Resolving climate change paradoxes – do we really have the leadership courage?

While other countries talk about green growth and deep greenhouse gas emissions cuts in Australia we are fractured. We have a highly polarised and divisive community debate.

Last night the Environment Institute and the Leaders Institute of South Australia took us beyond the division with a high profile team of panellists.

Our question – what leadership is needed to act on climate change?

The common thread on the night was vision – holding it, enabling it, moving our society to focus more on the future. However, the fact that we don’t currently have this is quite a paradox. It is manifestly in our common self-interest to act on this issue. Yet the fear and pain that people may feel seems quite out of proportion to the common explanation – financial costs.

Niki Vincent (Leaders Institute) put this succinctly introducing the forum and talking about adaptive leadership:

We are all going to have to give some stuff up. And I don’t mean the equivalent of the cost of a cup of tea in a café a day – or any of the other common economic measures about climate change.

The theme is picked up by Andrew Stock (Origin Energy). He highlights on climate change we experience news dominated by fear. At the same time we have 1,000 MW of solar installed by households across Australia. These are people acting from their hip pocket.

It’s a classic confusion. Stephen Yarwood (Lord Mayor Adelaide) illustrates it from the perspective of a business worried about action on climate change. The business person put to him that this means reducing car parking spaces and potentially trade (fewer shoppers). But, what the businesses really want is more people walking past shops, something you don’t necessarily get with more car parks and traffic.

Professor Mike Young (Environment Institute) also highlights this disproportionate fear. Changes in the Australian exchange rate, and costs caused by it for exporting industries, are massive compared to the very small (one to two per cent) climate price impact. But one is hot button topic and the exchange rate is almost disregarded.

This bizarre disjunction is mirrored with the business community and perspectives of big business attitudes. David Knox (Santos) talks about there being far more common ground between business and government than people are led to believe.

And all this is going on while we’re clearly feeling the impacts of climate change – now, as David Klingberg (Centrex Metals) points out.

But it is very hard to translate this knowledge and transcend the fears. As Senator Penny Wong explains:

It’s very hard for politicians to argue ‘people should act now for the benefit of the future’

Senator Wong also reminds us about the fragility of reform and consensus. It should never be underestimated how easy such consensus can fail. Annabel Crabb (ABC and the forum’s facilitator) ably illustrates this reflecting on how in just 4 years Australia has moved from both major political parties agreeing to, ‘a pile of political roadkill, a confused and hostile electorate’.

The common call from the whole group is to make time to dream, to vision, to talk about the future.

This work needs to be continuous to enable such change.

Download the full podcast of the event here.

Leadership in a Changing Climate. Does anyone really have the courage to take it on?

In Australia, we struggle to get the climate change discussion past immediate hip-pocket lines. Our public debate isn’t about the sort of future we want. Rather it’s much more around the fear of change and potential pain.

Tonight (Thursday 29 September 2011) some leading voices from South Australia try to step out of the immediate, lead our thoughts to possible futures, engage our hopes and potentials and, help think through the leadership needed to answer this pressing challenge.

This is at a Leadership and Climate Change Forum. Annabel Crabb, it’s moderator, points out we’re living in a modern day tragedy:

On climate change, this nation [Australia] essentially had consensus in 2007; our politicians applied themselves diligently to the situation and four short years later we’ve got a pile of political roadkill, a confused and hostile electorate and two protagonists who nobody likes, shouting themselves hoarse while their offsiders go through each others’ bins…

So how do we get past this? Panelist Senator Penny Wong says:

We have to continue to talk to the Australian people, talk with the Australian people about why action on climate change is important, why we can’t just let this go, why we can’t just say, ‘Let’s leave this for someone else to deal with.’

For panelist David Klingberg some of this is a mix of government and personal leadership:

I resent the government typecasting emitters as polluters; if you want collaboration it is not the right way to go about it. … In some ways I’m providing leadership by supporting what the Commonwealth has done with some modifications, the problem is with the industry there are a lot of people with vested interests.

In these quotes – and the longer articles they come from – there are many paradoxes. Conflicting positions that seemingly defy logic. Niki Vincent from the Leaders Institute of SA (which is organising tonight’s forum along with the Environment Institute) helps us to step through some of these issues.

Climate change is an adaptive problem – not a technical problem. Adaptive problems are tangled, complex, and involve multiple systems. Solving them requires new learning, creativity, innovation and new patterns of behaviour – changes of hearts and minds. Painful adjustments.

Another paradox is we have compelling evidence that action is in our interests. But our society is seemingly cognitively avoiding connecting with this evidence. We would say that we want a better life. But we don’t act to create it at anything like the rate that makes rational sense.

These conflicts and contradictions are inherent to any complex problem. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t solve them even though we will make many mistakes while doing so.

There’s a high powered panel discussing this tonight.
The livestream is here at 6pm Adelaide time and these are the instructions if you need help. Panel is:

  • Senator Penny Wong, Minister for Finance and Deregulation in the Gillard Labor Government,
  • Andrew Stock, Director, Executive Projects, Origin Energy Ltd
  • David Klingberg, Chairman of Centrex Metals and former chairman of the Premier’s Climate Change Council.
  • The Right Honourable Stephen Yarwood, Lord Mayor of Adelaide
  • Professor Mike Young, Executive Director of the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute
  • David Knox, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Santos Ltd

All facilitated by Annabel Crabb – political commentator and the ABC’s chief online political writer.