Global warming, leadership, and leaders
Probably all of us have heard about global warming. Some may be more concerned about it than others. We, The Meaning of Life Team, are alarmed. Global warming and other related environmental issues can threaten humanity’s future and potential, and without such future and potential, we may lose the meaning of our life, the purpose of the life of humanity.
If you don’t believe that global warming is a major or the major challenge for humanity (in spite of all the laboratory evidence, Earth-wide gauges, and already-serious consequences), then this post is not for you. Still, this post is not about global warming itself, but few of the difficulties of managing it or its consequences.
Global warming is (what a surprise) a worldwide phenomenon. All of us, all the 7+ billion human beings contribute to it with our carbon footprints. Consequently, the solution(s) (any solution) must be global as well. No individual act can prevent or mitigate a problem of such magnitude. Any global solution, even, e.g., a global movement of individual people reducing their personal carbon use, must be initiated or co-ordinated somehow by someone(s). So the role of the leaders (any leader’s) is crucial for these most wanted and most hoped-for developments.
There are various types of leaders. The most obvious and visible ones are political leaders, authorized to act on our behalf. Business leaders are also directly making decisions sometimes affecting the lives of millions. Religious leaders may just influence, not command their followers, but their power is undeniable. Hollywood stars, especially the rich and famous ones, visit us daily in our home as role models through the television, tabloids and the net.
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of these leaders, a celebrity, and a paradigm for many people. He is also a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change designated by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014. So his leadership doesn’t come with decision-making power, but his influence far exceeds his symbolic role.
His actual contribution to this symbolic level was adequate. His movie “Before the Flood” was well receipted, met the expectations of professional climate researchers, environmental activists, and the general public. It is difficult to judge a case of an actor and a movie, but many think that he is honestly concerned about climate change and he expressed his own sincere opinion regarding the required actions.
Especially because of this perceived honestly, it was a bitter disappointment to learn that he regularly takes private jets, even for a trip to accept an environmental award. He did that in spite of his statements in the movie and his evident knowledge of the carbon footprint of such private jets. Furthermore, he did those in spite of the apparent risk of potentially damaging his own reputation, one of his (an actor’s) most valuable assets. Even after the scandal he couldn’t stand in front of us and say that he was sorry and it won’t happen again.
We are not here to condemn him; we are here to understand the incident, and its causes and implications. There are other well-known examples of leaders not just neglecting climate problems, but actively disrupting vital safeguards of the natural environment and diminishing international cooperations for solutions. (yes, he is the man) So this phenomenon, leadership problems regarding environmental issues, is relevant, and worth looking at it.
The reasons behind Leonardo’s actions were probably as follows: convenience, sheer habits, self-esteem, display of status symbols, peer pressure & comparison, expectations of friends & relatives and privacy issues. If you were such a big star, you would also appreciate some peaceful hours on a private plane without other passengers to approaching you all the time for an autograph. Understanding breeds empathy.
However, in spite of all our understanding and empathy, such behavior is harmful in more than one level:
- Private jets do have huge environmental footprints. It is not by accident that experts recommend public transport.
- Bad example 1. “OK, I cannot have a private jet (yet), but at least I will travel first class, by limousine and I will go on a hunting trip to Africa.”
- Bad example 1. “if he, the Messenger of Peace with climate change focus can do such things, and can slip through the net, I can do anything!”
In the long term, the environmental situation gets worse, so we cannot afford such mistakes and behavior indefinitely. Ultimately climate disasters can change their minds, but can we afford to wait until the last minute?
So first, sooner better than later we must persuade these leaders somehow to act more responsibly. Yes, we must convince Leonardo Di Caprio to give up private jets. The real question is how do you do it? How can you make them give up something from their status symbols or comfort? They get used to situations when they persuade or force others. How can you influence, teach or force those, who get used to influencing millions, showing an example to many and (in case of politicians) having the force of the very state behind them? How can you even reach them in their private jets and behind their walls and bodyguards?
There is a simple answer: not easily. But we have to try because the prize is great: their decisions affect our and our children’s future, they influence the behavior of millions.
You cannot force the rich and powerful to act properly because they have more power than you have. You have to be more clever, diligent and persistent. They are just humans after all, fundamentally similar to you.
First of all: don’t try to do it alone. Our power is our number. They are a few; we are many. They do depend on us, on several people to get their wealth, to gain popularity and to have security. We provide these to them.
There are many possible ideas/methods. For example, you can:
- Initiate a movement. Try to reach and recruit similar-minded people. Be a leader yourself; it will give you initial leverage.
- Use the results of the science of persuasion and psychology. You know, just humans, they are…
- Go gradually, step by step, through many intermediaries. Don’t try to hunt down the lion first, try to catch smaller fishes at the beginning. Build step-stones, gather your strength.
- Collect ideas from many people. Some of your newly acquired comrades may have a brilliant idea.
- Think long term. You don’t have to come up with a solution tomorrow. The environment problem will stay with us for a while…
Or you can just join us. We are already working on the problem.