In the second part of my blog about Climate Change, having considered as extensively as I could the real scale and impact of the threat to our planet’s health, I want to move on and consider some of the people dynamics. Who should do what and how? Who do we need to lead us, men or women, the private or state sector? What are the views of young people who will be far more impacted than people like myself by the consequences of Climate Change.
Mark Goyder, whom I mentioned in part 1, often uses this Native American phrase, “We do not inherit the world from our forebears, we hold it in trust for those that follow.” We have not fulfilled our fiduciary duties as trustees especially well, have we? Looking forward to what needs doing, the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederary sets the fundamental principle, “Make your decisions based on their impact seven generations out from today.” Not seven quarters as some of Bill Gates’ remarks in his book indicate to be the expectation of the investment and finance community.
“Good trouble” or direct action
As I read more about how best to bring about real, effective change that will stifle emissions and cure our planet’s chronic emphysema, I see many parallels with the civil rights protests of the 1960s. Here, the peaceful “good trouble” campaign of late Congressman John Lewis sat and marched while Malcolm X advocated a more direct, violent approach. (Malcolm X was allegedly murdered with the FBI turning a “blind eye”.) Are Extinction Rebellion and similar organisations carrying Malcolm’s mantle today?
In his Sunday Times column on November 21st, Robert Colville (Twitter – @rcolville) mentioned Extinction Rebellion’s founder, Roger Hallam who wrote a tract called, “Advice to Young People, As You Face Annihilation”. In this, Colville says, “Hallam conjured up lurid fantasies of ‘war played out in every city, neighbourhood, every street.” This included a grotesque rape scene, which he said was, “the reality of climate change.”
More eloquently phrased are the words of an Insulate Britain protestor during his trial. These conclude with a call for civil disobedience, “In this world, those trying to avert catastrophe are vilified and criminalised, and those profiting from death are protected and rewarded … in an insane world, the sane will be seen as insane. And in a democracy steeped in lies and corruption, good people have a duty to disobey bad laws.” Prince Charles has said he understands why protest is necessary. However, should it be forged in Lewis’s or Malcolm X’s cauldron?
Perhaps Hallam’s scenario of street fighting is not entirely misguided. In The Economist’s annual look ahead to the new year, Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees (Twitter – @marvinjrees), says, “The fight against climate change will be won or lost in cities, which are now home to over half of the world’s population. Cities consume around 70% of all energy and generate three-quarters of global carbon emissions. These numbers will increase as cities grow, with estimates that 68% of people will live in urban areas by 2050.” See, https://www.economist.com/the-world-ahead/2021/11/08/marvin-rees-on-how-mayors-can-save-the-world. Additionally, to the growth in urban populations, some 40% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast according to the United Nations. Much of this is low-lying and with sea-levels rising by a centimetre every three years or so, another threat to social upheaval and discord is brewing.
In an interview in 2019 with Robert Harris to coincide with the publication of his new novel, “The Second Sleep”, he remarks, “Food, you think: that’s a point. If you have learnt nothing else from the Brexit debate, you have become aware that supermarkets — which had previously seemed such reliable temples of abundance — in fact carry very little stock and rely on lorries for just-in-time resupply. London, you are constantly reading, is only six meals away from starvation.
“But by the time you reach the nearest Waitrose you discover everyone else has remembered the quotation too. The aisles are crowded. Shelves are emptying. The checkouts aren’t operating. Some people, laden with whatever they can carry, are trying to leave without paying. Others are struggling over the last few trays of adzuki and edamame bean salad.”
Is this further outlandish thought? Consider the onset of the pandemic and bare shelves, stockpiling, verbal and physical assaults in shops and, more recently, scuffles on petrol forecourts when a shortage of petrol tanker driver curtailed deliveries. Fights ensued; in one filmed incident, knives were drawn.
Gen Z’s view of the future
A great deal of the protest is led by young people, Gen Z-ers, inspired by Greta Thunberg. In this article, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/climate-crisis-doom, Oxford University’s Doctor Hannah Ritchie observes that more than half of 10,000 young people surveyed across ten countries agreed that “humanity is doomed” by climate change. They reported feelings of anxiety, distress, and helplessness. Two-fifths said they were reluctant to bring children into this broken world.
Ritchie rightly criticises Hallam’s view, “The worst thing about this message is that, rather than inspiring action, it resigns us to the falsehood that we are already too late. There is now nothing we can do.” The Guardian columnist George Monbiot appearing on Frankie Boyle’s BBC2 TV show was equally downcast advocating an immediate cessation of flying and a switch to a plant-based diet, see clip embedded in this LinkedIn post, https://www.linkedin.com/posts/zblsvcohen_capitalism-postgrowth-degrowth-activity-6865935282831683584-zyRK/. This was originally shared by Zoe Cohen (https://www.linkedin.com/in/zblsvcohen/) who, while by no means do I agree with all she posts, warrants following because her thoughts and opinions will make you think. “Cancellation” is not an option here.
This sense of foreboding and doom does not auger well for this generation’s mental health and well-being. If feeling so threatened, how will this affect their cognitive processes on which, I suggest, lies much dependence as the source of effective solutions.
Yet many of the climate scientists with whom Ritchie works and trusts to understand the risks of climate change better than most “are not resigned to a future of oblivion”. A great many are parents, often of very young children, although “… having kids is no automatic qualification for rational decision-making.” Ritchie makes the point that parenthood, “signals that those who spend day after day studying climate change are optimistic that their children will have a life worth living.”
