Corporations operate for 50 years and are allowed to extend for another 50 years per extension. Chief executive officers or CEOs have a five-year term, more or less. Government leaders are elected for three or four or six years, depending on the country's Constitution and the position.

Unseen costs

This political situation forces leaders to manage for the short term. In both private and public sectors, leaders often would not tolerate short-term pains for long-term gains.

The world is run by politics, economics and finance. Leaders often fail to factor in the value of Nature. Policy decisions and enabling rules often forget to consider the side effects on Nature. Economists know about "externality" — the cost (or benefit) incurred by the producer, that is paid (or received) by a third party who did not agree to it. Today's relevant externalities cause great financial costs and losses for those affected by so-called natural disasters like droughts, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, flooding, rising sea levels, air and water pollution, etc. Leaders seem to have the propensity to ignore these facts as the unseen costs are just starting to appear and only in places of high vulnerability, and not where they comfortably sit.

Wittingly or unwittingly, Man has treated Nature as his servant. Unbeknownst to many, Nature has a way of getting back at Man. Consider the following:

– Roughly 700 million people worldwide suffer from malnutrition, but one-third of the world's food is wasted every year. Lost food of 1.3 billion tons can feed 3 billion people. Yet, hunger and malnutrition rise unabated in the Third World, as people in the First World suffer from obesity due to overeating.

– Biodiversity has declined by 68 percent since 1975, according to the Living Planet Report of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). Latin America and the Caribbean registered a 94-percent loss since 1975.

– In the 1950s, 2 million tons of plastics were produced annually. Today, more than 270 million tons are produced every year, 8 million tons of which end up in the oceans and are ingested by marine life that we eat. What goes along, comes along.

– In the beginning, the world was 71 percent water and 29 percent land. Of this land, 71 percent were habitable. Ten thousand years ago, 57 percent (or 6 billion hectares) of this habitable land were forests, while 42 percent were grassland and shrubs, while 1 percent were freshwater lakes and rivers. Five thousand years later, the forests were reduced to 55 percent and the grassland/shrubs rose to 44 percent. Then Man became more civilized. By 1700, there were only 52 percent forests, 3 percent crop land, 6 percent grazing land, and 38 percent wild grassland and shrubs. By 2018, forests accounted for only 38 percent of habitable land; crops 15 percent, grazing 31 percent, and grassland/shrubs 14 percent. "One-third of the world's forests have been lost; half of this occurred in the last 100 years. Almost half of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture — 77 percent for livestock (grazing and crops for animal food), 23 percent for crops for human food." (Source: OurWorldinData.org)

Food sufficiency is going to be a major problem in the near future. But food production using technologies that increase the carbon dioxide footprint is going to harm Nature as well. Greenhouse gases (GHGs) can threaten food sufficiency as "global warming can change rain patterns and make droughts more frequent and intense, and rains more torrential and destructive." Livestock farming can likewise affect climate change from emission of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.

Global warming

The term is used for "the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of the Earth's climate system and its related effects." Scientists are almost unanimous in saying that it is caused by "increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other human-caused emissions."

What worsens global warming is the melting of the ice caps at the North and South Poles, which trap most of the world's freshwater supply. If all of these would melt, sea level would rise by some 70 meters. It is expected that by the start of 2100, sea level would have increased by 1 to 2 meters. Rising sea levels will mostly affect European countries, especially Netherlands, and Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines.

While the world has warmed by an average of 1 degree Celsius (C), the North pole is now 2.8 C hotter than it was 100 years ago.

Here's why global warming is worrisome. The Earth is protected from the sun's rays by its atmosphere, where "greenhouse gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone" are accumulated. As these gases are emitted from the Earth to its atmosphere, they are kept there and are agitated, heated, and "boiled" by the sun's rays. As these gases increase the Earth's average temperature, some parts may actually get colder and other parts warmer. This increasing "hotness in some parts and coldness in others make the weather and climate dramatically change in severity, scale and frequency — of storms, wildfires and extreme temperatures."

Job One for Humanity, a nonprofit, warned that scientists believe that global warming has now reached a level of irreversibility and, if unabated, increasing levels can eventually reach an extinction level which can wipe out all forms of human life on Earth.

Irreversible global warming will be caused by an increase in average global temperature of 2.2 to 4 C above pre-industrial levels. Extinction level global warming is when temperature exceeds pre-industrial levels by 5 to 6 C (9 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit). When the atmosphere is lost, "runaway global warming" ensues, a phenomenon that happened to the planet Venus 4 billion years ago. Venus had a carbon-rich atmosphere and minimum surface temperature of 462 C.

Job One for Humanity also gave the following observations:

– Carbon pollution of our atmosphere has nearly doubled in 60 years — and is escalating at a faster rate.

– Carbon from fossil fuel burning isn't our only problem.

– It is still possible to slow down and lessen global warming and establish a new, stable equilibrium. It may, however, be different from the past, and it may not be suitable for humanity to thrive.

For the planet to sustain human life, we need to mitigate environmental risks NOW.

Sustainable business

Sustainability refers to doing business in a way that does not negatively impact the environment, the community, or society. It is also referred to as green business or green capitalism. Some criteria for a sustainable business are 1) it incorporates principles of sustainability into business decisions; 2) it supplies environmentally friendly products or services, using renewable resources; and 3) it makes enduring commitment to environmental principles in its business operations.

(More about sustainability in my next column on Oct. 21, 2021.)

If you closely examine global warming, climate change and massive hunger, you'd realize that they are not natural disasters, but man-made disasters. The ill effects continue to destabilize organizations, governments and people, but many people don't seem to care about the destabilizing effects on their lives.

An 18-year old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, challenged world leaders: "As long as we do not treat this crisis as a crisis, and as long as the facts and the science are being left completely ignored, then we will not be able to solve this crisis. We need to understand the urgency of the situation, and we need to see this from a holistic point of view."

Ernie Cecilia is the chairman of the Human Capital Committee and the Publication Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham); co-chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines' (ECOP's) TWG on Labor Policy and Social Issues; and past president of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP). He can be reached at [email protected]