by Richard T. Stuebi
This weekend, there was an extraordinary editorial in The Washington Post. The essence of the message was “Save me from myself: I can’t stop emitting carbon. Unless the government changes the rules to induce me to stop, I will kill the planet.”
The author of this plea was David Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), the 10th largest power generation company in the U.S. In effect, he is saying that his company is willing to undertake major changes to reduce emissions — but only if competitors do so too, because NRG would be disadvantaged in the marketplace to take proactive action on its own.
I am very sympathetic with Mr. Crane’s argument. It’s a fine thing if people want to engage in emission reductions voluntarily. As for me, I admit that I’m not enthusiastic to unilaterally make changes that I otherwise don’t prefer in order to reduce my carbon footprint. My rationale is that my miniscule contribution to solving the climate problem is individually meaningless, and I don’t want to be just one of very few parties incurring costs or inconvenience without having any macro-scale impact anyway. Put another way, I’ll do what it takes without complaining if everyone else is in the same boat, but I’m not going to be put out if most people aren’t. I don’t mind sacrificing, but if I’m going to sacrifice, it’s only just that the sacrifice must be shared.
This is where public sector leadership comes in, which in turn is based not only on courageous voting by citizens, but also by visionary companies that demand a new world order. I’ll gladly pay the price if everyone else does, and I’m eager to change the rules of the game so that we all bear our share of the burdens — and it looks like NRG is of the same opinion. With more corporate leaders committed to taking the same stand, maybe we’ll finally get somewhere with sound climate policy in Washington.