When It Comes to Climate Change, We All Have a Role to Play

When it comes to running a business or getting things done in politics, it’s a tried and true lesson that working well with others is the best path to success. The ability to see other points of view, discover compromise, and pursue mutual benefit is a cornerstone principle of making the world and the economy better. That is certainly true when it comes to one of the biggest challenges our world faces: climate change.

Too often when discussing politically contentious issues like climate change, we adopt an “us versus them” or “environment versus business” approach. When that happens, we all lose. Worse yet, little — outside of empty rhetoric — gets accomplished.

Of course, there is a better way forward. One need only look at the example being set by newly-elected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to see this way in action. It would have been easy for DeSantis, a Republican, to deflect on the issue of climate change, but he didn’t. Instead, as one source characterized it, he “went green” in his first week as governor.

The issues tackled by Gov. DeSantis are worthy of his effort. For example, he announced his vision and plan for a new resiliency office that will be part of an additional $1 billion for Everglades restoration and water cleanup. This important effort will go a long way toward controlling saltwater intrusion and combating red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms. DeSantis has also been an advocate for better integrating sound science into the state’s environmental policies and pushed to accelerate the cleansing of Lake Okeechobee, an environmental sore spot. These measures are meaningful steps toward creating a cleaner and more livable Florida.

Contrast this highly productive approach to the one being taken by some public officials working hand in hand with activists. Those parties, starting in July of last year, began filing lawsuits in places like California, Colorado, New York, and Maryland claiming that energy manufacturers should be held financially liable for the effects of climate change. Through these lawsuits, the local leaders and activists are asking federal courts to deem these manufacturers as “public nuisances” and make them pay accordingly.

Fortunately, these lawsuits, which lack a firm legal basis, have to date fallen on deaf ears with the judges involved. In San Francisco, Judge William Alsup dismissed the public nuisance lawsuit filed by San Francisco and Oakland because he believed that an issue as complicated as climate change should be decided by lawmakers, not by courts. In New York, Judge John Keenan reached the same conclusion using a similar rationale.

The reality is that real-life actions like the ones being taken by Gov. Ron DeSantis are the best way to help our environment. Lawsuits such as these offer no real benefit and only serve to threaten American companies and American jobs.

They also fail to acknowledge our own roles in contributing to climate change and the benefits we have all received from the products provided to us by the companies being sued. As Judge Alsup wrote in his ruling, “Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefited. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded?”

Manufacturers themselves are reducing their environmental footprint and finding real solutions to climate change. Energy manufacturers in particular are leading the way, reducing their emissions by an average of 13 percent over a five-year period. The Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, created by the National Association of Manufacturers, has been at the forefront of raising awareness of these environmental and sustainability efforts while defending the manufacturing sector against the ongoing lawsuits.

The truth is that climate change doesn’t have to be about environment versus business, because the contribution to the economy from manufacturers is actually growing while emissions are falling. We’re all winning.

It’s clear we must continue to address the critical issue of climate change. But if we want to get results, as opposed to just rhetoric and soundbites for public officials, we should take a page out of the story being written in Florida by our new governor. We are all contributors to climate change and we all have a role to play. Let’s work together instead of laying blame on a few companies.

Barney Bishop III is president and CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting, LLC and former Executive Director of the Florida Democratic Party. He is the immediate past president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, known as “The Voice of Florida Business.” He may be reached at Barney@BarneyBishop.com.