Natural Leadership Needed

With this year’s El Nino weather phenomenon gathering pace, potentially rivalling the 1997 intensity that left insurers wide-eyed, and data indicating July was Earth’s hottest month on record, combined with atmospheric CO2 concentrations now surpassing 400 ppm, it is clear leadership on our changing climate is needed.

El Nino weather phenomenon (Washington Post)

El Nino weather phenomenon (Washington Post)

Unfortunately there is a tendency with large problems that occasionally encroach on one’s daily life to be briefly pondered and then dismissed, not so much due to a lack of interest, but more to a sense of apathy and diminished sense of responsibility. After all, what can we as lone individuals do? In these situations it is best to take a step back and remember that what we have before us did not come about randomly, through a case of bad luck or divine punishment, but rather through what we created as a thinking species (we rarely forget to proclaim our rationality and ability to reflect in comparison to other species on this planet).

To quote systems theorist Ervin László, who inspired the above, “Today’s economic, social and technological environment is our own creation, and only the creativity of our mind – our culture, spirit and consciousness – could enable us to cope with it. Genuine creativity does not remain paralyzed when faced with unusual and unexpected problems but confronts them openly, without prejudice. Cultivating it is a precondition of finding our way toward a globally interconnected society in which individuals, enterprises, states, and the whole family of peoples and nations could live together peacefully, cooperatively, and with mutual benefit”.

Focus is needed on that phrase “confronts them openly, without prejudice”. All of us, as students, doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, teachers, bankers and writers, need to be honest with ourselves and each other and confront what is before us, whilst remembering that it is our inherent gift of creativity that allows us to forge a clearer path ahead. With currently more energy to be exchanged and dissipated over the planet, we can be sure that weather volatility will increase. While we can point fingers at governments or watch Obama being guided past vanishing glaciers by Bear Grylls, we must not forget our own responsibility to confront as well as to create.

Bear Grylls leading Obama around Alaskan glacier

Obama being guided around Alaskan glacier

In each of our days we are creating, yet we are not always conscious of this quiet power. In the stories we tell, the meals we make, the lessons we teach, the projects we design and the laws we write, we are all creating. If we shine our awareness towards this activity combined with the open confrontation of how we are affecting the planet, we will change the course of our somnambulistic spiral towards a path more in keeping with our natural surroundings.

China leads the world in emissions of CO2 (though not per capita), and the grey skies of Shanghai are a recurring scene from their reliance on coal. The media and government are not known for their transparency, yet it appears the leadership is aware of the problems they have created. Last year China spent $83bn on renewable energy, which is more than the US ($34bn) and Europe ($46bn) combined. From marginal power generation in renewables a decade ago, it now accounts for 25 % of their energy mix. There are naturally weaknesses of authoritarian capitalism, but what should be emphasised is their confrontation of the problem of their emissions and the ensuing creative process leading to action, rather than paralysis.

China's largest solar farm in Xuzhou City, Jiangsu, a 20 MW facility

China’s largest solar farm in Xuzhou City, Jiangsu, a 20 MW facility

As the cosmologist Brian Swimme notes, “With the appearance of the human, the coding process of life burst beyond the DNA molecule and began carving its information in stone”. What is argued here is for each of us to become more conscious of the ‘carving’ and to use that power and openly confront the carvings we have created before us. This will be natural leadership and will change the course of Earth’s current climate trajectory.


This article appeared in SALT magazine.

Wangari Maathai: A Green Vision within a Structure of Freedom

Wangari Maathai (Alan Dater and Lisa Merton)

With 7 billion humans on the planet it is easy to talk oneself into accepting one’s own perceived limitations along with the placing of governments, corporations and large institutions on a pedestal. However, some have seen the folly of this apathy and have come to realise themselves as agents of change. One such person, who died nearly 9 months ago, was Wangari Maathai.

A constant battle with President arap Moi. Moi was convicted of bribery in 2006

Born in a village in the highlands of Kenya in 1940, she studied well and ended up doing a masters in biology attained at the University of Pittsburgh which exposed her to the ideas of environmental restoration. Her education continued in anatomy in Germany and was completed at the University of Nairobi, where she was the first East African woman to receive a PhD. This was certainly an accomplishment in a male dominated culture, but there were further battles to be fought against President Daniel arap Moi when she campaigned for a parliamentary seat in 1982. She was denied her right to campaign on a technicality and ended up losing her university position and home.

Maathai and Senator Obama, Nairobi 2006. (Frederick Onyango)

This did not deter her, and she carried on working on her Green Belt Movement with a vision of greening Kenya as well as providing a source of employment for women. This was made possible through Norwegian funds from their Forestry Society and then eventually from UNEP, which allowed expansion beyond Kenya to form the Pan African Green Belt Network. Successful activism includes the prevention of a 60 story complex being built in Uhuru Park and the protection of Karura Forest, with further battles against Moi.

The movement, with its respect for the natural landscape and for individual freedoms, naturally progressed to a democratic movement which kept her continually in and out jail, along with hunger strikes and experiences of police brutality. She finally united the opposition to displace the corrupt government in 2002, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. This was one person’s vision and determination.

Tending seedlings at the Tumutumu Hills nursery (Alan Dater and Lisa Merton)

The Green Belt Movement now has 3,987  supported community tree nurseries across Kenya which take care of more than 8 million indigenous seedlings annually for planting in degraded forest lands, private and public lands, sites of cultural significance and protected reserves. It has planted 47 million trees around Kenya.

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!” Wangari Maathai