Amidst All The Climate Summit Hoopla, Let’s Not Ignore This Pitfall.
December 8, 2015
Political agendas are getting greener. But is there a hidden downside?
More than 30,000 diplomats and delegates from all over the world have gathered in Paris to hash out an agreement that will commit countries to reduce their respective greenhouse gas emissions. The summit is historic. Monumental. And will no doubt ignite an explosion of inventions, start-ups, and government-funded green initiatives. In its wake, we’ll see new ideas and new products.
Indeed, Bill Gates has jumpstarted his own green economy. He’s doubling his investment in green technology projects to $2 billion over the next five years. He’s already investing in forty-plus companies that are working on battery storage, next-generation nuclear, solar-chemical power, high-wind power, and free air carbon capture.
The world is caught up in a growing eco-revolution. Leaders are practically tripping over themselves to be the first to enact policies and practices that encourage sustainable living and the use of renewable materials.
But whether we’re talking about Gates or China or the United States, let’s hope they consider an aspect of green innovation that’s rarely discussed: the moral component.
Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about the morality of a first-world country holding back a developing country (“We had our turn without restrictions, shouldn’t they get theirs?”). I’ll leave that contention for another blog. Rather, I’m talking about the moral obligation to responsibly research, develop, market, and install green products. Often, when there’s tremendous political will and public support behind an idea, products are rushed to market without the necessary safeguards of common sense and appropriate testing. New products lead to new problems: the gizmo wasn’t ready for consumer use. Or, what worked in the lab didn’t translate into the field. Maybe the product’s manufacture resulted in waste we couldn’t safely bury.
We need only look at the history of chemical innovation for a real-life example. In the 1960s and 70s, scientists made incredible advancements in the chemical industry, but some failed to be transparent or truthful in the process. They allowed chemically-laden products to go to market when they knew the danger to people and other living things. They dumped toxic leftovers in open pits in the ground. And they justified their actions by pointing to the jobs created or the heavy demand for the new products and plastics that incorporated these chemicals.
So, why does morality matter to the coming green revolution? Here's one reason: the cures for modern-day problems cannot be worse than the problems they’re trying to fix.
When that happens, living things suffer. The earth suffers. There's a price to be paid in terms of health, purity, sanctity, or beauty. Even money. We all lose.
Let’s do “green” business with transparency. Let’s not lie about the numbers or hide disappointing results. Let’s not misrepresent the capabilities of our products. And when we see that something might not be what it’s cracked up to be, let’s speak up, even if it dampens the excitement surrounding the invention. The wind turbines need to work as advertised. The fifteen-year light bulb can't be toxic. The bio-fertilizer shouldn't poison our food. The next-big-thing cannot become the next class acton lawsuit because someone didn't care enough to ensure that it was safe.
Sure, the Climate Summit is a pretty big deal. But let’s keep our sights on the moral foundation that should anchor our green innovation. The coming revolution must embrace transparency, truthfulness, non-complacency, and the ability to recognize our limitations—practical, moral, and ethical.
Mistakes will be made as we make advances, but sin cannot be tolerated.