I started thinking about climate change about fifteen years ago. At that point, it was an important but somewhat fringe topic. Only the true diehards were focused on a dystopian future many years out, and this made climate change less approachable for us middle-of-the-roadies.
Talk about missing the message because of the messenger.
In hindsight, I think climate change's vastness intimated me. It was too scientifically complex, too politically fraught, and too large to get my mind around. Even now, as billions of people start planning for uncertain but high-risk futures, climate change doesn't get the psychic attention it deserves. It's too scary.
I think most of us consciously or subconsciously hope someone fixes it or makes it go away.
As I wrote last year:
The science is so clear that even ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil and gas company, claims "climate change risks warrant action." The unanswered question is how businesses, governments, and the social sector will intervene.
We don't yet have bankable clarity, but some elements are starting to take form. After decades of critical grassroots advocacy, big business may well lead the next phase of climate action.
Microsoft's announcement is the latest signal. Other businesses are taking small yet meaningful bites of the burning apple.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is making climate change a central part of the $7 trillion investment house's business model; the world's largest food company pledged to slash its emissions by one-third; and the biggest names in consumer products are preparing for low-carbon, sustainable futures.
None of these pledges will matter without clear, comprehensive plans for implementation. Those plans must align corporate goals with corporate resources. Sustainability will be tested — and retested — as shareholders demand their cut of profits.
But when trillions of dollars are on the line, markets can work. They have an incredible ability to motivate profit-seeking skeptics, align disparate interests, and guide how scarce resources are allocated.
Yet no corporate pledge will be large enough to overcome government inaction.
America’s retreat from the Paris Agreement — the one it designed, negotiated, and signed — means the world's largest economy is AWOL on comprehensive climate action. And with its multi-trillion-dollar, carbon-heavy Belt and Road initiative, China is moving in the wrong direction.
In other words, the world’s two largest emitters are falling short on the biggest issue of our time.
Instead, they should follow the lead of climate activists and, now, corporate chieftains. Clear, coordinated action between governments, companies, and communities would help all reach pathways to sustainability.
Regardless of role or nationality or disposition, leaders of all stripes would do well to listen to the clarion call made by Microsoft’s president: "neutrality simply is not enough."