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Op/ed Friday: How climate change scientists are failing climate change initiatives

posted by Joshua on January 13, 2017 in Education, Leadership, Nature
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I teach leadership and I am passionate about reducing global warming. Global warming is a global effect meaning changing it will require global efforts, meaning changing behavior on a global scale. Changing behavior is leadership.

In other words, changing global warming patterns requires leadership, no matter what technological solutions we find.

Global warming leadership: is there any?

I’ve been asking people lately to name effective leaders—people achieving their goals by motivating and influencing people—in the field of global warming. I recommend pausing reading to think of names yourself.

After you guess, I’ll tell you who is leading most effectively by far in global warming. No one has come up with the answer, but everyone, after I told them my answer, has agreed.

The second most common answer I hear is Al Gore. The next after him is Leonardo Di Caprio, which I consider anomalous because the conversation often begins from talking about his recent movie, Before the Flood. Some name Elon Musk or organizations like the IPCC.

The most common answer? Nothing. Most people can’t name an effective leader in global warming.

That lack of leadership is a problem. I suggest that it’s the problem. Not a lack of technological efficiency, not as long as no matter how efficient we make our processes, subject to physical limitations, our current behavior would still produce more CO2 than nature can process. Not too much CO2 or other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and oceans because if we could magically restore them to pre-industrial revolution levels, our current behavior would drive them back up to current levels in a few decades.

Whatever else we do, we have to change our behavior because our behavior is causing the results.

I suggest that effective leadership won’t come from government, nor should we look to government to lead, because government tends to follow what people vote for. I expect change will happen from nature imposing it on us, like with floods, famine, and disease, or by passionate, effective leaders. People want to change, but systems are too hard to change on their own, so they fall back to what’s easiest, which is not to change, to keep driving, flying, and so on.

Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, Mandela, and their peers didn’t get people to do what King, Gandhi, and Mandela wanted them to do. They got people to do what the people themselves already wanted to do. That’s leadership.

The true, effective leaders in global warming

The true effective leaders—people achieving their goals by motivating and influencing people—are the Koch brothers. While nearly everyone knowledgeable on the subject whose wealth or income doesn’t depend on burning fossil fuels agrees that we, collectively, are warming the globe and will create catastrophic results if we don’t change our behavior, they are throttling efforts to change.

In particular, they are among the most effective in setting the public terms of the issue to measuring more than acting on the already overwhelming evidence.

Whom they are leading: scientists

The Koch brothers are calling for more science to delay actions like regulations. Scientists didn’t choose to study climate change to do better measurements. They did it to slow global warming. As long as they keep measuring, they’re following the Koch Brothers, not their own passions.

The Koch brothers’ most important result is to silence and make impotent the people who know the most: climate scientists. That entire community, who could influence us the most, has devoted itself to measuring more data more accurately, retreating from the passion that led them to the field, at least those who pursued climate science not just to measure the problem but to do something effective about it.

The Titanic has a hole in the hull, water is gushing in, and the people who can do something about it are measuring the size of the hole, the rate of water flow, and such things, but not fixing it. They are instead gathering more data to try to persuade a small number of people who will never be persuaded, no matter how much data they present.

One could argue that the Koch brothers are leading the entire community of scientists to gather data instead of acting on it. The scientists are following the Koch brothers’ lead. I don’t think they realize it. I think scientists think they are competing with the Koch brothers. I disagree. They look to me like they are following them.

The situation feels tragic, partly for the scientists, mainly for the future generations whose cities and homes the ocean will submerge and will have to live with all the other results of our burning fossil fuels.

The value of scientists

People like Al Gore and Leonardo Di Caprio have strong skills to influence people but their credibility is low. Scientists have high credibility, but their abilities to influence and persuade are low.

I don’t think we’ll get far teaching Di Caprio science so I think teaching scientists leadership skills will increase the chances of changing global behavior to slow and reverse global warming. I think a major problem is that scientists themselves aren’t changing their behavior, at least not from what I’ve seen. They fly around as much as anyone.

Scientists are credible but don’t know how to influence. People like Leonardo Di Caprio know how to influence but aren’t credible. I think it’s easier to teach scientists how to lead than to teach celebrities enough science to make them credible, or to get them to reduce their pollution like we want most people to. Hence my passion, as someone trained in science, for leadership.

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