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Climate Leadership Now

16. The (André) five-practice model

Many thanks to Petra Molthan-Hill and Lia Blaj-Ward of the Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, UK, for lending their expertise to contextualize and apply what they dub the "André five-practice model"  to educate climate leaders "at university" (as they say in their British English!).  In their 2022 Open Access article "Assessing climate solutions and taking climate leadership: how can universities prepare their students for challenging times?" they dig deeply into how to use the model to educate effective climate leaders. The full article is a significant read from Teaching in Higher Education that can help jumpstart university thinking about how to teach climate change and develop climate leaders across disciplines. 






Petra and Lia describe how my book Lead for the Planet: Five Practices for Confronting Climate Change, developed in classrooms over a decade, is "a relevant blueprint to help facilitate climate learning and leadership in university students not only in the specific US context of a university-wide module but also in other types of higher education institutions or national systems. Disciplines with a climate science orientation or with a direct connection to the natural or built environment would benefit from including it into their curriculum to help students develop a systemic perspective and make meaningful connections between ways of thinking about the climate, practising relevant climate action and be(com)ing climate leaders. Disciplines with a social science underpinning or with a broader societal remit (e.g. Business, Sociology, Education, Psychology, Media, Journalism) would find the blueprint a natural fit. Disciplines whose remit is further removed from climate science or planning and leading social action (e.g. Literature, Philosophy, Languages, History) would benefit from exploring how the texts they engage with construct messages about the climate and how these texts can be used as a basis for conversations which raise awareness and prompt more substantial and active engagement with climate debates."




They write..."Creating space within the curriculum for interdisciplinary conversations and reflection on the valuable and unique contribution of each subject area to making the planet a better place to live would enrich university learning. Equally valuable would be scope to consider how academic knowledge about the climate and relevant climate solutions as well as co- or extracurricular experiences at university converge to enable students' growth into rounded professionals and citizens."




The authors continue to develop theory that promotes the teaching of climate leadership, as here:


Molthan-Hill, P., L. Blaj-Ward, M. Mbah, and T. Ledley Shapiro. 2021. "Climate Change Education at Universities: Relevance and Strategies for Every Discipline." In Handbook of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation, edited by M. Lackner, B. Sajjadi, and W. Y. Chen. New York, NY: Springer. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6431-0_153-1.


Molthan-Hill, P., N. Worsfold, G. J. Nagy, W. Leal Filho, and M. Mifsud. 2019. "Climate Change Education for Universities: A Conceptual Framework from an International Study." Journal of Cleaner Production 226: 1092–1101. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.04.053. [Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]




Sponsored by the United Nations PRME Working Group on Climate Change and Environment, I will talk about this (and invite you to engage in the conversation, sharing your local knowledge) March 24, 2022, at 11 a.m. EST. 






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15. Climate change philanthropy: Giving green, giving smart.

