Acres of hardcopy material and megabytes of softcopy content have been written about Greta Thunberg. This 16-year old Swedish girl started the Friday school strike phenomenon to protest against what she regards as government and corporate inaction to combat climate change. An article in the Sunday Times on August 18th suggested she is being manipulated by others taking advantage of her Asperger’s syndrome, see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/past-six-days/2019-08-18/news-review/greta-thunberg-and-the-plot-to-forge-a-climate-warrior-9blhz9mjv.
Putting that aside, however, what if Greta is right and our planet is standing Tom Daly-like on its tiptoes on the edge of a very high diving board and could all too easily plummet into some catastrophic climatic cauldron? As coaches, mentors, managers or leaders, are we providing destabilising counsel that cumulatively will increase the likelihood of that fall occurring? Or, are we exerting enough influence upon those we work with to cause them to start to think differently or, cliché warning, to think outside the box?
Did Einstein already recognise this?
Consider these three quotes from scientist Albert Einstein.
- The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
- We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
- Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.
Are such issues being raised in the conversations you have with your clients? Are you provoking them to lift themselves out of an unconscious competency of continuing to do what has always previously worked? What if that is no longer the case? What if we need to stand everything we know on its head and act differently?
Our JFK moment
This year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing by the crew of Apollo 11. The famous picture below shows the landing module Eagle returning from the surface of the moon to dock with the command module Columbia. In the background is the magical beauty of our precious blue planet hanging in the vast, blackness of space.
The picture above shows earth as less than a single pixel taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990 from a record distance of some 6 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles, or 40.5 AU). Our planet appears as a tiny dot just over half-way down the brown stripe to the right of the picture.
The Apollo programme cost the USA some 4% of its GDP and involved over 400,000 people. All that effort to get one back up on the Russians for launching Sputnik into space first!
If Climate Change presents such a massive global threat, do not all the governments on the planet need to collaborate to galvanize their resources in the same way that NASA did and focus on overcoming the challenge that mankind has caused itself?
Scientists say we now live in the Anthropocene age, see https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/have-humans-really-created-new-geologic-age-180952865/, which term has been coined to reflect that human beings have permanently changed the planet. It remains a live discussion. And by saying I recollect the mustard coloured pall hanging over the coasts of the Cote D’Azur or California, am I in a small part culpable?
Fried or boiled
The cacophony of noise about climate change being hoax or absolute fact is akin to standing between Phil Collins and Chester Thompson at a Genesis concert when they were both pounding the drums in unison with one another. As with Brexit or Trump, climate change is a Marmite issue, there seems to be no middle ground. We are either going to be fried or boiled (like the eggs in a 1970s UK TV advert) or we should carry on regardless.
Rather than eggs, are we more like the frog and the boiling water? Has Greta come to recognise in her formative, adolescent years that she has been dropped into an earth-sized vat of boiling water and is trying to clamber out? Conversely, am I, in my seventh decade, numb to the fact that I am being slowly sautéed? Yet, having become a grandparent in the last 18 months, my spectacles are less covered in condensation and I’m starting to recognise that I am turning pink. I don’t wish the same fate to befall my granddaughter. Yet, I still hope she can see all the places I have been able to take her mum when she was young. Is that a knot of hypocrisy tightening around my throat?
We shall overcome… by going round in circles
The following quote from the late Pete Seeger is marvellous. Does it provide a framework on which can hang a broad and deep array of coaching questions to pose to organisational leaders? However, in boldly challenging a decision to continue to produce a product or deliver a service are we jeopardising our own revenue stream(s); dare we do that? Values or value; what is most important to us?
