Editor’s Note: Abigail E. Disney is an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker and activist. His latest film, “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” which he co-directed with Kathleen Hughes, had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The views expressed in this comment are his own. Read more reviews on CNN.
My fondest memories as a kid were when I was at Disneyland with my grandparents. As a co-founder of The Walt Disney Company, Roy O. Disney’s visits to what we call “the park” often included talking to managers and other employees about his efforts to make it “the happiest place on earth.” millions of guests pouring through its doors every year.
Shortly after he walked through the employee entrance on Main Street, USA, there was one thing he always took care to do: He would bend over and pick up a piece of garbage. It’s a weird thing for a C-suite admin to do, so one day I asked him why he did it.
“Because,” he said, “no one is too good to pick up a piece of garbage.”
This humble gesture comes a million miles from me today, as many companies and the wealthy have undergone changes that separate them and their interests from the good of the planet and everyone on it. We are now on track to achieve 2.8°C of warming by the end of the century, which will lead to more frequent and widespread extreme weather events such as droughts and floods that jeopardize our livelihoods, crops and biodiversity.
Any serious effort to tackle the climate crisis must include policies and actions that phase out fossil fuels, but also urgently address the biggest sources of global emissions, starting with billionaires and the companies they control.
For decades, the strongest voices have urged private individuals to recycle their soda cans, use less water, and be “green” – all the while paving the way for the biggest corporate pollutants to perpetuate – and even amplify – their toxic effects. . According to new Oxfam research, corporate investments of just 125 billionaires emit 393 million metric tons of CO2 each year, which is equivalent to: emissions of France.
Understand this: 125 people are responsible for hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon emissions, no better, no worse, and certainly no more important than the other 125 people.
The same 125 billionaires also sit on the boards of various charities and foundations. Many attend expensive fundraisers, possibly for worthy causes, and take good care of their children and grandchildren. But all the philanthropy and goodwill in the world will do nothing to address the climate crisis compared to what these 125 people would do if they used their power, reach and influence to disrupt the current destructive course of our carbon economy.
Indeed, billionaires own large stakes in many of the world’s largest and most powerful companies, and therefore have the power to influence the way companies behave – as individuals. They help shape the future of our economy. And many stand on the sidelines as companies are identified and then fail to meet one social responsibility goal after another, mainly because of their drive to provide value for shareholders and other investors.
Companies should not pay dividends or buy back shares if they do not comply with an emissions trajectory that aligns with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN’s sustainable development goals.
They must practice corporate social responsibility and first invest some of their annual profits in efforts to decarbonize, reduce air and water pollution, promote feminist principles and ensure a living wage for all workers. Human dignity and the future of the planet must come before profit.
I find myself yearning for a sign that my grandfather’s humble understanding of the common good encouraged others to envision a future in which we can all thrive. We have the power to create a society that prioritizes caring for communities over the wallets of fossil fuel companies. A just and equitable world is possible, and with imagination and courage we can make it a reality.