July 8th, 2013


Author, Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy

Former President, Shell Oil Company; Founder and Chief Executive, Citizens for Affordable Energy

By focusing on developing the economy for decades, politicians and business leaders have done little to account for the environmental costs of growing industry. Now, economies worldwide are struggling to cover the increasing expenses of pollution and health care – But who is going to pay?
Amy Larkin, author of Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy, presents a new framework for 21st century commerce, with the hopes of creating business solutions for global environmental and financial problems.
“Right now the laws of nature and the rules of business are in a collision course,” Larkin said. “Until we address both of them together, we’re in big trouble.”
Emphasizing the need to address the total cost of consuming conventional products – from the dangers of poisonous pesticides to disasters intensified by global warming – Larkin said she believes we can change the rules of business. A former solutions director for Greenpeace Solutions, she discussed the organization’s cooperation with large corporations like McDonalds and Coca Cola. Greenpeace helped the fast food giant place a moratorium on purchasing soy from newly deforested lands in the Amazon and pushed Coca Cola to commit to using climate-friendly, hydrofluorocarbon-free refrigeration equipment.
“This is some of the most inspiring, exciting work I’ve ever done,” said Larkin of her work with Greenpeace Solutions. “It makes me hopeful.”
According to Larkin’s proposed framework, pollution can no longer be free, business must incorporate a long-term view and governments have a vital role to play.
“We do not connect the real cost of what we consume with the real cost in the world…we do not pay for our energy or anything in its true cost,” Larkin said. “Do I want to pay for the true costs of coal now or pay for Hurricane Sandy again, and again and again? That’s the choice.”
As former president of the Shell Oil Company, John Hofmeister offered a corporate viewpoint for integrating environmental costs into production. When Shell modified its policy to absorb carbon costs, it negatively impacted its market shares, a result that Hofmeister deemed an “unsettling effect.” He agrees with Larkin that governments play a vital role in deciding how we should take responsibility for environmental costs.
“If the government doesn’t lead on these things and you’re looking for cooperative volunteers, you’re going to be looking for a long, long time,” Hofmeister said.
Part of the problem with modifying production to be more climate-friendly is the high cost of developing new infrastructures, he said.
“Money and politics means that your dollars count more than your votes,” Hofmeister said. “How did we ever get into a democracy where dollars mean more than your votes?  But that’s where we are.”
He discussed the overall tendency for people to ignore climate change issues. As a resident of Texas, Hofmeister spoke on behalf of the state’s residents, claiming they are in an “unawareness crisis.”
Regarding the oil industry, Hofmeister is hopeful that we will eventually be able to eliminate dependency on petroleum, but emphasized the need to perfect new technologies before experimenting with them. He spoke optimistically about a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, the world’s leader in oil production, citing Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the Saudi oil minister during the 1970's: ''The Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.''
- Danielle Torrent
Photos by: Rikki Ward
Commonwealth Club of California
July 8, 2013
Amy Larkin, Author, Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy; Former Solutions Director, Greenpeace Solutions
John Hofmeister, CEO, Citizens for Affordable Energy; Former President, Shell Oil Company