STRESS LESS: The Stress Test on Climate Competitiveness
By Bruce Piasecki, author of Doing More with Less
The climate crisis is cornering many of us, both at our coastlines, in firestorms, and in heat waves. But you can come out of the corner, and help improve the prospects by doing more with less.
There is an entire science to the emotional intelligence it takes to stress less. I provide here the first of several excerpts I will provide, with commentary, in the coming year.
All of these short entries will point to one result: You can come out of what we are calling “climate anxiety” into action and change for many good solid human reasons.
This first excerpt is from a world excerpt who happens to live in Calgary, Canada. What follows helps you think of the frame in a Canadian context, but it is the same framework that works for Asia, Europe and the United States. This piece is written by Gordon Lambert, a man I’ve worked with for two decades. He is a major change agent, and is teaching us all how to compete on sustainability.
You can come out of the test by stressing less, and come out of it faster and stronger.
If I was an appointed reverend, I’d hail this text before my congregation as required reading. Breath, as you read this. Learn how to frame your response to “climate anxiety”.
ADVICE ON FRAMING A CLIMATE RESPONSE, BY GORDON LAMBERT, CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD
Global Climate Change is complex, both in attempting to understand the problem and also in understanding its potential solutions.
The amount of information on the issue as reported in public and social media together with in-depth reporting and publishing on the science, economic, energy, and political dimensions of the problem can be overwhelming.
My reflection, having engaged on this challenge over 25 years, on how to better deal with this complexity, is to frame the Global Climate Change challenge as having two complementary but distinct narratives.
- There is the problem narrative and there is the solution space narrative.
- Think of these as two sides of the same coin.
- But each has a distinct language and has distinct implications in how we engage on the climate change issue. Framing matters.
- When we combine the problem narrative with the solution space narrative, it often leads to widely divergent perspectives at best and at its worst it leads to polarization, gridlock, and judgmental discourse about whom to blame and about why actions in any form are never good enough.
WHAT I’VE SEEN FOR 25 YEARS IN CORPORATE PRACTICE
I often see both narratives being mashed together. Discipline is required to treat them as complementary but distinct.
- The problem based narrative leads to translation of GHG (Green House Gas) concentrations to current and future levels of GHG emissions. For CO2 this can be translated to carbon budgets and to GHG emission baselines and reduction obligations, whether by country, regions, or sectors.
- The narrative often includes the term “deep cuts” as being required and calls for the need to keep carbon in the ground, including coal, oil, and natural gas
- The mindset associated with the need for “deep cuts” requires anyone associated with GHG emissions, including both producers of carbon based energy and consumers of fossil fuels, to assume an equitable amount of reduction obligations that is often intended to be painful, punitive, or both.
- But here is the stinger. We have seen over the history of international negotiations up to the Paris Conference, that concluding negotiations based on “equitable allocation of pain” is a virtually impossible negotiation to conclude.
- The same reality has characterized Canada’s national climate policy efforts. Each province has a unique set of energy resources whether its hydro, coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, or biomass. Reduction opportunities vary accordingly. There have been many failed attempts to land on a national view of equitable provincial contributions.
- Simply put, it is human nature that pain is something to be avoided. It is also true that equity in who allocates and who assumes pain is in the eyes of the beholder.
LET US REFRAME A RESPONSE TO THESE CONTROLLING TEN VARIABLES
It is appropriate to have a science-based aspiration for what we are trying to achieve over time. But it is inappropriate to use climate science-based outcomes as the basis for the architecture of public policy.
Energy system-based outcomes, as discussed later in this article, allow for more effective translation of ambition to real actions. My experience working within a corporate context, trying to engage management and employees who operate major facilities on how to take climate action, has led me to realize that they do not understand how to achieve tonnes of GHG reductions from a baseline.
Talking to employees or the general public about climate math simply does not empower them to act. If goals and outcomes centre on energy efficiency improvements, production process improvements, technology choices, design standards, or behavioural changes, I could get them engaged.
