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.


Climate Change Schism?

When Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote the Death of Environmentalism, controversy raged. They argued – after interviewing more than 25 of the US environmental community’s top leaders, thinkers and funders – people need to search beneath symptoms, that appear to be causes, for deeper issues.

For example, the cause of global warming is too much greenhouse gas. Which leads to action; lets legislate to cut emissions.

So what’s stopping us and this solution? They asked us to consider obstacles like:

  • Our failure to articulate an inspiring and positive vision.
  • The radical right’s control of all three branches of the US government.
  • Trade policies that undermine environmental protections.
  • Overpopulation.
  • The influence of money in American politics.
  • The inability to craft legislative proposals that shape the debate around core American values.
  • Poverty.

The point is not, just, that there are many barriers. But the solutions we seek to implement depend on how we frame the problem. That is, how deeply we look beneath, while still including, the initial causes like greenhouse emissions.

Death of Environmentalism was written in 2004. Fast forward to today and we want to be picking policy winners. The best solutions are those that we can implement now and for the future. Not the most perfect, ideal, cap and trade system (or other mechanism) if they never becomes law.

In today’s terms it also means standing in other’s shoes – people who don’t believe action on climate change is important. This could vitally avoid a schism like the USA abortion debate – a climate-action fracture Bryan Walsh outlines here.

Summer and science week

Communicating science is vital, difficult and challenging. Just how do we effectively talk about probability and likelihood of increased impacts on humans with climate change? Science, communication and psychology has a big role to play.

Just one example to illustrate the point. The Fear Won’t Do It study looks at what we commonly see with climate issues – the risk of destruction to ice caps, the Barrier Reef, coral bleaching, increased severity of dangerous storms and, likelihood of more/longer heat waves etc. While this might grab people’s attention it is generally an ineffective tool for motivating genuine personal engagement.

Research like this argues we should be engaging people’s personal concerns. And understanding environmental leadership.

Part of this leadership, in Australia, is National Science Week. And within this is a social media challenge to science communicators. See details – complete with free tickets to win to How I Ended This Summer – here…

Image from the film How I Ended This Summer. It’s shot at an Arctic research station.

March mind shifts

While Japan struggles to shift mountains of debris and deal with human tragedy from the gargantuan tsunami, the ongoing Fukushima nuclear accident is seeing some significant mind shifts.

George Monbiot’s change of heart has the highest profile. A widely regarded environmental advocate, Fukushima has taught him to stop worrying and embrace nuclear power. He says:

On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power…

(But) there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power

Not shifting is Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountains Institute. He finds nuclear so slow and costly that building plants reduces and retards climate protection.

Here’s how. Each dollar spent on a new reactor buys about 2-10 times less carbon savings, 20-40 times slower, than spending that dollar on the cheaper, faster, safer solutions that make nuclear power unnecessary and uneconomic: efficient use of electricity, making heat and power together in factories or buildings (“cogeneration”), and renewable energy

Who’s right? Barry Brook makes the base case for nuclear safety and why we need it here. Amory Lovins for efficiency, distributed power generation and why nuclear is out of date here.

Image: Fukushima Daiichi March 14 2011

Climate action and the message

Wordle: PM Press release climate change frameworkThree quarters (76%) of Australians believe it is important to take action on climate change. This support, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean action and Australia is trying again to introduce a price on carbon.

So how important is the pitch? Here’s PM Julia Gillard on talkback radio (Feb 25 2011):

The government, in a methodical, careful, structured way is doing the right thing to create a clean-energy future for this country, to make sure we’ve got jobs in the future. I don’t want this country to be left behind.

The pitch mirrors what we know from climate change polling. Words and perspectives are important. This Stamford University study on USA attitudes illustrates just how important. The study asked the following questions with significant changes in results. And you’ll see some of the lessons mirrored in the statements above.

1. What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?
In this traditional question, about 49% answered economy or unemployment. Only 1% environment or global warming.

2. What do you think is the most important problem facing the world today?
This increases environmental issue responses to 7%. 32% say economy issues.

3. What do you think will be the most important problem facing the world in the future?
With the future, 14% chose environment/global warming. Economic down to 21%.

4. What do you think will be the most serious problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it?
Now, 25% say environment issues. Only 10% pick economic.

Picture: Word cloud from Feb 24 PM press release.

One health

Human health is profoundly affected by the animals and the environment in which we all live. That’s the starting point for the One Health initiatives – a holistic slice of health with connections between human disease, animals and sustainability.

One side of this is predicting disease drivers and outbreaks from environmental losses and human connections. EcoHealth Alliance highlights two big factors for disease outbreaks land use change – if we chop down a forest you change the dynamics of wildlife in that forest, you put people in there and they make contact with wildlife and you get these diseases – and travel and trade. Mapping the impacts guides intervention and prevention as well as protection.

