Chain Reaction Foundation

Are our leaders indeed failing to act?

by Margaret Bell | October 14, 2019

Greta Thunberg and the Uncomfortable Question: Are Our Leaders Failing to Act?

When 16-year-old Greta Thunberg addressed the United Nations' Climate Action Summit this September, hers was not a tone of encouragement or hope. The Swedish high school student -- who reached New York after a long and arduous journey by sea, eschewing carbon-heavy options like air travel -- was not there to provide empty platitudes and other heart-warming soundbites regarding struggle and action. She was angry, and legitimately so.

"We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?" the climate activist said, railing against a system which has -- in Greta's view, and in the view of many others -- sold out our planet's future.

A terrifying prospect for our planet

It is difficult to argue with Ms Thunberg and her message of urgency and fatality. In her address to the summit, she referenced the report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which outlined the path that we -- and our planet -- are currently taking.

The report found that anthropogenic climate change -- i.e. climate change caused by human activity -- currently accounts for 1.0 degree Celsius of global warming beyond pre-industrial levels, although this could be as high as 1.2 degrees Celsius. Continuing at our current rate, we are likely to see 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming between the years 2030 and 2050. The report also stressed that many areas are experiencing warming at well above the global average.

In other words, action is required -- and it is required now.

The uncomfortable question of action

This raises a very uncomfortable question indeed -- are our leaders failing us? In democratic societies such as Australia, we have the luxury of choosing our leaders. This means we invest a  certain level of trust in these leaders and expect them to represent our views, our needs, and our interests at the highest political level.

So, if these leaders are failing to do so -- if they are simply talking about action and not actively engaging in it -- this is a serious problem and a trend that needs to be reversed.

Back in 2015, Glenn Llopis published an article for Forbes that outlined the dangerous line our leaders are taking.

"Many leaders are living under an identity crisis," Llopis wrote. "They are uncertain about how to lead in a more diverse, transient, multigenerational environment that requires them to embrace diversity of thought – and they fail to see the potential opportunities this represents to both workplace and marketplace success".

Grave issues in all leadership spheres

The problem that Llopis identified is not confined simply to our leaders in Parliament House. Instead, it extends to all spheres of leadership. I have spent time in the past discussing how leaders shape our experience across all areas of life, and how each and every one of us must take on a leadership role, in one capacity or another, at some point in our lives. The inertia of inaction is manifest across all leadership types.

Llopis describes complacency in modern leadership, and he describes an inability to think beyond the accepted template of leadership -- or what we understand leadership to be.

This is no longer acceptable. As Greta Thunberg, as well as other activists and scientists, demonstrate, our planet needs action if it is to continue to be habitable. Beyond this, our society needs action if we are to support an effective and inclusive community. All of us need to see action taken by our leaders -- all of us need to be prepared to take action in our various leadership roles.

There is no time like the present -- it is up to us to overhaul the accepted and complacent structures of leadership as practised in our homes, in our parenting practises, at work, when socialising with friends, and when travelling at home or abroad.  It will take that much-concentrated effort to change the status quo.  Why should we bother? For the sake of human life, ours, our children's, our grandchildren's, and our great grandchildren's.

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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