A Survival Strategy for Free Enterprise Over the Long Term

(Address by "U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue" at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., October 19, 2009. This is the complete text of his remarks that day, before Eric Wohlschlegel — head of P.R. rep for the (real) Chamber — barged in just as the Washington Post reporter was asking a question. Wohlschlegel's disruption — he'd been alerted to the fake speech by a reporter who'd gone to the Chamber itself rather than the NPC for the event — made the otherwise insignificant event into a prime-time news piece.)

Thank you very much, Sheila, and good day to everyone.

Today's momentous decision indeed comes after a difficult period - a very long one.

In business, as in life, we sometimes don't look ahead. We seize the day while forgetting the year.

Let's remember Lehman Brothers, a committed, solid member of this Chamber, who in the interest of short-term gain scuttled a century. They ate lamb, but were left without wool when the cold, hard winter set in.

We must learn from the past, so that we can manage the future.

Climatologists tell us that if we don't enact dramatic reductions in carbon emissions today, within 5 years we could begin facing the propagating feedback loops of runaway climate change. That would mean a disruption of food and water supplies worldwide, with the result of mass migrations, famines, and death on a scale never witnessed before.

Needless to say, that would be bad for business.

We at the Chamber have tried to keep climate science from interfering with business. But without a stable climate, there will be no business. We need business more than we need relentlessly higher returns.

A number of prominent and long-standing members have recently left the Chamber over our opposition to climate legislation. Numerous others have expressed their dissension, and a number of local Chambers have done so as well.

Today, we're finally taking their cue. There is only one sound way to do business: that's to support a strong climate-change bill quickly, so that this December in Copenhagen, President Obama can lead the entire business world in ensuring our long-term prosperity.

The Chamber believes that if we do not help to prepare a strong climate change bill for the President, we will face a new foreclosure crisis, due once again to the shortsightedness of a few, and their quest for immediate lamb at the expense of long-term wool.

But this time it won't be only the poor who will find themselves foreclosed on. Sure, they'll be first—in fact, climate change already ravages the developing world.

But that's only the start. This foreclosure crisis will affect all of us, and there will be no business too big to fail.

The Kerry-Boxer Bill is a good start to a strong climate bill, and the Chamber will work with Senators Kerry and Boxer to strengthen it.

And it does need strengthening. Cap-and-trade depends complex market mechanisms and big government oversight, and where it's been implemented, it's had very mixed results at best.

The Chamber seeks a solid business solution‚one that requires much less intervention, and has a proven track record. What we need is a carbon tax. Only thus will we be able to compete against Physics and create an environment where the best company wins and the best solution dominates. A carbon tax will mean new blood for Free Enterprise, and a fertile new foundation for long-term business prosperity.

The Chamber also calls on President Obama and the U.S. Congress to cease subsidizing old and failed technologies like the so-called "clean coal" hoax, and to incentivize tried and true clean technologies in their stead.

The Chamber expects to welcome back companies that have recently defected over our climate stance. But we also expect to reevaluate our relationship with other members - who continue opposing climate legislation, or who stymie progress through greenwashing and other stalling tactics. Corporate Social Responsibility just won't cut it anymore, folks - Mother Nature means business, and we do too.

We at the Chamber will put the full weight of our organization behind achieving these goals. The very future of business hangs in the balance.

Thank you. I will be happy to take any questions.

Press release here