Archive | leadership

An individual or group of individuals doing something about climate change – usually mitigation, and usually, behaviour change.

Australia’s watershed moment for a new decade


Amid the wildfires burning through much of south eastern Australia lies a multitude of lessons and heartache for a nation mostly known internationally for its unique wildlife and beautiful beaches.

So many thresholds have been passed – the first time firefighter crews have swapped over by air, the first time the army has been called in to help during bushfires.

And that’s not counting the some reported 12 million acres that have burnt so far. 

But these elements won’t remain in the memories of most Australians as much as the ‘horror movie’ blackened skies that occurred due to the ferocity of the fires, in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. And that’s just for those who had the fortune of not being caught up in the fires themselves.

How will the thousands of tourists remember the seemingly endless hours spent in hot, smokey, darkened skies while waiting for the military to evacuate them from the much-maligned coastal town of Mallacoota? And all the other tourists who had to evacuate or return home early from impending doom?

How will the children stuck in small towns circled by fire remember this event, bearing witness to people all around them who themselves had never seen anything like it? 

So many thresholds have been crossed, on so many levels – images of townsfolk refusing to shake hands with the visiting Prime Minister will forever remain in the Australian political landscape. Singed and screaming koalas, frenzied kangaroos, upturned dead cows, blackened sheep – the list goes on.

And it is only the start of the second month into summer, which usually lasts well into March in the south-eastern states especially Victoria.

Politicians on all sides will, as expected, take sides as to whether climate change is to blame but of course it is not.

Australia’s natural disasters include fire and drought, but climate change makes worse what is already happening. Climate change could be likened to an amplifier – loud speakers applied to music already in the background.

As the International Panel on Climate Change reports (PDF), scientists have high confidence that Australia will have more more intense and frequent fires.

These wicked fires are Australia’s watershed moment in its national journey on climate change policy.

The new year of the new decade will show what happens next.


Carteret islanders: last boats to Bougainville

How do you move 1500 people from their ancestral homes, across more than 86km (53.4 miles) of ocean, to another place, with little funding and few resources?

With dedication and persistence.

Those two qualities are the driving force behind Papua New Guinea’s Ursula Rakova who has been gradually moving clans from the Carteret Island atolls (Tulun) to nearby Bougainville Island, PNG’s most eastern province in the Pacific Ocean.

The Green Herald recently met her during a visit to Australia.

It all started in 2006 when storm surges and king tides were becoming much more frequent for the islands that sit approximately 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) above sea level.

“I look at it more as an obligation to my people,” Ursula says.

“I just feel that I have this obligation to help my people because if I don’t, who is going to help these people?

“Who is going to get them organised and advocate for them?”

Tulele Peisa Founder Ursula Rakova pictured seated, in Melbourne

Tulele Peisa Founder, Ursula Rakova, in Melbourne recently

Rapidly-changing tides in the Carteret Islands

To paint a critical picture: in 1984 it would have taken you 20 minutes to walk from one end of Ursula’s island to the other.

Today that walk takes one minute.

“We love to swim in the sea, but now it’s turning against us. It’s no longer the happy sea that we want to swim in.”

“It’s really really sad and like a matriarchal society like ours, we will not be able to pass on any land to our daughters.

“Where is justice when it comes to things like that?

In the latest global assessment of climate science – the Climate Science Special Report from the US Global Change Research Program – the current rate of sea-level rise (about 3 inches since 1993) is faster than the rate during any preceding century in the past 28,000 years.

A map of the Carteret Atolls

The Carteret Atolls

Called on by her people

Ursula, who has always worked in the environmental movement, says she never set out to become the leader and campaigner for the plight of her people.

In 2005, when she was working for Oxfam in Bougainville, elders from the Carteret Islands approached her about problems stemming from increasing shoreline erosion, storm surges and intrusion of seawater into homes and food-growing yards.

The elders made that trip twice more before she eventually agreed to take on their cause.

Tulele Peisa was born. Ursula set up the not-for-profit organisation to manage the relocation program, which is voluntary.

Four other staff assist her in running the relocation program.

Islanders with a boat used in the relocation program

Islanders with a boat used in the relocation program

A slowly-emptying atoll

So far Ursula says she has moved 150 families – equivalent to around 1500 of the 3000 islanders who call the Carteret Island atolls their home.

They have relocated to new islander villages near the coast of Bougainville; close enough to the sea so they can still pay their homelands a visit; far enough from the shore so the sea water keeps away.

But not all families, or clans, have adapted to their new location, Ursula says.

“Just last year one family had to return to their island, because they couldn’t cope with the physical hardship of growing their own food, making sure their plantation is kept clean and tidy, and so on,” she says.