So, if we do apply the brakes as many like Monbiot suggest, what will happen? The massive reduction in flights during the pandemic contributed to clearer skies, which is positive. Yet a massive number of people from pilots to ground staff were furloughed or lost their jobs. Multiply that across many sectors and you ramp up unemployment and all the discontent that generates – who remembers the UK miners’ strike in the 1980s? Without flights, many supply-chains stop. Are you then facing the dicey situation Harris pictures? This strikes me as a lose / lose situation. We need to flip it to win / win.
Leadership – what’s required and from whom?
In this admittedly lengthy yet very worthwhile article about Hilde Fålun Strøm and Sunniva Sorby who are two female explorers living on Swalbard, they remark, “I feel that men show up in the world of exploration with more of their ego at stake, but the leadership the climate crisis requires is the opposite. It’s about compassion, communication, and building community; not competing against one another.” https://www.wired.co.uk/article/arctic-climate-change?utm_campaign=chasingzero_welcome&utm_source=trigger&utm_brand=wi&utm_mailing=&utm_medium=email. I hope many Northern Power Women pick up on this point and it inspires them to steer their time and attention to conceiving innovative, practical and profitable ideas to help solve climate change.
In the commercial world, there was a beacon of light in the form of Emmanuel Faber, who was CEO of Danone, the global food manufacturer (Activia, Evian etc.). He appeared to be achieving a good balance across his triple bottom-line agenda but, sadly, was jettisoned when shareholders’ financial demands trumped other ambitions. This recent interview with Emmanuel includes an appealing description of his approach to performance management and associated reward, https://time.com/6121684/emmanuel-faber-danone-interview/.
Consider this extract from the interview:
“The food industry, your industry, is a big carbon business – We started the journey on carbon emissions in 2008. By 2009, all the team managers at Danone had a significant incentive [to reduce our] carbon footprint. An incentive bonus. A third [of the bonus] was on social and environmental issues, among which was carbon. The EBITDA level of the company and the carbon footprint had an equal weight in my bonus. So that’s how far we and I went into walking the talk and putting our money where our mouth was.
“Were you losing some money because that was part of the equation? – No, I was making money. We established in 2009 a trajectory that said our peak carbon emissions would be in 2025. And the result of the hard work of 15,000 team leaders, incentivized in their bonuses, led us to reach peak carbon six years in advance, in 2019. So, we have constantly been ahead of our plan and the reduction of the intensity of carbon.”
While Faber appears to have been the victim of a shareholder assault driven by ROI greed, my strong opinion is the commercial world needs far many more Fabers. Another beacon of light is the clothing firm Patagonia, see https://eu.patagonia.com/gb/en/climate-goals/, that goes as far as imploring cutomers not to buy by offering free repairs. Very different to “wear it once” fast fashion.
As our female friends in Svalbard indicate, we need more women in senior roles because they leave their egos at the reception desk. I am privileged to see some superb and relevant work being led by women, many belonging to the Northern Power Network.
In her approach to curating strategic planning, Christie Albrecht (https://www.linkedin.com/in/christiealbrecht/) steers the discussion towards setting visions and “BHAGs”. Is anything bigger, hairier, or more audacious than solving climate change. Chris Tucker (https://www.linkedin.com/in/chris-tucker-prandmedia/) is leading debate about PR’s role in communicating climate change issues. In the Social Entrepreneur’ arena, Marlou Cornellisen (https://www.linkedin.com/in/marloucornelissen/), Beth Eden (https://www.linkedin.com/in/betheden/) and Jane Dalton (https://www.linkedin.com/in/janedalton/) are individually and collectively driving some very positive ventures allied to the UN Sustainable Goals.
And, if leadership can’t influence the necessary change, does it the law to impose itself? The work of the late Polly Higgins to establish the law of Ecocide continues, see https://www.linkedin.com/company/stopecocide/. Simon Hamilton (https://www.linkedin.com/in/simon-hamilton-3aab481/) led an initiative to hold a mock trial of fossil fuel executives at the UK Supreme Court which remains accessible through his website, http://www.thehamiltongroup.org.uk/common/ecocide.asp.
Who should be in the driving seat – government or private sector?
Gates argues that government has a role to play in driving and funding the required innovation. Consider that in the 1960s that the US government invested 4% of GDP into the Apollo programme. Government’s pockets are deep, especially when there is a Cold War to win. Is not the war against Climate Change far more important?
Kate Bingham, the Venture Capitalist put in charge of the UK’s vaccines programme sharply criticised government in a recent article she wrote for The Times’ Thunderer column, see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/e3f06f9e-4bc0-11ec-a89c-4bee41baeb9c?shareToken=466b8258e5e0edecff63d73cb9817481. Bigham says there an inherent lethargy in government’s manner, “The machinery of government is dominated by process, rather than outcome, causing delay and inertia. There is an obsessive fear of personal error and criticism, a culture of groupthink and risk aversion that stifles initiative and encourages foot-dragging.”
Others like Paul Dacre and Michael Gove have condemned “the blob” at the heart of Whitehall.
My final point comes from the two ladies on Swalbard. At a time of great debate about women’s role in society, it should not be overlooked that nature tends to be presented as female. Strøm and Sorby say, “Imagine Mother Nature as a body with different organs. In one part of the world her lungs are failing. In another part of the world her liver is not functioning. In yet another part of the world her heart is having trouble beating. Once you understand that all her systems are crashing, you realise that ‘holy shit, it’s not tomorrow, it’s now.’”