Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Showing climate change leadership

A fellow academic asked me a difficult question just recently. He said:
  • Climate volatility and mass extinction events bring fear that can only be addressed by fundamental change.

    Politicians have been 'negotiating' for over 20 years and the best they can do is 'non-binding agreements' (i.e. a fig leaf that looks like we are doing something when we aren't doing anything). They managed to show leadership by printing enough money to save the global banking system from collapse in 2008 and subsequently, but the much bigger issue of climate change hasn't connected or brought forth the same crisis response.

    [W]e need individual business leaders to show real leadership and react to the crisis. But what has stopped them from doing so thus far?

Wow: that's a big question.

I think that our difficulty comes in large part because we have set up governments which are dominated by an electoral cycle, with short-term-ism embedded in its fundamental nature. No one is rewarded for long-term thinking. To quote Sir Terry Pratchett, we get an "+++Out of Cheese Error +++ MELON MELON MELON +++ Redo From Start +++" error (1996, p. 185).

My pessimistic view is that the human race will need to actually be in the run up to the cliff in order to take action. Hmm. No, that's my optimistic view as well.

In leadership I teach that to create cultural change we need a situation to use as a lever. The common ones are a weak culture; a change of leader; a dramatic crisis; or a young or small organisation (Robbins, 1991).

To consider this, we have strong national cultures, and we are none of us very young organisations (cf nations). We get changes of leadership all the time, but there are no rewards for trying to change humanity's current processes. However, if we can show clearly that there is a dramatic crisis by showing unobfuscated data, there is a chance of change sticking.

But we might have to adopt a big tobacco media approach: "No, you are not actually on fire. You simply have a temperature due to sitting too close to the window in summer". Perhaps we have to tell people that CC DOESN'T exist. In shifty government-ese. That might work. And televise people who successfully sue you for saying that. And show toddlers who have died from CC on the news.

We could present an enemy whom we can defeat.

We also have to show the WIIFM (what's in it for me) to people whom we want to shift. As to how you provide very clear, cogent, and fact based information, presented without emotional manipulation, is the REALLY hard part. You need crystal clear facts.

Hans & Ola Rosling are doing some good work in this area. Their clips at and are great, but they are not getting enough airtime.

 We then have have to educate, support, and create participation in the required change.

However, we are very unlikely to make change that will make life harder for us personally. The public perception is that the climate change brigade are implying a return to serf technology.

Our self-interest undermines any change we might make. We will green-wash or simply badge our own choices ("Oh yes, I am contributing to a better planet. I bought my Starbucks coffee in a recyclable cup").

Depressing, isn't it.


  • Pratchett, Terry (1996). Hogfather. UK: Victor Gollancz. 
  • Robbins, Stephen P. (1991). Management (3rd Edition). USA: Prentice Hall

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