“They were faced with a lot of criticism from their relatives because they told them ‘why did you have to move back? There is no food here’.”

Two members of the family had since developed illnesses and were in a health centre, Ursula says.

But some elders aren’t ever planning to leave the Carterets

For the remaining Carteret islanders – who need to move by 2030 at the latest – more land needs to be found for their new homes on Bougainville.

Elders aren’t planning to move from their homelands at all but rather live out their remaining years before the sea completely swallows up their atolls, Ursula adds.

The Catholic Church in Germany, the US and Australia have been funding the relocation program.

A new village for the Carteret Islanders, Bougainville

A new village for the Carteret Islanders, Bougainville

Climate Investment Funds, through the Asian Development Bank and World Bank, could not be used for relocation costs, Ursula says, but only for “strategic resilience” of the atolls. Australia has pledged $200 million over four years to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) especially for the Pacific region.

More funding and donations needed

The current church funding represents one third of the total cost of relocating families, she says, and neighbouring governments – including Australia – should be doing more to fill the gap.

“The Bougainville Government has really slackened down in appreciating the fact that an organisation like Tulele Peisa has taken on the role of moving displaced peoples due to climate change,” Ursula says.

“And the Australian Government is a big brother in the Pacific, it really needs to be committed to funding climate change solutions.”

Ursula also called on corporate Australia to exercise their social responsibility and invest in new, clean energy infrastructure in poorer communities such as Papua New Guinea.

“We have talked so much about climate change, so we are still talking policies,” she says.

“It’s okay for maybe other communities but it’s not okay for communities that are already facing the real situation, so we need to start acting.”

The role of ‘big brother’ Australia

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) says the PNG Government and Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) have primary responsibility for the resettlement of PNG residents.

“The Australian Government has supported the ABG to facilitate the resettlement of Carteret Islanders on Bougainville Island,” the spokesperson says.

Australian and PNG government authorities are in discussions about what additional assistance Australia might provide to PNG’s responses to climate change.

The DFAT spokesperson adds the Australian Government is also spending $300 million from 2016 to 2020, on climate change resilience activities in the Pacific, including $75 million for disaster preparedness, under the Australia-Pacific Climate Change Action initiative.

“Australia believes that the best response to the impacts of climate change is preparedness through effective adaptation and mitigation in the first instance, followed by well-supported and planned internal relocation,” the spokesperson says.

Pacific to meet the Arctic

Ursula says she is involved in efforts to bring together displaced communities from the opposite side of the world.

In October this year, she says more than 56 Pacific and Alaskan communities will come together in Anchorage, Alaska, to forge an alliance to garner support and funding for climate-forced displacement, organised by the US-based Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.


Nobel Laureate Q & A: Professor Peter Doherty

One of the world’s Nobel Laureates recommends building more energy-efficient buildings as one way to protect our health from global warming.

Australian Nobel Laureate and author, Professor Peter Doherty, 77, recently met with The Green Herald to talk about the health impacts of climate change from his acclaimed perspective, punctured with his own sense of humour.

In 1996, Professor Doherty shared The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Professor Rolf Zinkernagel, for discovering the nature of cellular immune defence, resulting in the development of further vaccines and medicines for infectious diseases.

He was awarded Australia’s highest honour in 1997, the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

Laureate Professor Peter Doherty and The Green Herald’s Caroline Gonzalez

TGH: Can you think of any climate change health impacts that will force us to potentially develop a raft of vaccines for diseases that we don’t yet have?

Prof Doherty: There are whole families of viruses that we could think about as potential threats but you can’t really predict. There’s been a whole lot of stuff about what will be the next influenza, you can’t do it actually. I know there are various people who try, but you just can’t predict these things.

We just had a meeting on influenza this week – it’s the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed more people than the First World War. The First World War killed 37 million people. The flu pandemic probably killed 50 (million) – maybe 100 because they didn’t count them neither in African colonies very well, with the communication systems and the rest of it, so we don’t know.

We’d like to know better how to make vaccines against a lot of things more quickly. It still takes six months for us to get a flu vaccine out there after we start a pandemic and that’s one of the most familiar vaccines on the planet.

So when you see a movie like…Contagion, it is really quite good. I talk about it in all my slides. They discover a vaccine and two days later they’re giving it to everybody. Well, it just doesn’t work like that.

What you want to do is have very good diagnosis and very good health professionals who are looking at any outbreak anywhere on the planet. And the American CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, has been doing that.

Look at China for instance – they have at least two enormous infectious disease hospitals that are ready for a pandemic. There’s one on the outskirts of Shanghai I visited, that has about six or eight hospital buildings – seven of them aren’t in use, they are just being maintained and the eighth one is in use. But what would happen if they had a major pandemic is: infectious disease professionals from all over the country would go there and they would boot this thing up. And there’s another one (infectious disease hospital) outside Beijing and in Hong Kong.

