Doctor, doctor, can't you see I'm burning, burning?

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I remember one of my biology professors telling me that most things in life were cyclical - be it fashion, music, political ideology or ecosystem dynamics. When a colleague recently (and rather cruelly) reminded me of the Thompson Twins and the song which entitles this post, one can only hope that much of the 1980s musical back-catalogue is not subject to that particular rule.

Other 1980s concepts definitely are back, though. First up, green consumerism. John Elkington and Julia Hailes published The Green Consumer Guide in 1989 and found themselves on top of the best-seller lists, as middle England in particular took up the challenge to make purchasing choices for a better planet. In the intervening years, the concept of consumer pressure affecting lasting change has ebbed and flowed. But the Financial Times was back to it last week with a two part series entitled the 'rise of the green consumer' (subscription required). Green houses, hybrid cars, sales of Ecover and Ecomagination products were cited.

So is it different this time round? Well, Christine's post on Wal-Mart provides some evidence that it might be. Along with the other commitments the retailer has been making, add the introduction of fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). When a buyer the size of Wal-Mart starts to signal the market in this manner, it's less a case of niche products (at premium prices) and more a shift towards the mainstream (and in doing so, lifting all boats to a higher level of corporate responsibility). The pressure will now be on MSC - can they supply enough to meet Wal-Mart's demand while maintaining their certification standards? The fair trade coffee coverage last week highlights the pitfalls.

Second 1980s issue: depletion of the ozone layer. I, with many others, often tout this as an example of a global environmental story with a happy ending (and there's not many to chose from), but a recent announcement from the World Meteorological Association and UNEP tempers that kind of proclamation.

While the details of their analysis will not be released until next year, they warn that the ozone hole over the Antarctic will not close until 2065 - fifteen years later than the previous estimate. So keep the SPF 50 sun products at hand.

So if this was cause and effect 1980s style - the shock of ozone depletion prompting consumer action in the developed nations most affected by the holes - what is the equivalent now? Well, global climate change was already on the agenda twenty years ago but it is now the dominant concern, not the poor sister. So the latest round of green consumerism is likely to respond to it. I remember PSD blogger emeritus Tim Harford using Pascal's Wager to answer a question some time ago, and Gerard Baker quoted in the London Times last week, as we see the shift in the climate change debate - to not believe (and take appropriate action) now has too much of a downside.

Yesterday's launch of the 2006 Carbon Disclosure Project report echoes that shift: four years ago, 35 investors signed on and the response rate from FT500 companies was 47%. This year, 225 investors signed on and the response rate was 72%. As the predictions for climate change impacts grow ever more short-term and dire (see the FT again), this level of engagement will be essential.

And although I hate to admit it, there's some poignancy to the title of that Thompson Twins song.

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