The problem with narrative by its nature is based on a negative vision.
HERE IS THE FIRST STEP
The first step on any epic and challenging journey that we have never done before is the hardest.
Yes, we need directional guidance on climate-based outcomes because it is the true purpose. Like framing matters, so does context.
As the context for choices changes, it causes us to have to make different decisions, to design choices, and to innovate in new ways in order to create the future that fits the new and emerging conditions of the time.
And we have to reduce or mitigate the undesired impacts of our legacy choices to the extent we can.
But like good architects, we spend almost no time beating ourselves up for our legacy designs. Real change is only possible by what we do going forward.
Energy transition or transformation is a positive vision in the sense that we need to attract capital and human talent to create this energy future. And the energy future we create can be more productive, with less waste, enhanced quality of life, and it can stabilize and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases. It can be designed to create energy for all households and people in the world that lifts their quality of life and allows them to reach their full potential.
THE BOTTOM LINE NEED FOR THIS YEAR:
To be successful, we need goals and outcomes to be defined, with supportive public policies, such as placing a price on carbon that drives better decisions and behaviours, and we need human and financial resources to be allocated to solutions and a transition.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF PROPER FRAMING:
Change of the scale and pace of this energy transition will create winners and losers. But businesses creating and adapting to change is what drives opportunity and value creation.
Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction”.
We will see creative destruction at a large scale. The majority of legacy energy companies involved in hydrocarbons like coal and oil know that the world going forward is not the same world we have experienced in the past.
The least plausible scenario is one where the future is an extension of the past. Leaders among them know they have the ability to be part of the solution going forward and can transition to new products and services that will thrive.
They are investing in renewable energy and emerging energy technologies that will create the future. Those that do not will be at high risk of failure. This is all part of engaging on a change journey that is inspiring and purposeful.
This will require that we inspire our next generation leaders and young people to develop the skills needed. We need them to lead on this energy transition journey. Polarizing behaviour and gridlock would be a tragic choice.
It is a very real risk in a polarized world, that the more anxiety and fear that gets created over the problem, the more it seems likely we could default to conflict and blame.
- This brings me back to why we need to be precise in our framing of the narrative.
- Leaders across all segments of society need to ensure we place inspired human energy towards a solution-oriented effort.
- We can legitimately be concerned and anxious about the problem, but leaders across all of civil society have to absolutely reinforce and invigorate the solution space narrative.
- If we default to the problem narrative as our dominant mindset, it leads to blame and gridlock.
Imagine a metaphor of road cycling as in the grand tours like the Tour de France. If you adopted a mindset of “you win by making others lose” as we often seem to do in many climate campaigns, you would simply throw wrenches into the spokes of fellow riders. It makes for more drama and attracts media attention with crashes and injuries, but as riders, you quickly lose sight of the race you are in.
In contrast, the culture of the road cycling riders in what is known as the “peloton” is that it is both highly competitive and deeply collaborative. There is a common goal to get to the finish line as a goal and achieve it as quickly as possible.
They encourage breakouts, they highly value diversity of skills, but absolutely discourage and have zero tolerance for free riders. They take turns leading and following to drive the optimum collective performance from their best use of human energy. On a daunting challenge like global climate change and particularly with the spirit at play among countries following the Paris conference, let’s be bold enough to imagine and declare a peloton approach to working collaboratively to create our energy future together for the 21st century and beyond.
“The Paris Accord is Stage 1 of a grand staged race to create a new energy future and to limit the risk of climate change. There will be mountain stages ahead but it is the race of our time and we have to be successful for our children and for future generations.”
Replies should be send to Gord@ahcgroup.com and Bruce@ahcgroup.com
More of our work on energy innovation at www.ahcgroup.com.
Reduced by Bruce Piasecki from CMC Research Institutes “Climate Change: Framing Matters” by Gordon Lambert, Chair of the Board