TGH: Was it ever a goal of yours to have something like The Doherty Institute?

Prof Doherty: No, absolutely not. I started as a vet so if things had gone the way my career would have normally gone – within a reasonably successful career – I would’ve been director of the Geelong lab with the CSIRO, that’s where I was headed. And then we made a big discovery and took me off-track. I would have been living in Ocean Grove…and I would have been retired for at least 12 to 15 years. I’m still not fully retired, I’m working three days a week.

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne – “the closest thing to a CDC (Communicable Disease Centre) in Australia” says Prof Doherty – consists of a:

  • University academic department
  • State viral diagnostic lab
  • State bacterial diagnostic lab
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) Influenza Centre (one of six in the world).

TGH: What do you think countries like Australia should be doing for adaptation for the health impacts of climate change?

Prof Doherty: In so many buildings here in this city, there’s no double-glazing, little or no insulation, nor energy-efficiency…and no plants around them. What we need to be building, are healthy buildings – buildings that will actually protect people from extremes of temperature. I think that’s one thing we could be doing at a relatively limited cost, but we’re not doing it.

If we’re going tackle this, it’s like any big issue…it has to be done through government. What really matters is to get the right policy settings in place. If you have the right policy setting, then things will start to happen.

I’m so despairing about the politicians, I think this is a terrible (Federal Australian) government.

TGH: What are you up to nowadays?

Prof Doherty:  I help out and particularly with writing stuff up. I’ve been trying to train people to write. People don’t write very well…particularly scientists.

I’m so sick of scientific writing – I mean, it’s awful!

The people who work with me are supervising the students. I sort of go to lab meetings and give my 10 cents worth occasionally.


Laureate Professor Doherty – who spent most of his active research career in the United States at the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis – is writing his sixth book due out in October.

It’s based on his extensive global travels for his work over many years.

“It’s called The Incidental Tourist, some rotten person had stolen The Accidental Tourist!,” Prof Doherty says with a grin.

Laureate Professor Peter Doherty

Laureate Professor Peter Dohert

What are the health impacts of climate change?

Impacts can be direct – a heatwave – or indirect – such as increased risk of tick-borne diseases due to changes in the environment. The impacts heavily depend on whether you live in a developed or developing country.

Here is a short list:

  • heat stress
  • malnutrition
  • rise in asthma
  • increase in malaria, dengue
  • rise in bacteria and viruses.

Sources: World Health Organisation ‘Climate change and health’,  IPCC AR5 Working Group II Chapter 11, ‘Human Health: Impacts, Adaptation, and Co-Benefits.

Prof Doherty’s recommended actions:

  1. Get involved in citizen science.
  2. Install solar panels.
  3. Insulate your home.
  4. Build energy-efficient homes and buildings.

Health and climate change on Kiribati

This article on Kiribati, written by Caroline Gonzalez, first appeared in Inside ACEM, a collection of anecdotes and personal stories of emergency medicine physicians from Australia and New Zealand, published by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) in Australia. A modified version appears here with permission from ACEM.

Imagine only having 100 metres each way between your bedroom and the ocean.

It’s a fine line, but that’s the environment Australian emergency medicine physician, Dr Brady Tassicker FACEM, experienced while working at the hospital on the main island of Kiribati (pronounced ‘Kiri-bass’) for a total of two years.

“It’s one of the most overcrowded stretches of land in the world, it’s ridiculous – it’s 25km long, 200m wide and it’s got 60,000 people on it,” Dr Tassicker says.

A dried-out shoreline in Tarawa, Kiribati

Tarawa, the main island of Kiribati

Jobs and an ‘incredible’ birth rate are driving a rise in the population to the small main island of Tarawa – a location that has been identified as being one of the first to feel the impact of sea level rise in the future as projected by the world authority on the science of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dr Tassicker has worked on two separate occasions on the island: in 2003, and, more recently, with his young family in the 12 months to January this year.

Dr Brady Tassicker relaxing with his children

Dr Tassicker FACEM enjoying down time with his children

Overstretched healthcare

There are two hospitals on Tarawa – a little more than 100 beds in total. Dr Tassicker says he noticed a surge in the prevalence of tuberculosis in the always-overcrowded emergency department between his two stints on the island.

“It was quite normal to be running at 200 to 250 per cent capacity – with admitted patients,” he says. “The patients overflowed out on to an open air, undercover area.”

“One of the things I was instrumental in doing was formalising that process in putting in rails and demarcating the area so it was quite clear if you are not in this area, we can’t look after you.”

