When in 2009 I took the plunge to leave my high powered job at an oil company to join Greenpeace International as their Communications Director, my life changed. It has never been the same since. It felt like coming home. I was surrounded by people who were working extremely hard to make this world a better place, and not for bonuses, second homes or big cars. Greenpeacers and many fellow travellers had already been campaigning for years to get clean oceans, renewable energy, to keep our forests and ensure ecological farming, amongst other things.
Last Friday marked another day of international climate strikes, with a week full of reports about the UN Climate Action Summit and discussions in New York. Thousands of people are gathering on the streets demanding change. In the ten years since I joined Greenpeace the pressure has built up. Frightening and paralysing “end of time” dates were voiced, stating by when we would meet our tipping point. It has been ten years since my transition, hotter than ever, and we are closer to that tipping point.
Earlier this week I attended the B Corp Summit “LeadtheBeat” in Amsterdam (more on that in my next blog post). Companies and individuals came together as part of the B Corp Community. Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. One of the sessions discussed the role of business and whether it is determined by the regulatory and financial systems under which it operates. Two opposite views were argued: business – and consumers/citizens – can catalyse the change we need versus the demand to change the regulatory and financial systems. A false dichotomy, I believe. We need both. The ultimate vote at the debate showed a slight majority to business and consumers. I love the confidence we have in our own actions.
And it is true that we can all make a difference, whether it is because you are out there on the streets demanding climate action, whether you reconsider the way you travel from A to B, or whether you choose to purchase the right goods, and preferably less goods. Less is certainly more when it comes to climate action. Statistics have shown that slower economies are lower carbon economies.
The theory of change at Greenpeace was primarily to go after the power brokers, governments and businesses. Over the years an increasing focus to include citizens in their campaigning has happened, something Avaaz, 350.org, Change.org and others have mastered even more. We can click likes, share posts, join petitions. Yet, we are where we are today. Greta is right in her demands. However, I am slightly anxious that she is becoming our next poster child and that many are paying lip service. We have had ‘Gretas’ in the past. Still, she is rightly getting the attention she deserves, that we deserve, at this point in time.
I am concerned about the ‘other side’ which is more and more sceptical of ‘climate terrorists’. We live in an increasingly polarised society, regarding climate change and other topics. I believe we need to listen to ‘the others’ on the many topics that concern them. Try and understand them, and make them understand ‘us’. We might not be that far apart, or at least recognise one another and understand where we are all coming from.
We need to create more space(s) where we can all come together, have conversations about the transition(s). These conversations can take place in small groups and larger groups, but should most of all be conversations. Many of these are debates, panels, with very little participation of the people in the audience. They are also often moderated or facilitated with the focus mainly on ‘the experts on stage’. Yet, I am convinced that many people could contribute, ‘find the wisdom in the crowd’. I believe we should be open to listen and listen better.
Do you take part in these type of conversations? At work, at home, at public events? Are these indeed conversations, with vulnerability? Or are these feisty debates, that leave you kind of paralysed? Every month I guide a conversation with a small group of people, somewhere in the centre of Amsterdam. We converse about a topic that ‘emerges’ in the beginning of the get-together. This small group of people did not know each other when we started these monthly gatherings. It has now been a year since its beginning and we have conversed about many topics, including controversial ones and also about climate change. We find each other in our differences and explore what that means. We call these gatherings ‘circles’. If you are intrigued, please let me know. I am planning to organise more of these circles. They could also be organised at your company or organisation.