Millennials’ Lessons in Climate Change Leadership

Author: Mark Randall

Today The Economist published four stages to the decline of democracy which is sweeping the world:

1) A charismatic leader promises to save the people;
2) They find an enemy;
3) They undermine democratic institutions;
4) They attempt to crush the opposition.

Secular messianic leadership to a promised land premised on eradication of a common enemy. If there were a shop for ‘Unscrupulous Domination’, the best-selling off-the-shelf pack would be the above.  Then you just need to choose your ‘common enemy’: European Union, immigration, Islam, automation, drugs, etc.

In the developed world, it seems the older people are, the more likely they are to fall for it. This is the case for Trump and Brexit. I’m no psychologist, but nostalgia is a potent force where memory – assisting a healthy emotional state of being – eradicates a considerable amount of the humiliations and failures and, whilst you may not be left with summer days and first kisses, there is a sense that ‘things were better’.

The Russian economist Kondratiev believed there were sixty-year cycles of capitalism, with crises and recovery at the end of each which aligns with the truism of three generations of wealth then returns to relative poverty.

Without a stark reality seeping into their lives from which the first generation built – such as World War II – the third generation’s nostalgia eases them into atrophy. Then they are ripe for narratives constructed with mechanisms of anti-realism using caricatures of invented problems and proposing dangerous solutions. Whatever the cause of this parochialism and navel-gazing, the evidence shows that the young do not want to participate in it and have organised themselves to deal with a real problem – climate change.

Some 97% of climate change scientists agree that climate change is directly caused by human activity. But, of course, science isn’t certainty but, unlike Trump, young people’s analysis seems to be more responsible. If presented with two alternatives, a responsible decision-maker would look for the possible upside of both but then ask which choice could possibly lead to the most damage and does either have a potentially catastrophic outcome.

With this potential catastrophe in mind, the young have organised behind possibly the first singular uniting concept in human history which has no obvious favour or detriment to any grouping/s of nationality, ethnicity, religion or gender. It has operationality through the internet, supported overwhelmingly by academic authority and fuelled by the injustice of the abject rejection of real issues from adults. At its core, the movement shows a gratitude for the planet, a humility in seeing human existence as contingent and a sense of stewardship and collective responsibility. These are primary concepts that, since the demise of organised religion, have been side-lined with the hubris of the current generation of leaders, but the young seem intent on jolting this into correction.

Economics is changing rapidly, driven by consumer choices. Consumers decide where we attribute value and, as the young shift to low carbon choices, they are putting value in absence along with the materially present. The lack of something will have as much as, if not more, value than the material attributes of the goods. This is something that is fundamentally challenging to governments and businesses and is happening now.

In terms of missing school days in protest again, it’s a question of risk management and, again, the young are right. The media wheeling out prissy talking heads to condemn the protests makes the young further lose faith in the competency of seemingly gaga ‘adult land’.  Either climate change is potentially catastrophic, or it isn’t. Whilst academic debate may continue, the working principle is that it is an existential threat and so the lip service by governments and businesses and resulting incoherency of words and actions has been called out.

They want to see action; they demand it and are developing a potent activism to make it happen. Missing school days is very possibly just the start and I’m sure some will argue that good education has always truly been about nurturing the content of your character rather than forming the content of your knowledge. Donald Trump and Theresa May went to leading universities in their respective countries and I doubt either missed a day to protest.

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