Kiribati is a speck on the world stage in many measures – including greenhouse gas emissions – but it is ranked in the top three countries in the world for having the greatest proportion of a population with diabetes, says Dr Tassicker.

That’s not to mention a pollution problem – mainly from the fact that most homes don’t have toilets – so contracting typhoid is an ever-present risk when swimming at the tropical beach.

Tarawa Hospital cardiac arrest unit in overflow of patients

Cardiac arrest in overflow, Tarawa

Present and future challenges

Kiribati sits approximately three metres above sea level. However, a minimum sea level rise of 40cm is projected for 2080 to 2100, in the IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, based on historical greenhouse gas emissions and those in line with a minimum 2°C degree global temperature rise under the Paris Agreement.

Much of the invisible riddle of climate change was evident to Dr Tassicker, that the physical impacts were not immediately apparent.

“Everyone hears ‘Kiribati’ and thinks climate change – sea level rise…but a lot of that I’m not seeing any evidence of,” he says.

“Having said that, they always live on the borderline and with the overcrowding, more and more people are living on marginal land, so they get inundated with high tides and those sorts of things…”

“The future is very grim.”

Adaptation in motion

Greater fluctuations in rainfall are also projected – a major threat to the health and security of the population – and the stressed water supply is currently getting worse, Dr Tassicker says.

While climate change is still considered politically controversial in Australia, he knows first hand that it’s certainly not the case in Kiribati.

“The population is very aware of the issues of climate change… they have working bees to plant mangroves to protect against erosion – there is a background level of anxiety.”

The Kiribati Government has purchased land in Fiji, some people have already moved to New Zealand, and there are moves to recruit help to build islands.

“The people in Kiribati are very attached to their own land,” Dr Tassicker says. “Culturally even the thought of turning your back on the land is very confronting.”

A rewarding challenge

It may not be paradise but Dr Tassicker, who lives in the southern Australian island of Tasmania, would do it all over again.

“You’ve got to have pretty thick skin and be comfortable with failure because you’ll have plenty of patients die on you, that you wouldn’t have die on you back home – lack of resources, challenges of delivering the treatment that you should be able to deliver in practice.”

The Tarawa emergency department

An assessment room of the Tarawa Hospital, Kiribati


Aspen’s renewable legacy

Before the world knew the phrase ‘climate change’, Aspen snow resort in the United States was busy setting a goal to get 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

It was the 1990s and the municipal City of Aspen wanted to invest in building its own hydro power dams and solar and wind farms.

Aspen Mountain in autumn or fall - showing leadership on climate change

Aspen Mountain in autumn/fall

Fast forward to 2015 and that goal was achieved – ahead of the world’s snow resorts.

It was a continuation of setting records. In 1880, Aspen was the first city west of the Mississippi River in the States to have electrified street lights powered by hydroelectricity.

Aspen, regarded as one of the best and glamorous snow resorts, attracts celebrities and tourists from around the world.

Renewable energy mix

Ashley Perl from the City of Aspen explains the municipal city owns two hydro dams, a solar farm and wind farms, and is currently building a community solar farm.

  • hydro 50%
  • wind 45%
  • solar 5%

Additionally, renewable energy is supplied from the Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska (MEAN).

‘I’m not aware of any other ski resorts that have 100 per cent renewable energy,’ Ashley says.

A small portion of the renewable energy is used to power the chair lifts on the four mountains that make up Aspen resort.

The majority of the energy is used to provide electricity to the Aspen city of 6000 permanent residents, plus the thousands who come every year to hit the ski slopes.

Furthermore, electricity rates have been locked in at a set rate for the next 20 years.

‘We’ve the sixth lowest energy rates in Colorado,’ Ashley says.

One of three

In the United States, only two other towns can boast 100% renewable energy use – Burlington in Vermont and Greensburg in Kansas, says Ashley.

But of course when we are talking about renewable energy today, it does not mean everything runs on clean energy.

There are buildings and houses that use natural gas, and cars and buses run on oil and petrol or diesel, says Ashley.

‘So the only way to reduce energy consumption now is through efficiency and to convert to electricity eventually,’ she says.

Emissions targets

Therefore, through its Canary Initiative, the City of Aspen has targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050, below 2004 levels.

Ashley, the director of the Initiative, says it includes schemes such as a community bike share program, which has achieved a 60 per cent usage rate by locals. A Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system gave more than a million rides in 2012.

‘You can get anywhere in Aspen with a bus,’ says Ashley.

Ashley says Aspen has always been in a good position to lead on climate change action due to its name and reputation as a national and international snow tourist destination.

‘If we could influence people who come here to take that back to where they come from, that’s the biggest win in our view,’ she says.

