The recent extreme weather is perhaps leading more people to appreciate the changes in our climate are real and likely to have a serious impact on our way of life [see ‘Climate change and tides in Liverpool‘ on May 11th, 2016]. However, I suspect that most people do not appreciate the likely catastrophic effect of global warming. For example, during the 20th century, the average rise is sea level was 1.7 mm per year; however, since the early 1990s it has been rising at 3 mm per year, and sea levels are currently rising at about 4mm per year according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is difficult to translate statistics of this type into a meaningful format – the graph below helps in recognising the trends but does not convey anything about the impact. However, I am impressed by a new art installation on the Liverpool waterfront by Alicja Biala called ‘Merseyside Totemy’ which illustrates the percentage of each of three high-risk local areas that will be underwater by 2080 if current trends continue: Birkenhead (centre of photograph), Formby (left) and Liverpool City Centre (right behind tree) [see www.biennial.com/collaborations/alicjabiala]. Perhaps using data for 30 years time rather than 60 years would have focussed people’s attention on the need to make changes to alleviate the impact.
At the start of last month, I wrote about the need for national plans to ween us from our addiction to fossil fuels [see ‘Bringing an end to thermodynamic whoopee‘ on December 8th, 2021]. If we are to reduce carbon emissions to the levels agreed in Paris at COP 21 then the majority of the population as well as organisations in a country will need to engage with and support the national plan which implies that it must transcend party politics. This level of engagement will likely require us to have a well-informed public debate in which we listen to diverse perspectives and consider multifarious solutions that address all of the issues, including the interests of a fossil fuel industry that employs tens of millions of people worldwide [see EU JRC Science for Policy report on Employment in the Energy Sector] and makes annual profits measured in hundreds of billions of dollars [see article in Guardian newspaper about $174 billion profit of 24 largest oil companies]. Perhaps, learned societies nationally and universities regionally could collate and corroborate evidence, host public debates, and develop plans. This process is starting to happen organically [for example, see Climate Futures: Developing Net Zero Solutions Using Research and Innovation]; however, the urgency is such that a larger, more focussed and coordinated effort is required if we are to bring about the changes required to avoid the existential threat [see ‘Disruptive change required to avoid existential threats‘ on December 1st, 2021].
I thought the photograph with last week’s blog [see ‘Happy New Year‘ on December 29th, 2021] might cause some comments. It was taken during a road trip in the USA as we were heading west on the Interstate 90, just west of Murdo in South Dakota, on our way to Yellowstone National Park from Michigan where we lived for nearly a decade. It shows a skeleton dinosaur being led on a leash by a skeleton human. As a genus, non-avian dinosaurs existed for about 150 million years and the last one died about 66 million years ago. Our genus, Homo, has only been around for about 2.5 million years so there was never an overlap with dinosaurs. Our species, Homo Sapiens have only been around for about the last 200,000 years. These time-spans are not long relative to the age of the oldest rocks on the planet, which have been estimated to be 4.6 billion years old, and implies that the Earth survived perfectly well without dinosaurs and humans for billions years. We have thrived during an epoch, the Holocene, during which the climate has been relatively stable compared to the previous epoch, the Pleistocene. However, if we cannot resolve the existential threats facing our species then it is likely that, like non-avian dinosaurs, we will only exist as skeletons in the future and the planet will adapt to existence without us. Perhaps the emphasis of many campaigns associated with climate change should shift from saving the planet to saving ourselves – we might be more focussed on coming together to address the selfish challenge.
It is easy for ideas or plans for transformational change to transition into transactional processes that deliver only incremental change. Transformational change is about major shifts in culture, strategy or technology that causes substantial alterations in structure, organisation, behaviour and performance; whereas transactional changes occur within the existing structure and organisation. Leading transformational change is hard and requires courage, vision, a willingness to listen to all stakeholders, decisiveness and communication, i.e. procedural justice and fair processes [see ‘Advice to abbots and other leaders‘ on November 13th, 2019]. If any of these components are absent, especially courage, vision and decisiveness, then transformational change can transition to a transactional process with incremental outcomes. When the need to change becomes urgent due to existential threats, the focus should be on disruptive change [see ‘The disruptive benefit of innovation‘ on May 23rd 2018] but there is a tendency to avoid such transformations and retreat into transactional processes that provide the illusion of progress. Perhaps this is because transformational change requires leaders to be selfless, courageous and to do the right thing not just the easy thing [see ‘Inspirational leadership‘ on March 22nd, 2017]; whereas transactional processes occur within existing frameworks and hence minimise psychological entropy and stress [see ‘Psychological entropy increased by ineffectual leaders‘ on February 10th, 2021]. This tendency to avoid disruptive change happens at all levels in society from individual decisions about lifestyle, through product development in companies, to global conferences on climate change [see ‘Where we are and what we have‘ on November 24th, 2021].
Acknowledgement: thank you to a regular reader of this blog for the stimulating this post with a comment about transformational change left to the last minute becoming transactional.