As a life-long business guy and CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, which, by the way, is the best job in the world, you’d think I’d love working with numbers. Honestly though, I would choose a face-to-face conversation with any one of Ben & Jerry’s employees over perusing a spreadsheet. It was a conversation with my own son that really got me thinking about climate change. He told me he was worried that my generation was messing things up so badly, that when his own generation finally grew up, the world wouldn’t be a redeemable place. That’s about as bad a legacy as you can leave, and that conversation was a big part of why I took my job at Ben & Jerry’s.
But when I received an email from fellow Vermonter Bill McKibben, sharing what he called one of the most important pieces he’d ever written, it was the numbers that truly inspired me. In his Rolling Stone magazine article called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” McKibben highlights three numbers that reveal the depth of the climate crisis we’ve gotten ourselves into, and the most important changes we must make:
- 2º degrees Celcius - This is the official bottom line for the planet. We must prevent the Earth’s atmosphere from warming more than 2º Celsius or our goose is cooked.
- 565 gigatons - This is our budget. Scientists say we can emit no more than 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere in the rest of this century in order to keep warming below the first number, 2º. The way we’re going, we’ll spend that budget in just 14 years.
- 2,795 gigatons – This is the most frightening number of all. It is the amount of CO2 held in the known coal, oil, and natural gas reserves of the fossil fuel industry — five times more than we can safely burn in the rest of the century. But it’s very clear the fossil fuel industry has every intention of burning it all.
As a company, we took a long, hard look at these numbers. We realized that if we don’t act on climate change right now, there’s not going to be a future for any of the issues we’re involved in. It’s a fraught time, as we watch the effects that climate change is having on the poor and disenfranchised— they are the folks that are going to have to migrate away from their homes and fields to bear the brunt of rising temperatures. This is the notion behind climate justice as a focus area.
We owe it to the rest of the world to get this right. And this is where I get excited. For all the negatives of climate change, getting ourselves out of this mess means rethinking nearly everything we do. It’s a moment so full of opportunity that I can’t wait to get to work. For our part, we’ve just completed a life cycle analysis (LCA) of twenty flavors, an in-depth look at the full environmental impact of our ice cream from cow, to packaging, to every ingredient added in between. We’ll use this data to target the best possible options for cutting our environmental impact. You can read more about our LCA here, as well as the innovative solutions that we’ll use to reduce our carbon footprint, including our plan in partnership with our parent company Unilever to transition to 100% clean energy by 2020. Everywhere I look, the technologies, processes and innovations that will solve climate change are win-wins, and have the potential to create economic and social benefits, too. We’re committed reinventing our business model and working with our partners, from dairy farms to brownie makers, to realize this goal.
Ultimately, the reductions we make in our own business are not enough: we know our biggest asset for making change lies with you, our fans. We need a global and diverse movement of citizens calling on world leaders to act. As we saw at the People's Climate March in NYC this past September, when regular people demand change, stand up for it and act, that we can really make a difference.
The road to Paris is where we need to concentrate our influence. In December, world leaders will gather in Paris in an attempt to make sure we get this math right. We must build unrelenting pressure on our political leaders to do something they’ve been unwilling to do so far: lead.
We’re launching Ben & Jerry’s first global activism campaign in 2015. We are encouraging our fans in more than 35 nations around the world to take action and ensure that the Paris talks end in success, with a plan for real and urgent action on climate change. Of course we’re going to have fun along the way, but we are as serious as we can be about solving the climate crisis. We need you – and millions more – to join this movement. To read more about the policies we believe are essential to getting the math right, click here: http://www.benandjerrys.ca/climate
In the words of our founder, Ben Cohen, “If it’s melted, it’s ruined.” That’s as true for our world as it is for a pint of my favorite flavor, Chunky Monkey.
Peace, Love, & Ice Cream,