A 92 kw solar PV system at Aspen's water treatment plant, combating climate change

The 92 kw solar PV system at Aspen’s water treatment plant

The Maroon Creek Hydroelectric plant produces 450 kw of energy

The Maroon Creek Hydroelectric plant produces 450 kw of energy

Global drive

Snow resorts around the world have been taking stock of climate change impacts for a number of years.

Many resorts boast lifts and gondolas that are powered by renewable energy. measures initiatives in generating or using renewable energy with a database of around 200 resorts from around the world.

Last year, in the lead-up to the world negotiations on climate change action in Paris in December, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project launched its ‘I am Pro Snow’ campaign to drive more snow resorts to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy.


Footprints on the weather

Are you having trouble keeping up with the weather forecast?

Temperature averages are increasingly reaching extremes around the globe and in many cities no other time of year – be it autumn/fall or spring – can bring out the biggest of temperature fluctuations.

Melbourne, in south-eastern Australia, is prone to fluctuating weather, a well-known fact among its residents. Senior forecaster from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Scott Williams, said October was notorious for big temperature fluctuations in Melbourne due to the weather patterns over the continent. Winds over central Australia warm up at the end of winter, bringing warm northerly winds over the city and then cold southerly winds reach up from Tasmania and beyond.

However, Scott said, Melbourne had just experienced its hottest October on record. The mean temperature for the month in the city was 24.3 degrees Celcius in October – almost five degrees above average.

“This last October would have to be viewed as a very extreme month and I’m sure climatologists will claim there’s significant human impact in that,” Scott said.

We know that the global surface temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celcius or 1.4 degrees Farenheit since 1880, as highlighted by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research. The majority of that warming occurred in the past three decades.


Mount Discovery in Antarctica

Photo courtesy of Michael Studinger, Operation IceBridge project scientist. Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


So, how should you respond to such news?

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is part of an award-winning team as Senior Science Editor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She also teaches oceanography at a college in the US.

She recommends:
a) knowing that you have power with your personal choices
b) focusing on what you can change – with a huge emphasis on can. For instance, if you live in an apartment, you won’t exactly get to grow your own food but you can choose to buy locally-grown produce or catch the bus to work.

“Calculating your carbon footprint and understanding your specific impact on the environment is a huge first step,” Laura says.

Take this quick video game-like quiz to get a fair idea of your carbon footprint: Global Footprint Network calculator.

“Then you get to decide how to lessen that impact. Try to lower your footprint by 10 per cent or 20 per cent,” Laura says.

Remembering the power of your money is also important, she says.
“Minimize disposable single use items and buy things that last. Buy locally produced items and minimize purchases of things that have to be transported long distance,” Laura says.
“Try growing some of your own food. That is something we all can do.”

At the end of the day, anthropogenic climate change – otherwise known as human-induced climate change – is the greatest threat of our time, but Laura adds, it’s also a great opportunity.

“As a society, we now have the opportunity to come together, to connect with each other and the world around us, to re-evaluate what’s important in a big way and to build a cleaner way of living using new technologies,” she says. “Without impetus, nothing would ever shift and climate change will certainly provide a big impetus.”

Check out The Green Herald’s road-test of online carbon calculators.


Government leadership is dead

Teutonic Knights at Malbork Castle, Poland 2013.

This essay* on leadership was produced by Green Herald editor Caroline Gonzalez in May 2015, for the subject Sustainability, Governance and Leadership as part of her studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. It cannot be reproduced in any form without the prior written approval of The Green Herald. *All facts were correct at the time of writing.

Arguably, nation states are playing a less prominent role in addressing major sustainability challenges than before. To effectively address these challenges, do we need much stronger leadership from nation states, or is effective leadership more likely to originate from elsewhere?

Leaders from all facets of life and history have shown great determination and courage to lead others to a place, or a future, away from major upheavals such as war, famine, and social decay. From Che Guevara to Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, various sequences of time and place have given birth to long-lasting role models who changed the course of their countries’ history.

Today, there is a much bigger challenge that crosses borders of all countries around the world: climate change. By its very nature, climate change is not an easy beast to tame, so it would take a powerful, global force to set things right.

Climate change poses multiple challenges (National Research Council 2011 cited in Gerrard 2012) not the least of which include:

  • significant time lags in the climate system, between emissions and impacts
  • human systems take a long time to react
  • decisions affecting climate change are made at all levels of society
  • adaptation needs, risks and judgements vary widely across different contexts
  • limiting the impact of climate change requires actions on a global scale. (p.10).

Gupta (2013) points out that turbulent environments foster leaders who motivate individuals to see problems as opportunities and embrace new learning.