I enjoyed moderating Climate Change Philanthropy: Giving Green, Giving Smart December 7, 2021, now available on the
Cary Library Youtube channel
We met amazing climate leaders from four major climate change charities. In the video, the Conservation Law Foundation, Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club describe their missions, highlight their climate change initiatives, and field participant questions. These established NGOs take on regional, national, and even international climate concerns through policy initiatives, litigation, and cross-border networking. They are all top charities as rated by Charity Navigator.
This program is a unique opportunity for concerned citizens and students everywhere to get an overview of how broad-reaching non-profits are addressing the climate crisis and how philanthropy plays a crucial role. To address climate change and shape a livable, sustainable future for the planet, donors need to think globally, act locally, and give universally.
The featured speakers are:
For the Conservation Law Foundation:
Caitlin Peale Sloan, Senior Attorney and the Vice-President of Conservation Law Foundation of Massachusetts. Caitlin Peale Sloan leads CLF's Advance Clean Power team advocating for renewable energy and long term climate policy, and serves on the Executive Committee of the RENEW Northeast Board of Directors. She also litigates cases against polluters to enforce the federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
For Earthjustice:
Moneen Nasmith,  Senior Attorney. Moneen Nasmith focuses primarily on addressing climate change and the environmental and health impacts of oil and gas infrastructure projects. She has represented tribes and community and environmental groups in all stages of administrative and court proceedings challenging various fossil fuel transport and export projects, including state and federal permits for oil and gas pipelines, crude-by-rail storage facilities, and liquefied natural gas export terminals.
For the Natural Resources Defense Council:
Jackie Wong, Director, Federal Regulatory Policy, Climate & Energy Program.
Jackie Wong focuses on developing state and federal policies to promote innovation and clean energy and decarbonize industry. Prior to joining NRDC, she was a senior advisor for energy and climate change at the White House during the Obama administration, where she focused on amending the Montreal Protocol to address HFCs, reforming the federal coal program, and ensuring protections in the Outer Continental Shelf.
For the Sierra Club:
Deborah Pasternak, Massachusetts Chapter Director
A lifelong environmentalist, Deb Pasternak studied marine ecology and fisheries management and has worked in the photovoltaics and wind farm industries. An educator and policy advocate, she has served the Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter on their Energy Committee, as a trainer for their statewide Activist Trainings, and as Chair of the Executive Board before becoming Director.
Sponsored by the Lexington Climate Action Network and the Cary Library of Lexington, Massachusetts. 
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14. Resting up here. How about you?


It's been a complex and challenging year for writers. Certainly for this writer. Brought out a new book in September (did you know that 98% of the books published in 2020 sold fewer than 5000 copies? Just saying...) and did a lot of fun things to promote it – keynotes, seminars, blogs, consulting, online teaching. All this guesting via multiple and evolving technologies has been good but stressful work. 


I've had a few thoughts during this time and I've been meaning to blog about them. Like the idea that Bill Gates' recent book How to Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need is nothing short of a Hail Mary on climate change.


Gates is pushing innovation because it's his thing, but then he really didn't need to write a book about it unless he's seriously trying to send a message to us all. His implicit message is that Team Humanity doesn't have the chops to effectively address climate change through cooperation and politics. His explicit message is that the best way forward is to rely instead on innovation. Let's hope that he spots Gronk in the end zone.


Let it be said that I agree with Mr. Gates, and I am thrilled that his book and its important ideas made it into the two percent. On the other hand, I didn't write about that earlier this year when I might have. I've been quiet for the above stated reasons, but also because this year I found it hard to write about climate change while something like American democracy has been so imminently threatened. Talk about losing the Superbowl.


So now I'm resting up. Fishing. Admiring flowers. Counting the number of 90 degree days (while sort of not counting them). blossoms-pink-2.jpg


I recently mentioned my state of mind to a young friend, the kind of guy who drives from LA to Phoenix to be a poll watcher for the day. He exclaimed, "Me too!" We agreed that we don't want to talk about it quite yet.


Meanwhile, things are heating up. And here comes 2022.






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13. "Teach for the Planet": An Interactive Lecture at Georgia College


I enjoyed talking recently with the Faculty of Georgia College, Georgia's Public Liberal Arts University, about how to teach climate change in business schools and across the curriculum. Teaching climate leadership takes students a step beyond climate science to address what Team Humanity must do now. Educators will play a key role.


The session was based on Lead for the Planet: Five Practices for Confronting Climate Change (University of Toronto Press, 2020) and the accompanying free teaching materials available on this website. You can view it here: Teach for the Planet--Interactive Lecture at Georgia College


We got some great feedback (thank you!), like this letter from a b-school prof:


"Thank you for hosting the Teaching Climate Leadership workshop! I mentioned my participation in the workshop to my department members, and I explained again why we should have a Climate Leadership course. To my surprise, they now accepted my arguments. They agreed to have the class on the schedule for this fall as a trial. I will spend time over the summer reading Rae's book and materials to get ready. Participation in the workshop was a great opening to make a case for the course. I hope that at some point you can offer it again."


