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Climate Leadership Now

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.

 

Enjoy.

 

 

 

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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."

 

Sources

 

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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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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1. Welcome to Team Humanity

 

We, the members of Team Humanity, must figure out…and very soon…how to face up to the climate crisis.  Yes, it is important that we understand the reality of climate change, but it is even more important that we understand how human beings make decisions about the problem.

 

This blog explores Team Humanity's strengths and weaknesses as decision-makers, leaders, and followers. My name is Rae André. As an organizational psychologist, I apply social science and informed reasoning to help people solve complex problems like destructive climate change. These days I am asking questions like How should Team Humanity organize to save the planet?  What does psychology suggest about which goals we can aspire to?  How will we manage the conflict between powerful stakeholders? Who will lead the change we need now? What challenges will members of the Team face personally and professionally?

 

Lots of people are focusing on the kind of big picture change the world needs now. In the Climate Leadership Now blog we explore their initiatives and how individuals can contribute.  Yes, please do all you can to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but also dedicate yourself to working for the broader kinds of change we so urgently need. To solve the climate crisis, we, the members of Team Humanity, must act quickly to foster widespread change in communities, industries, and governments. 

 

We need leaders from all walks of life and we need dedicated followers to support them. We need people like you who want to see action now. Welcome!

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