Who is most capable of this task today? In his book Doppelt (2010) refers to a current mantra in developed countries that ‘the era of big government is over’ (p.260), because many of the decision-making systems are outdated and inappropriate for the ground-breaking requirements of achieving sustainability. Many businesses are prepared to take risks to innovate and lead the way by example. There is compelling evidence that individuals, particularly from private sectors, have been making a difference (Young 2007, Lovell 2009, Robinson 2014)

Entrepreneurs are especially prone to taking major risks and can operate much more freely of nation states. This is the central argument of this essay: that entrepreneurs are making a major contribution in the fight to save the world from irreversible climate change because they are publicly and repeatedly spreading strong messages of mitigation that nobody else seems to be doing.

I will demonstrate that entrepreneurs are utilising transformational leadership in practical ways to lead the business world: namely by framing a public discourse and using it to harness innovation.

The failure of nation states

A nation state is defined as ‘an independent state where the population is all of one nationality’ (Macquarie Dictionary 2005). In further context for this essay, nation states are most commonly based on an interdependent network of capitalist economies with liberal values and democratic institutions (Hearn 2011). Formed as nations with an ideology of nationalism, nation states tend to be inward-looking, focused on their own culture and thus tend to have a sense of superiority over other nations (Kumar 2010).

Nation states have been signatories to a raft of major multilateral environmental agreements and frameworks. In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was negotiated to mitigate ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate’ (Gerrard 2012). Five years later, the Kyoto Protocol was set up to limit the greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries that would in turn help developing countries to mitigate and adapt (p.11). In 2009, the parties met again for the annual UNFCCC conference in Copenhagen. This year the nation states will meet in Paris for the United Nations Climate Conference. Two of the biggest nation states – the US and China – signed a bilateral deal last year to further cut emissions and set the international stage for negotiations in the French capital (The White House 2014).

It is completely ironic that despite all of these frameworks and conventions that greenhouse gas emissions have now reached a historical high for humankind – 400 parts per million (NASA May 7 2015).

Even in their own countries, many of these nation states have failed the very people they were elected to be serving. In the case of Australia, the Federal Government – the first country in the world to do so – scrapped the carbon tax to help lower the ‘high costs’ of running businesses and families (Liberal Party 2015). The government’s Direct Action Plan has been criticised (Hannam 2014) for being too weak to meet the major challenges ahead. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has publicly backed coal as a continuing source of energy for future decades, stating ‘coal is good for humanity’ (Massola, J et al 2014).

Clearly, something is very wrong.

The key reasons why nation states are failing in their duty to tackle the problem are multi-layered and interlinked. As Hale (2010) points out, constituents have become sceptical of political leadership, which inhibits political action. In addition governments have been afraid to enact ground-breaking changes for fear of affecting international trade markets and of losing the favour of multinational companies that provide the flow of jobs and taxes in their countries.

Politicians from nation states, and their staff, have not been exemplary. Robinson (2014) makes the note that at the UN Rio +20 Conference in Brazil, most diplomats were unaware of their own countries’ environmental laws and practices. As he clearly puts it, a lot of foreign ministries need to be ‘ecologically literate’ (p.476).

An analysis by the American Bar Association (Gerrard 2012) shows that climate change mitigation laws ‘are barely sewn together’. In addition, adaptation laws are not even that: he adds ‘there is little cloth, and the existing scraps are hardly linked’ because there are almost no international laws that exist to explicitly enact adaptation, increase resilience or reduce vulnerability to climate change (p.11).

Christoff (2013) makes the key point that the failure of nation states is based on outdated governance structures and systems that are influenced by ‘neoliberalism’ and which don’t cross boundaries of space and time – the very elements of climate change, as affecting future generations beyond all borders. Economic globalisation has allowed multinational corporations to flourish and in many cases, not be held accountable for environmental degradation that they leave in their wake. In essence, sustainable development transcends nation states (Robinson 2014). The conditions have thus been ripe for non-state actors to emerge as a new form of governance and leadership in climate change.

Transformational leadership: framing a discourse and encouraging innovation

The complexity and high-stakes nature of climate change requires an unique type of leadership. Social influence through ‘words and deeds’ is what differentiates environmental leadership from traditional leadership that is based on power and hierarchy (Egri and Herman 2000 p.572).

Egri and Herman therefore define environmental leadership as:

‘the ability to influence and mobilise organisations to realise the vision of long-term ecological sustainability. Guided by eco-centric values and assumptions, environmental leaders seek to change economic and social systems that they perceive as currently and potentially threatening the health of the biophysical environment.’ (p.572).

