Our public expectations of the big business community in this country are much too low. Given their power over markets, jobs, government, media and other institutions, together with the potent technologies at their command, they should be held to higher standards of behavior, foresight and delivery.
The news of the past fortnight reinforced this observation anew. Scientists are connecting the warming trend on the planet with the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide and other gases associated with industrial production and technology. This year will be the hottest year since records were kept and the other three hottest years were recorded in this decade. The specialists are predicting major climate changes, devastating rises in ocean levels from partial melting of glaciers, if there is business as usual over the next thirty to forty years.
From the business community — the giant auto companies and the national chamber of commerce, for example — there is only silence. No emergency meetings, no funded reports, not even any chief executive speeches urging systematic global or national action.
Instead, General Motors is pressing their Reagan government to further reduce the fuel efficiency standards so that they can build more gas guzzlers which will contribute more to the Earth’s warming trend.
Some weather specialists have recently begun to say that the Drought in the mid-west may be part of this man-made rise in the global temperature. If so, there is real, big trouble ahead for agriculture.
A few weeks ago, the press was reporting the serious effects — such as more skin cancer and harm to the ocean’s critical microorganisms — from depletion of the stratospheric ozone. One major cause is the chemical — CFC — which comes from the use of certain aerosols, refrigeration and other artifacts of modernity. A very modest treaty to limit the use of CFCs over the next couple of decades is slowly circulating among nearly 100 nations for ratification.
DuPont, which is a major CFC producer and made little effort over many years to discover the damage to ozone layers, graciously announced a phaseout in production by the year 2000. But even if the world stopped producing all CFCs immediately, the effect of past depletion will continue to feed a serious environmental hazard.
From the business community, there are no common policies of action, no clarion calls worldwide to get moving on this peril, no leadership at all.
Add to this list yourself. Whether it is the increasing poverty in this country — especially among children — the huge amounts of topsoil being lost through soil erosion, the need to expand cancer prevention programs, the many ways governments block out citizen participation, the multiple modes that corporate monopolizers have to restrict competition and other economic opportunities, or toxic wastes flooding America, Big Business is looking the other way.
All these problems are affecting or will affect very gravely the health of the economy. Yet they are not on Big Business’ agenda. Where are the moguls year after year concerning the maniacal atomic arms race and proliferation? It is viewed as none of their business, evidently, except to profit from the defense contracts. But what of those companies who have no such contracts — well it is not their business either.
It is time for the creation of a progressive business organization that will take principled stands and deliberate actions on such matters.
During the past year, there have been several meetings of progressive-minded business leaders of relatively small companies who are considering forming such a group. We’ll see if once again smaller businesses pioneer where the corporate mastodons fail to tread.