the misconception, those farmers who implemented regenerative agriculture practices have rejuvenated their land, which paid dividends through higher crop yields and greater soil health for future generations.

A caveat in this solution, it needs to be applied at a local level. On the other hand, the food industry is a globalized market with customer demands for exotic foods continuously increasing.[4] In order to deal with this supply short, the solution is glocalize the food supply chain, which refers to the production of native crops at a local level to meet the demands of global scale. This requires co-ordination between farmers so that an individual doesn’t face the burden / risks associated with monoculture production.

This is my case to create a platform for farmers in their respective countries to the power of agriculture back in their hands and regenerate their land, reduce the human impact, and provide hope for future generations.


The Ethics of Reducing Emissions

This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

2019 may go down as the year that the world began to “wake up to the climate emergency.” Inspired by climate activists such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, the non-violent youth climate movement became a global phenomenon that starkly highlighted the apathy and inaction of the political class in most developing and transitioning economies.

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

Despite some recalcitrance amongst those aged 55 and older, acceptance of climate science is spreading. Climate change is a scientific fact, and it’s happening now. It will unpredictably impact ecosystems and biodiversity, thereby affecting people who depend on their environment for ecosystem services such pest/ disease control and provisions such as food and water. As the world warms, diseases will spread. Heatwaves will become deadlier. Coastlines will erode. Species will die out.

We must confront our temporally-, spatially-, and ecologically-distributed responsibility to individuals, nations, future generations, and the other species with which we share our planet. Scientists accept that reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a requirement to keep the global temperature increase to below 2°C in keeping with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The disagreements now stem from what to do next.

One common refrain from political leaders — like Donald Trump — opposed to the Paris climate targets is that some countries are disproportionately expected to do the heavy lifting of reducing emissions, which is seen as a threat to their economies. The US has stated that it will withdraw from the Paris agreement on November 4, 2020, one day after the 2020 US Presidential election. However, this argument ignores the global and intergenerational dimensions of climate change; even though China has higher annual emissions at present, the US has historically contributed the most GHGs in total. The US, along with other GHG polluters, are therefore attempting to “pass most of the burden of their activities to people in other parts of the world and the future in unfair ways.”

The other ethical phenomenon at play is the tragedy of the commons: as governments and industries act selfishly and short-sightedly, they “deplete a freely available shared resource, against each of the parties’ long-term interest.” Most GHG polluters face no penalties, while the public pay the costs of pollution and climate change through loss of ecosystem services and impacts to health and well-being. In addition, there are skewed vulnerabilities at play, where the countries whose emissions levels have historically been the lowest are those that may be amongst the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

It is therefore imperative that large economies acknowledge their proportionate culpability for the effects of climate change, as well as their responsibility to the peoples and ecosystems affected. In addition, we must absorb the lessons of indigenous people around the world, whose observations of the dynamic equilibrium of natural ecosystems have given them an “equanimity and optimism” to better adapt to the coming ecological and societal disruptions wrought by climate change.