The Use of Business History in Solving Climate Change

Until recently the idea of solving climate change by addressing historical emissions has received little attention. All of the recently proposed climate remedies involved emission control, that is, the reduction of new emissions. However, because CO2 emissions are essentially permanent they accumulate. Because the resulting atmospheric concentration has accumulated over several human generations, the climate crisis now concerns not the emissions themselves but their concentration. Remedies that do not address the concentration are doomed to fail. Defining the problem as an emission problem is a misdiagnosis. The proper framing idea for a remedy is to treat the climate crisis as a legacy problem. I have sought to address this by conceptualizing a new approach based on assessment of retroactive liability for the full damage resulting from emissions over time. The concept is to assess compensatory payments back to 1950 for CO2 (and CO2 equivalents) and price all of them according to the marginal damage function, updated annually. The proposal also includes the potential to assess liability against ancillary parties such as financial institutions that facilitated the emissions. A step in carrying forward the concept is to track ownership and control of the carbon industries since 1950. For liability assessments to be issued, an agreed-upon set of business histories for the carbon industries must be established. Moreover, for the credibility of the program, it is essential that an independently developed database be developed, based on determinations by neutral experts. Thus, business historians are an essential component of the proposal. In fact, their participation will be ongoing, as the energy and industrial sectors will evolve, potentially rapidly in the next several decades. This paper will provide up-to-the-moment information explaining the state of the debate, the proposed concept, and the role business historians will need to play.