Likely none of us can give an evidence-supported answer to this question.
Ah, but not knowing the answer still doesn’t stop seven billion of us from having as many different opinions! Skeptics would say climate change is a hoax. Others might be awaiting more science. Those who see the challenge as troubling and very real might say it’s the entrenched self-interest of big oil. Many would point to endemic poverty, arguing that those living on less than two dollars a day and desperately seeking potable water or the next meal for their children can hardly worry about long-term change. Another group might cynically blame media coverage, or dismissively say “the public just doesn’t get it.”
We’ve heard it all before.
But where are the data to support any of these views? What if all these answers are wrong? What if the answer lies in another direction? What if in fact most of the world’s peoples, rich or poor, educated or no, up-to-speed on the issue or only slightly so, indeed share a vague but powerful concern about global change (including climate change but extending as well to planet-wide changes in water availability, global air quality, habitat and species loss, etc.)? What if we’re all failing to act primarily because we don’t see:
– any way our personal effort might by itself make a meaningful difference, and
– any larger framework into which our work might fit – one that might make our individual contributions add up to something effective?
Perhaps on this hemisphere (I’m writing from the US), people initially wonder: what difference can I make? I can minimize my use of energy and resources but I’m just one person. All the energy I save doesn’t matter if two billion faceless Indians and Chinese keep using more and more every day. And in Asia, people think, I’m trying to pull myself and my family from poverty into the middle class – why shouldn’t those faceless Westerners, who got us into this mess, shoulder more responsibility for finding a fix?
Then, once all of us get past this first part to the question, we look around to see if there’s any answer to the second piece. Where are the well-thought-through efforts already underway where I can plug in, and in so doing, make a difference?
This is where leadership comes in. Leadership is about making work effective. Leaders possess the gift, or the art, or the science of helping the rest of us (i) see our hopes and fears in concrete terms, (ii) understand that our individual desires can be and are congruent with larger community priorities, and (iii) each make our unique contribution to a larger whole.
Does that sound impossible? Magical? Just wait. It gets better. Here are the two keys.
First, the leader is rarely a problem solver. Second, leaders should concentrate their attention on simply giving up those things they do that make work ineffective. Less effort? That sounds doable; sounds like good news.
We’ll unpack each of these ideas in the next two posts.