Leadership means taking personal responsibility for climate action. [22 January 2008 | Peter Boyer]
Talking and listening to people about climate teaches you, among many things, that hypocrisy is part of our lives. Saying one thing and doing another is pretty much how it is.
For instance, I still sometimes drive a car with no passengers and I’m sometimes careless with energy and waste – even though I’ve said these practices aren’t good for the environment.
This makes me a hypocrite. In the test to kick the greenhouse pollution habit I remain below the pass line – something I’m not proud of. I’m working on it.
I wish I could be like Peter Singer, the Australian environmental ethicist now teaching at Harvard, who practises what he preaches. I admire him for the example he sets.
Taking personal responsibility is, to me, the essence of leadership – not whether you’ve been elected or appointed to a high position or have made it to the top in business. Leaders can come from the unlikeliest places, and often do.
In today’s world we’re used to people in charge continually shifting goalposts, or spinning a line that sanctions inaction, or shifting blame to someone else, or loudly proclaiming that they make the rules.
But unlike human opposition, our warming world doesn’t recognise spin or excuses or blame-shifting. When the king tells the tide to recede, it ignores him. When political and corporate bosses divert climate concerns by talking about something else, we know in our hearts they’re not up to the job.
And we lose faith in authority, because it’s only a pretend authority. The real thing is something different altogether.
A real leader will walk the walk. Recognising the dangers of global warming, he or she will change personal habits as necessary, setting an example for others to follow.
Such a leader will be honest enough to say when things aren’t going right, and humble enough to ask for help and invite ideas. And they will understand that now means now, and that promises and plans without action are worthless.
But pause a moment before trying to cut down the tall poppy, because the last thing we need is a vacuum at the top. It may be that change can be driven from below.
The climate challenge demands leadership from everywhere. When we ask whether our leaders are up to the challenge, we should also turn the question to ourselves.
If we can start to change ourselves, we’re that much better placed to tackle leadership. We’re starting to be leaders ourselves.