We must tame corporations for humanity to survive

Human extinction may hinge on whether or not we can impose reasonable restrictions on corporate conduct.

Today, corporations do as they please, pollute as they will, and evade any accountability for negative impacts to society or to the environment.

But if corporations can be tamed, they could become powerful allies in the fight against climate change and human extinction.

Here are some thoughts on how we can tame corporate power:

(i) Corporate power has to be harnessed and tethered to positive social impact. Like every other human invention, the corporate form can and must be improved over time.

From the last century through the present, the corporate form has been structured to maximize stockholder profit.

But the exclusive focus on profit permits corporations to displace the costs of any negative conduct onto society at large.

The climate crisis is in many ways a direct outcome of society’s failure to properly incentivize corporations to do the right thing.

Moving forward, we have to correct these failures, and to impose social impact standards and restrictions on corporate conduct. Corporations have to behave in ways that benefit society, not take away from it.

The alternative is the status quo, 3-5 degrees C of warming by 2100, and the real possibility of human extinction shortly thereafter.

(ii) Corporate power, if harnessed correctly, can help us get out of the climate crisis. Many of the world’s most powerful corporations have more resources and technology than small countries, and these corporations could bring to bear significant industrial and technological prowess towards solving problems.

Imagine if the infrastructure of the energy companies was used to sequester carbon.

Imagine if the infrastructure of chemical corporations was used to clean up plastic.

It’s only fair that corporations pitch in to solve the problems facing our planet today, particularly since many of these same problems have roots in corporate conduct.

(iii) Corporate CEOs have to be brave and start demanding change from the top down. This is going to be a very risky thing for corporate CEOs to do, but they will have to do it.

CEOs must speak to their boards and to their stockholders and take leadership over the conduct and consequences of what their corporations are doing.

Many corporate CEOs rose to the top by precisely not doing this, and simply thinking and acting in lockstep with traditional corporate culture.

But this is just not good enough any more.

The survival of our global civilization is now at stake. Corporate CEOs are in a powerful position to make a huge difference. They have to rise to the challenge.