When I was in high school in New Jersey in the 1980s, I took an environmental science class. I had no interest in the subject. I signed up because I didn't have the stomach to take physics or chemistry. As an added attraction, the class featured numerous field trips to some of the Garden State's finest natural habitats. On one trip we waded through a wetland. Instead of finding an exciting array of fauna and flora, we unearthed some old tires, rusted beer cans and a moldy flip-flop.
The class, though, wasn't a total wash. I learned one important lesson: "Dilution is not the solution to pollution." It's a catchphrase that has taken on increasing relevance in today's global warming crisis--a crisis that was caused in part by the mistaken belief that greenhouse gases would simply dissipate, causing little harm.
At our annual conference in May (see p. 62 for coverage), we asked some legal experts to talk about how GCs should be responding to this crisis.
Their first piece of advice was to start lobbying for federal climate change regulation today. This may seem counterintuitive--why would a company seek out more regulatory oversight? The answer is that companies are currently operating under a patchwork of state regulations, making compliance costly and cumbersome.
Secondly, GCs need to understand the growing legal risk associated with climate change. For instance, shareholders are beginning to view global warming liabilities as a material risk that should be disclosed in filings. Plaintiffs' attorneys also are expected to take to task any company that makes inaccurate statements about their "climate friendly" products. And some experts predict a coming wave of lawsuits filed against companies for "contributing" to global warming.
Lastly, the experts advised GCs to help their clients find business opportunities in the global warming crisis. Toyota, for example, is ramping up production of hybrid cars. GE is boosting environmental technology spending. And Wal-Mart is pushing sales of compact fluorescent light bulbs. Many companies also are reducing their carbon footprint by installing cleaner technologies in their factories and office buildings.
All of these companies understand that global warming poses a significant regulatory, legal and economic threat to their businesses. GCs have a major role to play in ensuring their clients are prepared for this threat. The problem, though, is that these threats are just around the corner.