Many thanks to our co-sponsors: the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) and the Management and Organizational Behavior Teaching Society (MOBTS). Special thanks to my hosts Dr. Micheal Stratton and Dr. Harold Mock, and to Dr. Lorianne Hamilton, Chief Sustainability Officer in Georgia College's Office of Sustainability.  

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12. Global Governance, Meet the Tribe


Just did a deep read (so you don't have to) of a complex and useful book entitled "Global Climate Governance." It addresses the question of how Team Humanity might, or might not, solve the climate problem through cooperation.


Particularly useful for leaders is the authors' description of the universe of the specific organizations that are tackling climate change globally. All kinds of organizations at all levels of society are addressing CO2 reduction, climate adaptation, climate loss and damage, and climate justice. If you want to understand the big picture of where and how climate decision-making is happening, this short book is a must-read.


Authors Coen, Kreienkamp, and Pegram are on board with those of us who have observed that the 2015 Paris Agreement has failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but has at least kept people talking. They point to the potential of the Agreement to deepen cooperation by improving transparency around national climate policies and actions. They describe it as "a pragmatic attempt to address both coordination and cooperation problems through broad collective goal setting, dynamic ambition cycles and a shift toward national pledges and procedural commitments."


However, they caution that most countries "continue to have a strong incentive to avoid costly action on climate change, to wait for others to act and to negotiate for self-interested advantages." Their analysis is the latest take on the theory that Team Humanity is tribal. "Cooperation problems continue to stymie effective global climate governance," they write.


Helpfully, the authors frame the Paris Agreement as a paradigmatic shift. It is a "new phase of climate governance" that shifts action away from global institutions like the United Nations to "local institutional capacity." They note that one mid-range organization, the European Union, is "comparatively ambitious and successful" and may be a model for other regional approaches.


But, mainly, they argue, global change must now happen at the level of countries and their institutions. Even this will not be easy. Policy scholars Green, Hale and Colgan (2019) suggest there will be a "rocky road ahead" and "the stakes are whose way of life gets to survive."


Leaders may likewise conclude that they should focus on national rather than global solutions. Out go thoughts of "global institutional design" and "intergovernmental organizations." In come ideas like "bottom up" and "local" and "public buy-in."




David Coen, Julia Kreienkamp, and Tom Pegram.  (2020) Global Climate Governance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Green, J., Hale, T., and Colgan, J. D. (2019). The existential politics of climate change. Global Policy Blog [online]. 21 February 2019. www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/21/02/2019/existential-politics-climate-change.

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11. Bet Less on Paris and More on Innovation

To know what you can accomplish, you have to know who you are. To confront climate change, we, the members of Team Humanity, should do more to grasp our strengths and weaknesses as decision makers. 


Many on the Team assume that cooperation is our primary strength. Therefore, they believe, the United States should stick with the Paris accords and honor its commitment to financing them. Never mind that Paris has no teeth and that the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which actually did, drove nations to quit the coalition before paying for their carbon pollution in actual money. 


As a psychologist who studies systemic change, I observe that Team Humanity amasses impressive lists of climate solutions, yet rarely thinks about how likely it is that any one of them can be implemented.  For example, given human nature, what is the probability that we will put an international price on carbon versus achieving an energy breakthrough like clean nuclear power? 


With the climate crisis looming, it is time to place our bets. 


Many people put their chips on cooperation, which depends in part on altruism.  Altruism within and between groups, known by researchers as "parochial altruism" (and by the rest of us as tribalism), is the act of being unselfish toward our own groups while at the same time being aggressive toward other groups. 


For thousands of years human beings have feared strangers from other tribes. Our very brains reflect this. When our group is threatened by an outgroup, our brain patterns for empathy and concern for the ingroup are strong, while our tendency to aggress against the outgroup grows stronger. What does this mean for solving global problems like climate change? Researchers on parochial altruism have little hope that we can overcome it.  Humans do have an intuition to cooperate, but this tendency is not strong enough to advance systemic causes like world peace.  The experts confirm what we already know from recent political experience: Team Humanity is still tribal. 


