Responses to: “The Unholy Marriage Between Crony Capitalism & Sustainability”

There’s been a lot of interest in my recent article, “The Unholy Marriage Between Crony Capitalism and Sustainability”. On LinkedIn there were 8000+ views and on the TSSS website there were another 1000. It was interesting to see how people responded. Usually in 1 of 2 ways.

But first, let’s agree on the facts of what our planet is up against with regards to climate change. (Latest IPCC Report)


Climate Facts

Climate change is accelerating and if we stay on our current path we will experience what is being described as a climate catastrophe. The timeline is somewhat uncertain and further complicated by unpredictable and dangerous positive feedback loops but with each passing year the impacts are becoming more evident. The IPCC warns of a planet in chaos if we don’t see “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” in the next 11 years. This means that on an annual basis we need to reduce CO2 by 18%/year starting NOW. Had we not squandered 15-20 years and mobilized back in 2000, our goal would only need to be a reduction of 4% a year. (see graph below)


A Football Analogy

Our predicament reminds me of a playoff race in sports…let’s use the NFL as an example. For the last 5 weeks of the (16 game) season, the pundits regularly update us on which teams still have a “mathematical chance” to secure a playoff spot. The teams are referred to as, “not yet mathematically eliminated BUT many fans know that while it’s still possible, it’s not very likely, and in some cases, based on injuries, dissent in the locker room or a coach being fired, these teams have NO REAL CHANCE of reaching the postseason.

But sometimes the unexpected happens and the long shot goes on to win. A surprising late season surge is usually precipitated by a dramatic event such as the team getting back their super star injured quarterback for the last leg of the season.

In terms of our climate change challenge, I’m not seeing any kind of mobilization for a late decade surge. For the time being it would seem that our planet is a long shot when it comes to meeting the climate targets we’ve set for 2030.


Now back to the 2 responses to the article

1) Only Capitalism Can Lead to Prosperity

Some readers who support the need for a cleaner environment are also staunch believers in free market capitalism and its ability to bring prosperity to those who work hard. When confronted with the idea that regulations could move us much more quickly to address our urgent global environmental challenges, the response is often that we the consumer need to change our wasteful and polluting behaviour. That will solve the problem because it will force companies to adapt to our new preferences. The market will push polluting behaviour out. 

When pushed further on the idea of regulation, the “capitalist”, will have a very strong reaction to the idea that an intrusive and inefficient government should direct companies to be more socially and environmentally responsible. However, as the discussion evolves, they tend to bend a little and agree that business “should” do more but they become increasingly skeptical when it comes time to discuss who will oversee it and how it might work.

I find it interesting and a little frustrating that these readers can’t see the circuitous route that they want to take to achieve change. As a recent Guardian article stated, there are 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. Wouldn’t it make sense to target these companies to change how they source materials and produce the products that we use, rather than wait for consumers to have an epiphany and revolt against the products that have made their lives more convenient for years? 


Yes, it will be disruptive to their business but how is that our problem? While making this mess they didn’t consult us, and when they made huge profits they didn’t share them with “us”. It’s only fair that they pay for the cleanup not “our” tax dollars. You can’t have it both ways – either it’s capitalism for the profit AND the cleanup OR the profit and cleanup are both equally shared with society.

You can’t have it both ways – either it’s capitalism for the profit AND the cleanup OR the profit and cleanup are both equally shared with society.

A Neoliberal-infused, market-can-solve-all-problems, capitalism, runs deep in our subconscious. After years of a steady diet of how free markets unencumbered by regulation and deep tax cuts for the wealthy will bring prosperity to everyone, it’s not hard to see why so many people treat capitalism like a religion as opposed to a tool that can be altered and tweaked to create a society that ensures wellbeing for all.

2) “Way to go Brad”

The other response that I received can be broken down into two categories; those who agree with my views in public and those who agree in private. Those who give a public response are often (but not always) the usual suspects who have spent much of their career fighting for a more robust and meaningful form of sustainability. 

The other response is the confidential, “way to go Brad, keep up the good fight”. I can only assume that, at least some of these people are self censoring because of how a public response might impact their business, job, or ability to find new clients. THIS IS A BIG PROBLEM.


People in the Know

People who are passionate about a stable climate and are aware of the science and risks, must to be able call out lackluster efforts and demand more from their company, organization or circle without the fear of job loss or alienation.

People who are aware of the science and risks…must to be able call out lackluster efforts…

Until that becomes acceptable, I fear that we will remain stagnant in our efforts and that we will move closer and and closer to maxing out our carbon budget. Just because it’s still mathematically possible to achieve the necessary reductions, doesn’t mean that we are anywhere close to being on track to do so.

We continue to speed towards the cliff… the cracks in our way of life have started and they will soon get bigger. They will begin to impact more and more of us, and when it hits our food system, and it will… look out.

Stay tuned for my next article where I will expose weak corporate sustainability dressed up to look meaningful. Please join our email list at, join our LinkedIn group or follow me on twitter @bradzarnett.

To read the original article, please click below. 
“The Unholy Marriage Between Crony Capitalism and Sustainability.”
Brad Zarnett is the Founder of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS) which has been showcasing sustainability leadership since 2008. You can follow Brad on twitter at@bradzarnett or on LinkedIn