January 12, 2022
We live in a polarized world. There have always been debates on what political, societal or behavioral measures create more prosperity, equality, progress and happiness. Debate is good. But increasingly, the different points of views have drifted so far apart, that we seem to have lost our ability to find middle ground.
Unfortunately, climate change is no exception.
On the one side we have the deniers, the procrastinators, the shareholder value purists, and those who simply don’t care. On the other hand, we have the accusatory activists, the ultra-progressive elites, those who want to get rid of capitalism.
“Climate Change is a hoax”
“You cannot be a climate activist unless you go vegan”
“We can all live comfortably even at 3-degree warming”
“We are on our way to climate hell”
“The science is not settled”
“All oil and gas companies are evil”
“ESG is an extreme left agenda”
“Let’s throw some tomatoes at a Van Gogh painting”
I am not Buddhist, but I have always been interested in wisdom across religions. One concept in Buddhism that we might want to embrace so we can accelerate our journey towards net zero (and other Sustainable Development Goals, for that matter) is the so-called Path of the Middle. It does not require too much explanation.
The first principle that might be helpful is to stop looking at anybody as the enemy. Let's drop the notion of being in a war. Greta and the thousands of other young activists are not the enemy. Insulting them needs to stop. But neither is every employee in oil and gas. Nor are the billions of us who are switching on our fossil-fuel powered appliances every day. Once nobody is the enemy, we can be open to talk to each other. More prejudice-free dialogue and civilized debate, please.
For that to happen, though, everyone must embrace the reality that climate change is an existential issue and that we are in this together and only widespread collective action across all parts of society globally will yield success. On the one side it requires the conservative and business-oriented sceptics to stop politicizing the subject and to accept the science. The latest ICCP report is clear: Humans are the main drivers behind rising air and water temperatures, intensifying heat waves, glaciers melting, disruption of the water cycle, lower agricultural yields, massive flooding, etc. - and the pathways that will keep this from getting much worse are ambitious to say the least. We must get rid of this divisive notion of multiple truths and trust the rigour of a global scientific consensus. No more climate misinformation. Anything else is simply irresponsible.
What would a step towards the middle look on the other side? If we want everyone to wake up to the facts and become part of the solution, we may want to refrain from blaming capitalism at large, and appearing anti-business. De-growth may be an intellectually important concept, but it will not massively broaden the amount of people who will actively contribute to solutioning, especially not in the emerging world.
A potentially useful paradigm shift is to look at climate action through the lens of the massive economic opportunity it is. “Let’s create a new economy and prosperity together” is a thought that will resonate with a very broad range of people, including leaders who are responsible for employees or constituents. Al Gore talks about a sustainability revolution and compares it to the industrial and digital revolutions – essentially a pro-business, pro-growth argument that is easy to get excited about.
Next, we must acknowledge that the vast majority of people on the planet are neither climate activists nor climate deniers. If we want massive action, we must win this group over. Everywhere. That is where climate education, objective and balanced, without fear mongering or accusations, comes in. There are many organizations and initiatives doing marvelous work here that just needs to get multiplied – fast. One that I love and I am part of is Climate Fresk.
Finally, my suggestion would be to make the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals the starting point of any conversation. The SDGs represent a holistic, global view of everything that still needs solving. They give everyone a broader lens of what collective progress looks like. It allows every government institution, every corporation and every citizen to dial themselves into the problems and solutions they care the most about. The goals also serve as a reminder that we still must solve several issues, from access to education & health care to clean water and eradicating poverty. Its easy to dismiss some of the goals us “emerging market issues” but even the richest Western countries are far away from SGD 1 “No Poverty”.
“If you tighten the string too much, it will snap, and if you leave it too slack, it won’t play”, said the musician to Siddharta, which triggered his journey to the path of the middle.
The path to accelerated climate action requires all parts of society to contribute. That will only happen if we soften the edges, listen to the other side, meet in the middle, create unlikely coalitions and most importantly bring along the huge group in the middle that ultimately will serve as a multiplier of actions through their business transformation, their purchasing behaviors and their votes.