Cooperation also depends on trust. Even when people do not share a common group loyalty, they can sometimes work well together. Unfortunately, research suggests that this tendency is unreliable. Although Team Humanity should collaborate to solve complex global problems, doing so requires a commitment from diverse stakeholders that is difficult to achieve. Experts conclude that the nations of the world will not be able to work together and solve systemic problems like climate change because Team Humanity simply does have enough of the needed attitudes and skills. 


Research on the failure of past societies bears out these concerns about cooperative decision-making. Historically, many—some experts say most—societies have failed to husband their natural resources and have subsequently collapsed.  Societies fail to make the right environmental decisions for a whole sequence of reasons—failure to anticipate a problem, failure to perceive a problem, failure to attempt to solve it after it has been identified (this is probably where we are now on climate), and failure to succeed in attempts to solve it (how hard have we tried so far?) 


A related weakness is the cognitive biases that undermine humans' ability to make effective collective decisions. For example, when leaders attempt large scale change, they find it hard to convince people to address distant problems that require current sacrifices. Based on his and others' research in this area, Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has expressed pessimism that humanity will find a path to success on climate change. 


Climate leaders must overcome parochial altruism to step outside their own sector and its interests. They must learn to lead as cosmopolitans and globalists.  They must figure out how businesses and governments can cooperate to develop and implement broad environmental policies, and how countries and regions of the world can work together. Social scientists think this is a very tall order. 


Bringing these findings to the climate conversation, we can see the challenge that faces superordinate groups like the United Nations and the European Union. Competing nation states faced with the depletion of the global commons may not be able to cooperate to fix the problem. 


Yet, although the decision-making prowess of Team Humanity may be less than we imagine, there is still hope. Fortunately, our limited ability to cooperate is not our only attribute. Team Humanity has many other decision-making virtues. These include creativity, openness to experience, intellect, competitiveness, assertiveness, and aggressiveness. 


These virtues are found in abundance among our innovators and entrepreneurs. Perhaps we should pass them more chips?

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10. The University Press as Innovator

The University of Toronto Press invited me to write this blog for University Press Week.  University presses publish bold, complex, change-oriented works. We need them now more than ever.


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9. A Climate Change Manifesto for University Education

Are universities offering their students the climate change education that they need? Young people will be dealing with climate impacts for the rest of their lives, and there is a lot they need to know. 


To promote climate literacy and leadership, students and professors should encourage their universities to adopt a comprehensive climate change curriculum. Every university student should come away with a basic understanding of:


1)    the Oil Age that began in the nineteenth century, and, in general, how energy sources influence human history

2)    the influence of fossil fuel companies on the business sector and government

3)    the emerging role of green energy and how it can be accelerated

4)    the basics of climate change science, including the effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on global warming, and projections of these influences into the future

5)    the importance of finding the truth and contextualizing science politically

6)    how social science can guide decision-making about wicked problems like climate change

7)    how professors and their departments view climate science and stakeholder analysis, especially the roles of business and government in addressing climate change

8)    whether responsibility is put on students as individuals to find these topics in their university's curriculum, or whether their university takes the initiative to design this material into their educational experience (for example, in a series of required courses)

9)    the importance of looking beyond the titles of university sustainability programs to assess what they teach about climate change and energy evolution. For instance, do they teach from a strong sustainability paradigm (for the planet) or a weak sustainability paradigm (to protect companies alone)?

10) initiatives for green living on campus and in the local community


Responsible universities inject the climate change issue across their curricula and they practice what they preach. Even so, professors and students should hold them accountable to go beyond simplistic thinking ("We cover this in courses on business strategy") and greenwashing ("We are recycling in our cafeterias"). Courses should examine the big picture of climate science, stakeholder power, and global leadership, and students should learn how current and emerging leaders are tackling these challenges.


The time is now.

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8. Joining Aevo, the New Trade Imprint at the University of Toronto Press

I am thrilled that Lead for the Planet is the first book published under Aevo, the new trade imprint of the University of Toronto Press.  And to see that their first offerings include several that address the climate crisis!


