Hot Stuff

Photo: Thomas Hawk
Photo: Thomas Hawk

It isn’t even June yet, and weather forecasters are calling for weekend highs in the 80s from the Central Plains to the Mississippi Valley, with 90s likely across parts of Oklahoma. Meanwhile, it’s supposed to hit near 100 next week in Los Angeles.

Hmm. Perhaps now Americans will be more receptive to warnings about climate change and global warning. (Yes, weather-dependent belief in climate change seems to be a genuine phenomenon.)

That may also be why the National Climate Assessment, which was authored by a scientific panel overseen by the federal government, was released this week rather than in December. The study’s findings are dramatic. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the authors say. Torrential rains are more common. Summers are hotter and longer; winters are shorter.

The authors recommend various policy measures to slow global warming. “There is mounting evidence that harm to the nation will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced,” they write. And President Barack Obama has cited the report in support of his efforts to combat climate change, delivering a speech today at a Wal-Mart in Silicon Valley in which he touted the benefits of solar power and announced executive actions intended to promote clean energy. “The commitments we’re announcing today prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” Obama said.

What would Peter Drucker say to all of this?

Certainly, on the question of protecting the earth, Drucker, who called himself  “a very old environmentalist,” was ahead of his time. In the 1940s, when he was teaching at Bennington College, Drucker offered a course on the environment—which, as it turned out, no one was interested in taking. “It seemed a very strange and wildly reactionary notion at that time that we have to make sure of not destroying too much of the natural inheritance of man,” Drucker recalled in a 1971 lecture.

Indeed, Drucker rarely took issue with the concerns of environmentalists in and of themselves. That is to say, he never denied the dangers of polluted air or polluted waters. Nor did he take issue with government’s fundamental role in trying to keep the planet clean and healthy. “Protection of the environment requires international ecological laws,” he asserted in The New Realities.

But what dismayed Drucker about environmentalism as a movement was its inability to set clear priorities. “Cleaning up the environment requires determined, sustained effort with clear targets and deadlines,” he wrote in Harper’s Magazine in 1972. “It requires, above all, concentration of effort. Up to now we have had almost complete diffusion. We have tried to do a little bit of everything.”

So while Drucker would have undoubtedly supported strong efforts to combat climate change, he would also have called for an intelligent assessment of trade-offs. His plea to policymakers: “We must recognize—and we need the help of environmentalists in this task—that we can’t do everything at once: that painful choices have to be made, as soon as possible, about what we should tackle first; and that every decision is going to involve high risks and costs, in money and in human lives.”

What do you think our environmental priorities should be today?