There are various examples of leadership in sustainability (Robinson 2014). Chiefly among them are businesses, multinational corporations, scientists and academics, citizen scientists, individuals such as conservationists and religion. Effective environmental leadership is two-fold, both internal and external. Individuals can influence internal stakeholders to follow, such as an employee who tries to get a co-worker to participate in recycling program (Portugal and Yukl 1994). There is a symbolic function to environmental leadership, where individuals demonstrate their commitment to their vision of a better way of looking after the environment by deciding to not have a car and travel by public transport (p.275).

There are various theories and concepts of environmental leadership. Integrative leadership has been defined as bringing together a diverse range of groups and organisations to foster cross-sector collaboration in solving major public problems such as global warming (Crosby and Bryson 2010). Civic leadership centres on how individuals and groups of civilians as a democratising force can rally for ‘the common good’, including the environmental movement (Chrislip and O’Malley 2013).

Sustainable governance has also been studied to show its effectiveness in transforming organisations and businesses into sustainability leaders (Doppelt 2010). Adaptive leadership has been identified as a function of complexity leadership theory (CLT) whereby interdependent agents, such as individuals or groups, work together to come up with novel and innovative solutions for adaptive needs of a system (Uhl-Bien and Marion 2009).

James MacGregor Burns (cited in Chrislip and O’Malley 2013) first identified two central different theories of leadership – transactional and transformational. Transactional leadership operates administratively usually in exchange for ‘money, status or votes’ (p.6) but without a higher purpose, whereas transformational leadership moved leaders and followers beyond day-to-day activities to ‘higher levels of motivation and morality (p.6).

I believe transformational leadership is the central type of leadership needed to transform the way the world approaches climate change. This type of leadership reflects a fundamental theory that leadership is an activity or process, as opposed to a position or an authoritative role (Chrislip and O’Malley 2013).

Egri and Herman (2000) argue that transformational leaders are needed to change the way we relate to the natural environment. It is for their ability to inspire people with their vision to follow them, to create excitement and develop fresh approaches to old problems that transformational leaders are more likely to succeed (p.575). Such leaders, especially in for-profit sectors, are ‘reform environmentalists’ and innovators who have high levels of eco-centric, self-transcendence and openness-to-change values among a diverse set of leadership skills. Such an adaptive combination – especially visioning a future – are suited to the problem of climate change that is heavily tied-up with framing the future. Portugal and Yukl (1994) refer to key environmental leadership behaviour as creating a clear, repetitive and inspiring vision, which is communicated emotively with ‘stories and slogans’ through mass-media.

Two prominent examples of this type of leadership are entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk, who have both used their positions as powerful and very successful businessmen to rally other business leaders to move quickly to renewable energy sources and mitigate climate change.

Virgin Group founder and chairman Sir Richard Branson is a consummate communicator who leverages digital technology to inspire and influence the world around him. Known for thinking outside of the box, he has approximately 5.58million followers on twitter (@richardbranson 2015), where he has said that ‘communication is the most important skill any leader can possess’ (2015). In his blog (2014), Branson says that businesses should operate for both the well-being of people and the planet, not just for profit. As Portugal and Yukl (1994) point out, transformational leaders encourage people to consider the long-term implications of business decisions.

Branson publicly backed Apple CEO Tim Cook who said climate change deniers should ‘get out of the stock’ (2014), adding:

‘More businesses should be following Apple’s stance in encouraging more investment in sustainability. While Tim told sustainability sceptics to “get out of our stock”, I would urge climate change deniers to get out of our way.’

Lovell (2009) categorises Richard Branson as a corporate/business entrepreneur whose main activities are creating and growing businesses with ambitious, aspirational, creative and innovative personal characteristics (p.497). She points to a lack of government action as being the impetus for policy entrepreneurs to get out there and demonstrate what can be achieved. Branson has set up the Carbon War Room with eight other founders, to generate $1trillion of investment by matching profitable carbon reduction technologies with eco-centric entrepreneurs who want to tap into the economic opportunities (Carbon War Room 2015).

Further along the path is SpaceX CEO, Tesla electric motors and Solarcity entrepreneur, Elon Musk, who repeatedly spreads his message of a clean energy future. He personifies the different type of thinking required for tackling major sustainability challenges such as climate change.

Musk, who has 2.1 million followers on twitter (@elonmusk 2015), has expressed concerns at the lack of speed of global innovation to replace fossil-fuel dependent transportation (All in MNSBC 2014). While he acknowledges the legacy of a ‘trillion’ dollars worth of global fossil-fuel based infrastructure is difficult to change quickly, he says there should be a price on carbon to help transform the market to one that pays the real price for emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Musk has also encouraged people to see lack of action on climate change as a crazy experiment (Koebler 2015):

‘If we know we have to get off oil no matter what, we know that is an inescapable outcome, why run this crazy experiment of changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans by adding enormous amounts of CO2 that have been buried since the Precambrian Era? That’s crazy. That’s the dumbest experiment in history, by far.’