In Solved: How the World's Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis, David Miller shares his expertise as the former mayor of Toronto and an international climate expert. Geoffrey A. Ozin and Mireille F. Ghoussoub discuss carbon dioxide as a resource in The Story of CO2: Big Ideas for a Small Molecule. 


"Written by leading experts for intellectually curious readers, Aevo UTP books delve into the major issues facing today's world." They "put the present in context and bring the future into focus." 


Authors take note! 


The University of Toronto Press is Canada's largest academic publisher.  You can find the latest Aevo books here: https://utorontopress.com/us/books/by-imprint/aevo-utp.





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7. To Confront the Climate Crisis, Team Humanity Must Rely Less on Cooperation and More on Innovation


Building leadership to address the climate crisis requires focusing on what people can actually do to make a difference. We want Team Humanity to succeed, not just talk. As I discussed in my previous post, a major theme in Lead for the Planet is how social science can help.


In that earlier post I discussed why leaders are not likely to beat global warming by appealing to the human propensity for cooperation. Decades of failures to cooperate regionally and internationally on climate change (and also on other wicked problems like Covid-19—see below) support this conclusion. There have been many significant attempts to get people to cooperate – including the Kyoto agreement, the US government's 2010 attempt to establish an emissions trading system, and the 2015 Paris accords. They have all failed to motivate meaningful actions to reduce fossil fuel usage. From a psychological perspective, Kyoto failed because it punished countries financially for not meeting emissions reductions targets. The US government failed because the members of Congress could not cooperate well enough to pass climate legislation. Although it encouraged global communication and some funding to reduce carbon emissions, the Paris agreement failed because it holds no country accountable to actually do those things. Such failures suggest that members of key organizations--political parties and countries-- are neither trusting enough nor altruistic enough to cede their sovereignty to a superordinate organization, even if the intent of that organization is noble.


If relying on cooperation is not the answer, is there an alternative?  Fortunately, human beings are blessed with many other useful traits, like curiosity, imagination, assertiveness, competitiveness, and energy. These are found in abundance in the human propensity to innovate, which characterizes many scientists and engineers and also the entrepreneurs who support them.


Entrepreneurs demonstrate originality, motivation to achieve, tough-mindedness, and competitiveness.[i] These are also prized across the business sector. Team Humanity should draw on these traits to pursue research in all sectors that burn fossil fuels--energy production, manufacturing, buildings, agriculture, and transportation.


For example, we need to improve renewable energy technology, enhance energy storage, and capture carbon dioxide emissions. To pursue these long term goals, we must apply best practices for rewarding risk-taking researchers and entrepreneurs.  For instance, we must pair them with high net worth investors who eschew short term profits in favor of longer term, visionary goals. We should integrate the public and the private sectors to both develop research and turn it into practical action.


Worldwide, research on energy is significantly underfunded. Bill Gates, catalyst and founding member of the Breakthrough Energy group, summarizes the energy research problem succinctly: "Huge uncertainties, huge underinvestment."[ii]  To address this concern, in 2015 two dozen countries and the European Union joined together in project Mission Innovation to promote more research funding.


Innovation by Heliogen is a recent success story. Breakthough Energy Ventures, the investment arm of Breakthrough Energy, invested nearly a decade ago in this company, which has been working to improve solar concentration technology.  In 2019, Bill Gross, the company's CEO and founder, announced a new solar technology that can concentrate solar power to temperatures of more than 1000 degrees Centigrade.   Previously, only burning fossil fuels could produce such high temperatures, which are necessary for industrial processes like making steel and cement. For instance, Gross estimates that if all cement kilns ran on solar, his new technology would reduce cement's carbon footprint by 40 percent.[iii] Talk about making a difference!


