In 2007 when Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] were winning the Nobel Peace Prize – not that we were at war – the majority of people around the world with access to information were in favour of climate change action. http://detroitclimateaction.org/
Not everyone was convinced that global warming was our fault but there was a majority who thought that something needed to be done. It seemed that the climate was changing in ways that would affect our ability to grow food, maintain water supply and sustain, as the population clocks told us, an ever-increasing human population.
A minority have remained passionate about taking climate action but in 2009 the UNFCCC process, the international vehicle for climate change action that gave us the Kyoto protocol, ran out of fuel in Copenhagen. Lethargy emerged through subsequent meetings in Cancun, Durban and Doha [yes, there have been three UNFCC Conference of the Parties since Copenhagen and another scheduled for November 2013 in Warsaw] and the general public has lost interest.
In Australia where the government has passed two significant climate change policy initiatives, a clean energy act and a domestic carbon offsets scheme, the public response has been that one in three now say they actively oppose action. When the peace prize was awarded half the population thought the issue was the most important of the day.
If the issue was critical enough to have its own UN convention and be likened to a peace process, why has the momentum gone?
Why has climate change action stalled?
One answer is leadership, or more strictly a lack of leadership.
In their interesting book ‘Art of Leadership’, George Manning and Kent Curtis suggest that any change in an organization requires
Vision is vital to avoid confusion. We all need a clear view of the way ahead, even when we know that there may be twists and turns in the road. Nobody likes driving on a foggy night.
If we know what to do and how to do it, then taking action is much easier. Nothing banishes anxiety more than doing something positive. Only without skills positive action can be difficult.
Humans are innately lazy. If it wasn’t for the pangs of hunger and thirst we probably wouldn’t get off the couch. This sounds like crazy talk, but it makes evolutionary sense. As Charles Darwin explained in On the Origin of Species to survive the evolutionary race the default is to conserve energy for the things that matter: survival, growth and reproduction. Watch lions for any length of time and you’ll see that they too spend a lot of time on the savannah equivalent of the couch. So if we want actions that are not obviously beneficial to these core drivers, then incentives are essential.
And then we need the resources. Time, equipment, tools, funds, whatever is required to get the job done. The most frustrating thing is to have vision, skills and motivation, but no resources.
Last, but not least, there needs to be an action plan. The old adage, fail to plan, plan to fail, hits the spot again. Vision, skills, incentives and resources need to be organized toward the tasks and experience tells us that the best way to do this is with a working plan.
So how does climate change action stack up against these core principles of change?
Climate change vision
Well we were told what would happen. Climate change would bring warming, drought, severe weather events, sea level rise and a host of other worrying things. The vision was very negative.
In fact, we were given a set of predictions rather than a vision. The leaders gave us lists of the things that were expected to happen, not something that we could strive for or work towards.
And, so far, many of those predictions seem to have been inflated. The dire emergency has not materialized for most and we have seen the rhetoric toned down drastically. Recall that the media grabs dished up by politicians changed over time: “catastrophic global warming” became “global warming” and then “climate change”. As the more dramatic terms, so beloved by the media cycle, became harder to sustain so they were softened.
As far as a vision goes, we were told that because the whole problem was about global warming and greenhouse gases caused the warming, then all we had to reduce emissions.
Climate change skills
Investment has happened in climate change science. We now have many more scientists with an interest in climate change, only they are using skills that we already had.
The policy approach to reduce emissions has created a new skillset of carbon accounting that is an unusual mixture of technical expertise from industry and the environment combined with financial audit skills. There is now a whole new cadre of climate change professionals who can measure and account the amount of carbon emitted, mitigated or sequestered.
Then with skills borrowed from the finance sector, professionals are buying, selling, hedging, and trading carbon permits and carbon credits.
So from a technical, negotiating and trading perspective we have skilled up pretty well.
What has not happened yet is to skill up the general public to allow us to understand what the whole climate change issue is really about. Even to explain why we need all these new professionals or ever greater numbers of climate scientists