Dame Ellen MacArthur is leading ground-breaking work through her Circular Economy initiative in which she has succeeded in involving many global businesses. Rather than take, make, use, dispose, which is the centuries’ old linear manufacturing approach, how do we facilitate thinking and subsequent action about everything becoming reusable or recyclable? A first step concerns making things easier to repair, for instance “plug and play” components. Does there need to be an accelerated shift from owning things to leasing them, as is the case with mobile phones? However, I must plead guilty to still having a dozen old phones languishing in my desk drawer. I haven’t got around to recycling them. This article highlights the beneficial reasons of not building up such a cache, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/science-environment-49416384/ready-to-upgrade-what-to-do-about-your-old-phone?intlink_from_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fnews%2Ftechnology&link_location=live-reporting-map.
Do we stop everything or re-start how we do things? For instance, should we stop travelling, particularly flying; how many business trips could be conducted in virtual environments rather than ineffective video conferencing, yet see later point about digitisation? Positively, there is innovation to develop electric planes, yet on another we see effort expended on redeveloping the supersonic passenger plane with half the capacity of Concorde. Concurrently, Virgin Galactica has announced it expects its first $200k 90 minutes flights to the edge of the atmosphere to commence in 2020/21. Boeing has sought to develop a far more economic aircraft in its 737 Max 8 model, but its computer systems override the pilots to tragic consequence. HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey has become all too real.
In motoring, is a Toyota Prius or Tesla “greener” across its full life cycle than a 50 or 60-year old original Land Rover or Rolls Royce Silver Shadow? What will become of car ownership? Will the days of owning a car that sits on the driveway for 80% of the time be displaced by an app on which an autonomous, electronic vehicle is summoned to your door to take you to wherever… the airport, perhaps?!
If all the universities in the UK follow the lead of Goldsmiths College and stop serving red meat yet no HE institution in China does, or if the UK shuts its final coal-fired power station and the Australian government sanctions more new coal mines and exports the fossil fuel to China through the seas surrounding the intricate and delicate Great Barrier Reef, there is no consistency of approach.
Is the race to digitise everything false economy? Consider this BBC news report, see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-45798523, in which it is stated, “The entire information technology (IT) sector – from powering internet servers to charging smartphones – is already estimated to have the same carbon footprint as the aviation industry’s fuel emissions. And, according to Anders Andrae of Huawei Technologies, it is on course to consume as much as 20% of the world’s electricity by 2030.”
“Faster, faster, the light is turning red!”
In the age of big data, can the carbon footprint of every item for sale be calculated and displayed as are dietary factors on foods? (What would be the carbon cost of that data computation exercise?) Do not producers and retailers need to change tack and lower the price of goods with strong green credentials and raise the price of “dirtier” ones? Or does the profit motive prevent that; does the “shareholder first” mentality stop that in its tracks?
Perhaps the wind is starting to change direction, see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49400885. The Business Roundtable said the pursuit of shareholder interests is no longer the central purpose of corporate America. Instead, companies should focus on social responsibilities as well as profits. While it sounds positive that 22 of 30 companies comprising Dow Jones Index signed the statement many big names did not “…including Microsoft, McDonald’s, Intel, Merck, Nike, United Health Group, Verizon and the Walt Disney Company. Also missing were the bosses of Facebook and Alphabet, the owner of Google.”
What the signatory firms now appear to be sanctioning is a “triple bottom line” approach to stewardship, something which Mark Goyder, the founder of “think and do” tank, Tomorrow’s Company, has advocated for almost a quarter of a century.
Is it our role as coaches to stimulate people to overcome a cognitive dissonance that sees them acknowledge the science of climate change yet reframe it, so they don’t need to change their behaviours? Are we this companion to earth?
Or, do we fall back on a form of mindfulness, live in the moment and continue to encourage leaders to adopt the mantra of The Eagles in their classic song, Life in the Fast Lane, i.e. “Faster, faster, the light is turning red”? In other words, help them to produce more, faster, cheaper. Whoosh, we zoom across the stop-line and get T-boned by a meteorological 18-wheeler.
Is Greta the beating butterfly wing that could cause the necessary chaos of revolt throughout her generation that forces change to occur?