Climate leaders can pursue cooperation and innovation simultaneously, and they should, with each leader acting according to their talents and opportunities. Citizen support for innovation may help: In 2019, 82% of Americans supported funding research into renewable energy resources.[iv]


Yet Team Humanity has fewer than 10 years remaining in a carbon budget that holds global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Like the Covid pandemic, the climate crisis is a wicked problem in which many parameters are unknown, issues are intertwined, and outcomes are uncertain. By demonstrating the limits of cooperation and the hope for a scientific solution to such problems, the Covid pandemic may hold a major lesson for climate leaders: To address the climate crisis, Team Humanity should place a major bet on innovation.

[i] Sari Pekkala Kerr, William R. Kerr, Tina Xu (2017).  Personality Traits of Entrepreneurs:

A Review of Recent Literature. Harvard Business School, Working Paper 18-047. https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=53682 
[ii] David Wallace-Wells, (2019, Sept. 17). Bill Gates: 'I Don't See Anything Worthy of the Word Plan' to Fight Climate Change.  New York Magazine.

[iii] https://www.wired.com/story/a-solar-breakthrough-wont-solve-cements-carbon-problem/

[iv] Jennifer Marlon, Peter Howe, Matto Mildenberger, Anthony Leiserowitz & Xinran Wang (2019). Yale Climate Opinion Maps. https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/. 


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6. To Confront the Climate Crisis, Team Humanity Must First Confront Itself


Here are some mainstream recommendations on how to address the climate crisis. What do you think they all have in common?

·       The countries of the world must come together to address the climate crisis.

·       World leaders should create an organization devoted to climate change and empower it to hold countries accountable for their carbon emissions.

·       In the United States, the major political parties must unite behind a carbon fee.

·       China and the United States could lead the world by jointly reducing their own carbon emissions and influencing other countries to do the same.


These recommendations are all macro level interventions that require humanity – Team Humanity  – to organize together to address climate change. In my work as an organizational psychologist, I often apply the lens of social science to evaluate collective behaviors like these. In this case I observe that all of these recommendations operate across societies and at the highest level of societies, and they all require people to cooperate. They are also aspirational: if they would only work, Team Humanity could save the planet.


For my new book Lead for the Planet, I searched the social sciences for best practices on climate leadership. I looked for answers to questions like "What does social science suggest about Team Humanity's ability to cooperate? What does it say about people's ability to trust each other, help each other, and make sound decisions together, all of which are prerequisites for global cooperation?" Fortunately, research in such disciplines as psychology, sociology, and anthropology does offer some actionable answers. However, it also challenges some cherished assumptions about how societies change.


Consider first the human propensity to trust— and, especially, to trust macro level institutions. Leading trust researcher Dr. Charles Heckscher, author of Trust in a Complex World: Enriching Community, points out that, on the positive side, it is indeed possible to build trust when people have a collaborative purpose.  On the other hand, he finds, doing this is both challenging and unreliable. Heckscher argues that because today's complex problems require specialized knowledge and the commitment of many stakeholders, achieving the needed level of trust is not likely.  He concludes that, "We are not likely to be able to get the nations of the world to work together on climate change or the reduction of inequality; neither the needed attitudes nor skills are widely enough distributed."[i]


In related research on trust we learn, not to our surprise, that the higher the level of government, the less likely people are to trust it. For example, in the US, citizens trust local government more than state government, [ii] and local and state government more than federal government.[iii]  They hold these beliefs even though they see and accept that national, state, and local governments have different responsibilities.  In sum, Team Humanity's ability to trust others—a prerequisite to achieving cooperative global solutions—is weak.


Consider next the human inclination to help each other, commonly referred to as altruism. Certainly, the members of Team Humanity can be situationally altruistic, as when an individual risks their own life to save that of another. However, the social context of this sort of behavior matters a great deal and often creates limits on altruism. When studying altruism across groups, social scientists often refer to parochial altruism, the act of being unselfish toward in-groups while at the same time being aggressive toward out-groups. They point out that even human brain patterns reflect this human tendency. The brain patterns for empathy and concern for one's in-group members are strong when the group is threatened by an out-group, and at the same time the individual's tendency to act aggressively toward the out-group grows.