One Health also encompasses practical action, including environmental awareness, preventing future animal to human diseases epidemics (e.g. like SARS). For more see this February’s 1st International Conference on One Health in Melbourne and this Australian Health Report story about it.

Loss not gain?

Nick Stern, in his ground breaking economic review, prescribes three essential elements for addressing climate change. We’re familiar with the price and technology approaches. But less is said about the third – behaviour change.

The American Psychological Association’s Global Climate Change task force report is a great addition to this behaviour space. It includes strategies for delivering action.

For example, people cut their energy use competitively if their neighbours are doing it. But not so well when asked to use fans instead of a/c, turn off lights or look after future generations. And financial savings are not too effective either, the influence of your neighbours can be far more important.

How cost is framed is also important. Many business cases, showing the profitability of energy efficiency, inexplicably gather dust. These cases often focus on savings. Yet future loses are a more compelling motivation. It’s better to tell people and businesses they are wasting $100,000 a year than we can save 100 grand.

Naturally, there’s a lot more – such as identifying whether your stakeholders respond best to the influence of neighbours or are a group of globally minded and motivated citizens – see The Mind.

Also see Climate Change Leadership and Worldenergyblog (picture above) on psychology. But… for a quick (unscientific!) snapshot …

Vote for the most compelling Murraylands Life sales pitch. I’d buy this home if told (click if you can’t see poll):

Simple supply chains

Business knows supply chains are vital. For both direct profit and, in an increasingly connected and information rich world, the embodied environmental impacts.

But, these are not easy assessments. The ecological backpsck concept helps. It creates one measure for the total amount of materials that go into producing a product or service.

As you’d expect services tend to have a smaller backpack. 2kg of materials are used to let you watch a movie for an hour. Versus 53kg to create a coffee machine.

There’s some obvious wins here as society changes. It takes two and a half times less material to download music versus buying the equivalent CD. And some rather staggering numbers. A ten gram wedding ring has a five tonne backpack.

For business, as the Harvard Business Review highlights this month: societal needs, not just conventional economic needs, define markets, and social harms can create internal costs for firms. Concepts like the ecological backpack help define the connection between society and economic progress – unlocking a wave of innovative growth.

Picture: Screen shot from ecological backpack video. Volkswagen Autostadt exhibition.

The Mind 2010

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 9.19.37 PMThe previous two posts focused on numbers and technology. And, if this is what is driving climate change solutions, then surely we would have already implemented the proven, low cost and profitable solutions.

Unfortunately we are far from doing so. Various estimates, such as this McKinsey study, find that changes can be made using currently available technologies – and with a good rate of economic return to individuals or organisations – at more than twice the current rates of implementation.

It’s quite something of a paradox. We say that the cost of taking action on climate change is an impediment to business and society sustainability. But we also do not act when it is profitable and the financial rewards, through energy efficiency, can be achieved at low risk.

To bridge this action gap some experience from waste generation, recycling and disposal is very relevant. We often look at the world through only one or two lenses – measurable objective numbers and profit. But successful waste and sustainability interventions are doing far more than this.

These interventions actively consider the worldviews and perspectives that individuals hold. And they are considering the organisational culture or society’s developmental centre of gravity.

In other words, when we look at the world through four lenses, including things like:

  1. Culture
  2. Personal beliefs and worldviews
  3. Individual environmental footprints
  4. Organisational profits

We get better results. It’s a big topic and, for more, please see this talk: A thinking feeling lean wasteline.

Image originally from Barrett Brown presentation to Integral Sustainability Colorado workshop 2006. Previous post in this series The Tech

The Tech 2010

There’s always a lot of innovation in a year but 2010 saw clean technologies take out 4 of the top 5 spots for venture capital funding.

At the same time very substantial implementation efforts were underway How about catching the train from China to London in under two days?  Links between China, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia have already started.

Staying with China rail, it also announced the first fuel cell train on top of the world’s fastest train, More generally the country is about to pass its own clean technology targets by a large margin.

Transport also continued its electric push. For a big business plan example you can’t go past GE. The company is predicting $0.5 Bn in turnover from a business decision to buy (not sell) 12,000 Chevrolet Volts. Revenue is generated through the associated infrastructure and other spin-offs for the company.

Are we seeing the light? Maybe. And in practice (sorry) GE’s new LED bulb went on sale Monday 6 December. It’s statistics, 77% less power for the same amount of light, are not trivial. Especially considering the International Energy Agency finding that we could cut global electricity consumption by almost 10% with such changes.

2010 also may be the year when managing power demand – the times we all want to switch on appliances like air-conditioning together – finally came of age. Solutions such as standards and building demand started to mature and, for some big numbers, the Brazilian government announced a mandate for  62 million digital networked electric meters!

And lastly growth in renewable power generation continued to grow exponentially. The World Wind Energy Council is predicting over a 26% increase for 2010 which, on top of a measured 31% increase in 2009, continues the trend to double wind energy every 3 years.

Next The Mind; Previous The Money