People, Planet, & Profit – The Triple Bottom Line

Practical reflections on global warming and the U.S. Climate Assessment

If you’re a climate change denier or you have a strong aversion to facing inconvenient truths, you may be tempted to stop reading soon. But please try to hang in there, stay with me. Because my message is truly optimistic and empowering. I can’t help myself. Seventy years of living has given me more evidence than I ever really needed to believe that we are capable of great acts of redemption.  

The Current Epoch

It’s not so long ago, the mid 90’s, that leading business minds operationalized the idea of sustainable business practices. We were doing well economically and perhaps not as threatened by external forces of instability as we are today. Fear and falsehood were not used as extensively to shape public opinion and policy. Rational thought and action seem to thrive best when we feel safe and secure. 

Don’t take my word for it, this principle of how positive mood and mental attitude “broaden and build” intelligent capacities is well established in the field and the laboratory. We’ve seen it, how brain function and neural networks change to potentiate greater creative thinking and problem solving. Also, we’ve seen how negativity – states of fear, anxiety, hopelessness – constrict our mind. 

So, consider how ironic it is that we’ve become a slave to the product of own genius. We act as though there is no further form for our technical, economic, and policy infrastructures to take. But we made the situation we are in, largely through experimental action and less-than-perfect knowledge of the consequences. That takes boldness, creativity, innovation, courage. Have we lost it?  

The Change We Need

It is easier to face those things we’d rather avoid or deny when we have reason to believe a solution can be found and that we can find it. It’s easier when we know that we’re in it together, that no one will be left behind. It’s easier when there are rules in place that create a level playing field, that all players will be treated fairly and those who are at greatest risk will be given special attention. 

And when the change we need is historic or structural or transformational – you choose the descriptor – we must approach it with care as well as justice. An ethic of care prompts us to listen to one another, to empathize, not just to be “nice” but to understand the fears and concerns that must be allayed for trust and rationality to prevail. With justice, we balance the scales based on understanding. 

There are public goods that are also common goods, public interests that are also common interests. If we are to have thriving economic markets and opportunities for creative-productive expression, there are basic capabilities that must be available to all. They include dignity, education, health, liberty, and environmental resources. Self-interest alone is not enough. Adam Smith knew this. 

Of course, there’ll be differences in wealth and education, and in social status and political philosophy. We’ll quarrel vigorously over where self-interest must yield to common-interest. But we must, as we seek to build the next great epoch of human history, recognize that the well-being of the whole cannot be neglected if we hope to survive and thrive for generations to come. 

Reasonableness & Heart

I’ve always found that reasonableness is quite distinct from the narrow notion of rationality as a cold, hard calculus. Reasonableness includes qualities of equanimity that moderate the pace and progress of judgment. It makes room for considering reasons of the heart as well as the more conceptual kinds of reasons that derive from fact-finding, logical analysis, and general principles. 

Reasonableness expresses the whole of our intelligent capacities and our moral sensibilities. So, one conclusion that I draw from considering our current state of affairs is that we will need to rely even more on the maturity of mind called reasonableness than upon any particular technical cleverness if we are to redeem ourselves at this critical point in time.  

Our current ways are not sustainable. We’re more stubbornly divided than we’ve been for some time. The best solutions for our environmental crisis require that we see one another as fellow citizens rather than rivals. Anger and resentment usually hide feelings of fear and vulnerability We cannot leave anyone behind. All must know and trust that our common interest include them. 

We can do this. But we each must begin recognizing our responsibility to be there for each other. Whether it’s in our commercial dealings or in our internal collaborations on a work team. We must get in the habit of asking after what’s good for us, for all of us. The other thing about mood and emotion I did not mention: It’s contagious!