Interestingly, competitive individuals are more likely to engage in parochial altruism. Being in competition with other groups motivates them to perform, and it also encourages them to become especially cooperative with their own group members. Parochial altruism is especially strong in individuals who have high levels of testosterone. Toward their own group such individuals express high levels of solidarity, but when threatened by another group they are likely to escalate hostilities. Of course, these behaviors constitute what we informally refer to as tribalism.


Given the psychological influences of tribalism, it may well be that individuals and nation states that compete for resources will not be able to cooperate to fix the climate problem. Some highly competitive individuals do not even think cooperation is a desirable goal. Some even tend to dislike soft-hearted people.  Individuals who score high on the personality trait of competitiveness see relationships in terms of power. They like to win,[iv] and they are likely to want their business sector to win. Assuming that individuals in the highly competitive energy sectors are also competitive, these tendencies suggests that they will be loyal to their own tribes and aggressive toward the others. They are not likely to be part of a global climate solution.


Finally, social science research also suggests that, historically, Team Humanity has failed to make the right decisions and has often crashed whole societies because of environmental problems and resource shortages. Societies make bad decisions because they fail to anticipate or even perceive a problem, or fail in their attempts to solve it, says geographer Jared Diamond.  Will the climate interventions currently proposed by Team Humanity be enough? Diamond asserts societies must learn to embrace long-term thinking and reexamine their core values, even though evidence shows this is very difficult. He puts Team Humanity's choice this way: "A lower-impact society is the most impossible scenario for our future—except for all other conceivable scenarios."[v]


Climate leaders should consider these and the many other relevant findings from social science in order to make the best possible decisions for the planet. Often research results feel counterintuitive, yet paying attention to them is crucial for making effective decisions about which goals to pursue and how humanity should organize to pursue them. In particular, as the research cited here suggests, climate leaders should think carefully before defaulting to solutions that rely heavily on cooperation.


In my next post I discuss an approach that, based on further social scientific analysis, may be more fruitful.

[i] Charles Heckscher (2015). Trust in a Complex World: Enriching Community. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 169-170.

[ii] Justin McCarthy (2014, September 22).  Americans still trust local Government more than state. Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/176846/americans-trust-local-government-state.aspx. Accessed May 25, 2017.

[iii] Gallup (2016). Trust in government. http://www.gallup.com/poll/5392/trust-government.aspx. Accessed May 25, 2017.

[iv] Rae André (2008). Organizational Behavior: An Introduction to Your Life in Organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 43.

[v] Jared Diamond (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York, New York: Viking Penguin Group, 522-524.


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5. Feeling Overloaded? Watch Just This One Climate Trend


These days, along with all the stress-inducing details of the COVID-19 pandemic, you're hearing a lot about horrific climate change impacts—extensive fires in California and large hurricanes in the world's oceans; dire effects of drought and sea level rise on the world's neediest peoples. As to climate change causes…well, there's so much science coming your way that it is impossible to absorb all of it.  Yes, you want to learn all you can about climate change and, most urgently, about how to address the problem, and you surely want to be involved at some level. But also, involvement can be stressful.  You may experience an overload of information, or of dread.


Consider managing your climate stress by doing something stress specialists often recommend: Take a break.  For a time, until you are ready to reengage, reduce the stressor itself. One way to do this is to focus just on the most compelling information and ignore the rest.


For instance, watch just one important climate trend, like the amount of CO2 in earth's atmosphere. There is a clear relationship between atmospheric CO2 and global warming. Watch this trend even once a year and you'll already know plenty about the future of the planet. Currently, CO2 concentration as measured at the top of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, is 415 ppm, and there are few signs of significant abatement even under the COVID shutdown. There has not been a CO2 concentration this high for some 3 million years...before human beings existed. Some scientists suggest we are on the way to 500 ppm, with unknown consequences.


Arguably, this is enough data to absorb all at once. So, focus, and relax. We're in this for the long haul.



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