By framing the problem in a novel way, Portugal and Yukl (1994) argue, transformational leaders encourage creative and innovative solutions environmental problems.

As Blewitt (2008) explains, successful environmental leadership creates a public dialogue or discourse that challenges opposing views and starts a conversation. Such leaders, who are usually passionate about the subject, encourage ‘flexibility and creativity in thought and expression’ (p.243).

In the unveiling of Tesla’s new Powerwall Home battery – a stationery battery that can power a whole house – Musk said transitioning the world to clean energy was within reach (Russell 2015):

‘This is within the power of humanity to do. It is not impossible, it is something we can do. But there’s going to (need to) be other companies involved.’

Clearly, Musk is trying to rally other businesses to follow his lead on a clean energy vision. As Seyranian (2014) notes, inclusive language has been proven to generate followers and support of renewable energy.

Additionally, Blewitt (2008) says being open to radically different approaches to thinking and operating in the world, such as open source computer software, could be a useful form of environmental leadership. Elon Musk’s electric car and battery company, Tesla, has an open-source policy of its patents, to encourage other companies to develop cars that run on clean energy (Russell 2015).

Entrepreneurs – such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk – are best placed to harness the opportunistic nature of transformational and strategic leadership because they are constantly breaking new ground away from the old, fossil-fuel technologies. Gupta reminds us (2013) that strategic leadership supports sustainable development when it harnesses the ‘entrepreneurial discovery of market knowledge’, coordinates this knowledge and then works to fill the gaps in the market of today with that needed in the future (p.223). It is also an adaptive function of leadership, to create opportunities for innovation and new knowledge while creating a sense of urgency (Meijerink and Stiller 2013). Such leaders create a compelling and practical narrative that cannot be ignored.


Communicating a vision of where we want to be, and getting people to follow, is at the heart of mitigating and adapting to climate change. The principle of creative tension (Senge 1990) – seeing the destination clearly, framing the current reality succinctly, and having a strong vision – all perfectly fit the purpose. The energy of change in this context comes from grasping the vision and what we want to create (p.9), with the reality comfortably sitting in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, nation states just don’t seem to be on board. It’s as if a whole lot of passengers got on board while they dithered on the subject. All around us in the world are examples of people, organisations and individuals working to ensure the future world that generations inherit is not the one that unabated climate change will create. As Elon Musk says, ‘this is within the power of humanity to do.’


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Cup of life

2014_Daniela Gattoni

Daniela Gattoni, a web developer from Santiago in Chile, wanted to do something very simple in her daily life that would help, in any way, to minimise her impact on the environment.

So she started bringing her own reusable coffee cup to her evening classes at university.

‘When people are studying at night after working all day, they don’t have the energy to do a lot so I had to start with a small effort,’ Daniela says.

In Chile, most workplaces and institutions, including universities, provide only disposable cups for tea and coffee. Daniela believes the best waste is that which is not produced. And so #BringYourCup was born. Together with her colleagues Cristian Venegas, Rodrigo Checa and Alex Soble, Daniela entered #BringYourCup into the 2014 Geeklist #hack4good. The global contest attracted more than 1000 attendees who submitted 152 projects to tackle key climate change challenges. #BringYourCup won the national Chile competition, and went on to gain fourth place in the world.

Daniela says the project centres on a prototype for a reminder app to bring your own reusable cup, and encourages users to post to the twitter #BringYourCup with a selfie. This year the #BringYourCup team hopes to have discussions with the Santiago city council that has expressed interest in working with the project. Last year the city’s environment department initiated a recycling scheme at an annual food and wine festival in September, Daniela says.

‘This is a good challenge for us to work the #BringYourCup app and… make it a bit more official and get more people talking about this simple idea,’ she says.
‘I think to have actions for climate change is important because we’re leaving a place for the next generation who’ll live in this world,’ she says. ‘We as adults can give an example to the children to look after the environment.’

Not all paper cups are recycled. In Australia, paper cups can be recycled. As global carbon advisory firm Carbon Clear states on their website, paper cups have a plastic lining to cope with hot beverages but it’s this very lining that can prevent them from being recycled.  Yet while it takes more energy to create reusable ceramic cups, paper cups create far more carbon emissions because they usually end up in rubbish bins, and end up in landfill where they emit greenhouse gases such as methane while decomposing.

So the message is quite simple: take your reusable cup to work, school, university, wherever. And tell your friends and followers, says Daniela. ‘Take your selfie and use the twitter #BringYourCup, encourage your friends – it’s for the children,’ she says.