The ranks of climate deniers grow thinner by the day. On Monday, prominent Republican Henry Paulson, a George W. Bush administration treasury secretary, broke ranks with deniers in a
prominent op-ed in the New York Times. On Tuesday, a new group of business and civic leaders, led by former N.Y. mayor Michael Bloomberg and Paulson,
condemned the decades-long delay in addressing climate change and called for prompt and bold action.
The general public agrees: More than two-thirds of Americans support tough new carbon emissions rules, according to a recent
Wall Street Journal poll. More than half say the U.S. should address global warming even if it results in higher electricity bills.
Yesterday, the American Sustainable Business Council expanded the growing majority. The council, which represents more than 200,000 businesses nationwide,
released a new poll showing that America’s small business owners – a Republican leaning segment – have turned the corner. A growing majority of small business owners now sees a clear and present danger in climate change and they want government to address the threat.
The scientifically conducted poll telephoned a statistically significant sample of 555 owners of small businesses (employing 2 to 99 people), representing a broad cross-section of industries. These business owners create most of the net new jobs. They anchor local communities and strengthen the domestic economy. Their views should matter.
Here’s what they said: First, by a large percentage, small business owners now agree that climate change is real and is caused by human activity. And it is a serious issue: 57 percent say they are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the impact of carbon pollution on their business.
Second, small business owners think that climate change poses a real challenge to their business operations. Nineteen percent report that extreme weather events have already hurt their business. An additional 34 percent fear such events could hurt their business in the future.
Drilling down, small business owners believe climate change will bring a wide range of challenges, including some that hurt business directly and others that are likely to suppress consumer demand and overall economic growth. High on the list of direct impacts are power outages due to stress on the grid and higher energy costs in general. Indirect but formidable dangers include the threat of higher health care costs, higher food costs, damage to transportation and other infrastructure, and loss due to coastal flooding.
Business owners don’t take risks like these lying down. Rather than submit to these events, small business owners want government to help solve the climate change problem. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) believe carbon emissions need to be regulated by government, a much bigger percentage than the 29 percent who think that power plant companies should be left to regulate themselves.
Small business owners also think that the burden of reducing carbon emissions should be carried primarily by the companies that create the most emissions. Fifty-seven percent say that the largest emitters should bear the primary responsibility. In marked contrast, only 18 percent say that the reduction in carbon should be made in an equal percentage by all companies.
The toughest call for small business owners comes when they are asked to decide the lesser of two evils: paying up to 10 percent more for their power in order to reverse the effects of climate change, or enduring whatever consequences may arise. About a third of respondents were unwilling or unable to take a position on this issue, indicating that they need to absorb more information and perhaps consider other alternatives. But among those who took a stand, a large majority would rather pay 10 percent more for energy than experience the consequences of inaction.
Small business owners are among the most pragmatic people in America. You can't keep a small business alive if you don’t take action when you can, or if you let ideology trump real-world experience. Small business owners need common sense, an openness to new information, a readiness to consider all options, and a willingness to make tough decisions and move forward.
America's small business owners have accepted the reality of climate change and the need to take action to stop it. Sounds like a plan.
David Brodwin is a Co-founder and board member of American Sustainable Business Council. This article appeared in U.S. News & World Report June 26, 2014.