There’s a green bucket in the park where I go running. It’s been there for over a year, as far as I know. It’s placed under a tap, and it’s always full of water – a simple solution to the fact that lots of dogs get walked in that park, and they get thirsty. I don’t know who thought of it, I don’t know put it there, but everyone takes their dog there to drink.
I’ve been thinking about the bucket these past few days.
Much of the time, our emphasis as climate activists is on the Government, and what laws, regulations and policy Governments must set to solve climate change. Of course, this is essential. We can’t solve climate change without major structural changes to our economy and society, which in our current political structures only Governments are in a position to make happen. As my friend John Hepburn from Greenpeace wisely wrote in one of his commentaries on the state of the climate movement:
“Encouraging people to take personal, voluntary action is great at one level, but it is no where near sufficient to bring about any where near the changes required within an ever closing time frame. And it brings the risk of de-politicising the issue by shifting focus onto individual consumers rather than powerholders. Of course, there is the argument that once people have their own backyard in order they’ll be a lot more willing to call for others to change. And voluntary, lifestyle action can often be an important stepping-stone along a journey of political development, but it’s a very roundabout way of trying to get change – particularly if you’re in a hurry and the stakes are this high. When we wanted to stop asbestos being used we just banned it – we didn’t ask people to voluntary seek alternatives while continuing to subsidise asbestos producers. It’s far simpler and far more effective to simply ban new coal fired power stations or put a tax on carbon than it is to convince 10 Million households to voluntarily buy green power.”
I completely agree. And I think about the role of the bucket. The bucket is a simple gesture that while we demand solutions from Government, we can also start creating them ourselves. The bucket would be meaningless without the park, which was created and maintained by our local council. Yet the park would be less enjoyable without the bucket.
The bucket shows the people who maintain the park that the park is being used, by happy dogs and happy people. It’s a symbol that we, the community, are proud to contribute to the services of the park.
This year, I’m doing a 10 month long course run by the Benevolent Society called Sydney Social Leadership. It involves a lot of reading. The core texts – including Ronald Heifetz’s book Leadership Without Easy Answers, and Dean William’s book Real Leadership, delve into the idea of adaptive challenges – challenges that do not subside even when management applies the best-known methods and procedures to solve the problem. Generally, the resolution of an adaptive challenge requires a shift in values and mind-sets.
Now normally, in most contexts, when people go about solving about adaptive challenges, they are talking about Governments or “leaders” taking the people through the journey of solving the problem, so community mind-sets change.
It’s different with the current Australian context on climate change. The vast majority of the community is demanding strong action, and has been for a long time.
An Auspoll survey taken at the end of March shows more than two thirds (68%) of Australians are concerned about climate change. In addition, almost eight out of ten Australians, 77%, support climate action to give the planet the benefit of the doubt. It’s also affecting their attitudes towards voting, with 35% of voters saying they would be more likely to vote for the Rudd Government if they were to take stronger action on climate change; only 16% would be less likely.
This contrasts to what many politicians are saying – and doing. Community attitudes are still way ahead of the Government.
One of the things that Heifetz stresses is that leadership is not the same as authority. Leadership can come from any employee of a company, any member of a society. Gandhi, Rosa Parkes, and Martin Luther King Jnr had no position of formal power, yet they exercised incredible leadership to change not only laws, but the hearts and minds of the community at large, and those in power.
We are facing a similar situation today. The true leaders I have met on climate change are ordinary people, not politicians, doing the hard adaptive work to change politician’s mindsets and laws. People like Jenny Curtis, a mum from Climate Change Balmain-Rozelle who works tirelessly with her local community and organised a great campaign called ‘Step it Up Australia’. Like Sasha Hunt, who when I first met her was a school student in Lismore who has set up a network of high school climate groups, and is now helping co-ordinate AYCC in Canberra with the tireless ACT AYCC co-ordinator Charlie Wood.
I was re-reading an old article from the SMH about the spontaneous protests that erupted outside politicians’ offices when Rudd’s target of 5% was announced last year. There was a quote from Jenny Curtis, who had organised her group to surround Tania Plibersek’s office in flippers and goggles in reference to rising sea levels caused by global warming. “What does Kevin Rudd say to all those thousands of people who have Walked against Warming, who have turned their lights out in Earth Hour? If he’s looking for a mandate from the people to go for strong targets then what do we have to do?” she said.
Although of course we will never be finished with the education and empowerment work we do with many aspects of the community who aren’t yet as engaged on climate change (as we’ve seen from the upswing in climate denialism in the last few months), I do believe – and the polls support this – that the community is ready for the journey though this adaptive challenge. Ready for a power shift from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Ready for a transition to sustainability.
Our green bucket is there, but the surrounding park is not.
The blockage that’s stoping us from solving this adaptive challenge is not the community, but our Government. So the climate movement – and the Australian population – is showing true leadership. Our politicians should start listening. After all, I hear it’s still not easy to find a new job in this economic climate.