Few business leaders say climate change is serious

Here's a sober thought for Earth Day: only 39 percent of North American business leaders believe climate change is a problem requiring immediate action.

That ranks North American business leaders as the least concerned among executives across the globe, according to a poll from The Economist Intelligence Unit. More than two-thirds of African business leaders, for instance, say the impact of climate change requires "urgent and immediate action by leaders in government, business and civil society."

The sober findings underscore the challenges facing efforts to cope with climate change, which a United Nations' panel warned last month is already impacting all continents, even though much of the world is unprepared to deal with the consequences. Still, business executives in emerging markets were more likely to express the need for immediate action, which isn't surprising given that the countries in those regions are more vulnerable to climate change.

"The degree of divergence between rich and developing-world attitudes is striking, and suggests a significant degree of skepticism remains among developed-world businesses that climate change is a priority global issue," The Economist survey notes.

But while U.S. businesses aren't exempt from those forces -- take a look at the tourism industry's losses from Hurricane Sandy's destructive hit to the East Coast in 2012 -- there's little peer-reviewed research into how climate change will impact economies, Diana Liverman and Amy Glasmeier point out in The Atlantic.

"The science community has been ignoring this research at their peril -- and at the planet's peril: money talks. Science needs to talk to the money," Liverman and Glasmeier wrote.

This year's Earth Day, which is celebrated on April 22, is marked by another frightening milestone: April is likely to be the first time in human history when levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide remain higher than 400 parts per million for a month, Climate Central notes.

The history of Earth Day might give skeptics some hope. After all, the first event, held in 1970, illustrated that Americans can pull together to work on the often abstract concept of environmentalism. About one in 10 Americans rallied for increased environmental protections on April 22, 1970.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established by the end of that same year.

"Really, it all began with Earth Day," EPA administrator Gina McCarthy told National Geographic, "and the ability to have a grassroots movement that demanded that we keep people safe while we continue to grow the economy."

  • Aimee Picchi

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