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I guess the clue was in the title: Hope In Hell: A Decade To Confront The Climate Emergency.
It was unlikely to be a relaxing holiday read but, as I turned the pages, what I wasn’t prepared for was how uncomfortable the content would be.
Jonathon Porritt is familiar on our shores and the book, having debuted previously, may be old news to some readers — but for others, he clips along at pace across wide-ranging topics from melting ice and rising seas to peak meat, technology, geo-engineering and China.
He is clearly well-read. I found myself setting the book down and doing a quick Google search to backfill some matters.
I will park the science debate to the side. You are either a believer or a doubter, but if the latter, remember shifts happen, sometimes suddenly. Look to history near term and far for examples, from the abolition of slavery to women’s suffrage and the Berlin Wall coming down to #MeToo rising up.
All those electric vehicles driving off the parking lots, taking the believers with them and leaving doubters in their wake, shows shifts happen. Momentum can gather through the action of one person, one event or one deed. Don’t be left behind.
Now on the other hand, if you are a believer, the trick is not to be a bystander while believing. Sympathetic to the conversation but largely carrying on as normal because you are unclear of the urgency — or that is what it seems everyone else is doing, other than Greta and those noisy student protesters back in 2019.
What did you think when you saw them? “Didn’t happen in my day,” or “Just an excuse to take time off school” or “Really, what is all this noise achieving?” — did something like that cross your mind?
Honestly you wouldn’t be alone, but for our young people, climate change is real. Globally we are knocking on the door of 8billion people and roughly a quarter of them are under 15.
In the next decade as we face some critical climate decisions, these children will be growing up and flexing their consumer choices. Shiny brand promises will need to be verified by substance.
That means supply chains that don’t leave impoverished communities in their wake or subsidised animals in their permanently enclosed pens. Rather each purchase may be quantifiable in terms of the consumer’s personal carbon footprint and contribution towards social equality — contained in the bar code, which if desired, can be added to the buyer’s personal climate and equality contribution app.
For their slightly older relations who are active consumers now, they are the likely beneficiaries of an inter- generational wealth transfer soon to be under way from the baby boomers. Estimates I have seen range from $30-$68trillion.
Youth is wasted on the young and money on the old — well, soon those young people with opinions will be well funded to support their ethos. As they put their money where their mouth is, what assets do you hold that will be stranded along the way?
Physical infrastructure, committed contracts, through to your entity’s investment portfolio or worse, maybe the products you produce. What was beautiful on Instagram in 2021 may one day be shared by influencers showing your brand washed up on our beaches or atop a rubbish pile in the aftermath of yet another weather bomb impacting the lives of the some 2billion people living along the world’s coastlines.
But it’s not just the movement of money and opinions to consider, but also the shift of law. We now have a definition of ecocide emerging, and ambition among some to see it as a prosecutable crime under the Rome statute.
That alone is worthy of pause for thought as you go through 2022 unpacking the news about bushfires here, storms there and displaced communities everywhere, coping with the inevitable famine and the degradation of society that results. It offers an opportunity perhaps to reflect on what part your voice will play in the global commitment to manage climate change.
For this is a universal problem that impacts widely, supercharging other issues, and amplifies the inequality of the economic progress we are so proud of from decades prior.
Hope In Hell finally highlights a speech Thatcher gave to the Royal Society in 1988. With the release of archival material, it shows that in a draft version, Thatcher questioned levies on fossil fuels as well as offering a partial solution to deforestation in third world countries.
The text did not make the final speech, with the book suggesting the Chancellor of the Exchequer sought its removal, considering it contrary to policy and political dynamite.
A little redrafting back there, or a conversation closed down today in the board room here. Because, ‘‘well our business isn’t fishing the oceans or drilling the earth, so we really aren’t that bad” and “we do offset our flights so it must be OK” and “lets not forget, our core purpose doesn’t have the ‘s’ word in it, so really is it our mandate or area of responsibility?”
It’s impossible to estimate the difference Thatcher’s unedited speech could have had, or what might come as a result of active discussion instead of bystander support in your boardroom today.
Maybe 2022 is the year you engage deeper with the science, the debate and the outcomes and flex your voice. Greta and our children will noisily challenge politicians and the corporates and garner column centimetres in the process.
But around our tables, we all have the ability to deepen our understanding of the science, identify the priority and make choices that can bring real change.
We have the ability to shape values and deliver outcomes. We have the ability to deliver not only an economic dividend but also a climate dividend.
And a climate dividend seems to me increasingly important if we want more than just hope in hell.
- Trish Oakley is the chairwoman of the Otago Southland branch of the Institute of Directors (IOD). This article is opinion only and not intended as governance advice. IOD is the professional body for directors and is at the heart of New Zealand's governance community.