Lessons on Leadership and Global Warming


Global warming.  Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it’s real and that we need to significantly change policies on greenhouse gas emissions.  The group, commissioned by over 100 governments including the United States and China, offered a summary of its (1400+ page) report and issued clear warnings in consensus language.  After hour upon hour of debate the heads of the scientists and government officials delivered four critical findings: temperatures are rising, greenhouse gases are almost certainly a central cause, such gases must be reduced, and even with aggressive greenhouse gas reductions we still need to plan for likely unstoppable effects that will devastate many people and regions of the world.*

In a time when we love to attack our leaders, I think it’s worth celebrating some.  Chief among them:  Al Gore.  Yes, he’s one of my kind, a Democrat, but that’s not the point.  The man sure deserves points for courage, creativity, and commitment to his beliefs.  It takes a visionary to quit the only business you’ve ever known, use innovative tools to move a largely inattentive popular culture, and manage to amass and use a huge pile of what Ron Heifetz and Jim Kouzes have both called the “currency of leadership:” he got people’s attention.

Second, we should thank our popular media – yes, thank our media — for putting the issue in front of us.  Last month, Time magazine ran its 8th cover dedicated to the issue.  Where would we be without the media, urging us to look at the science, and trying to help us non-scientists to weigh scientific data?  Fortune this month also dedicated an entire issue to the growth of green business in light of global threats. 

Third, as Fortune pointed out, there are some great environmental leaders in business.  For instance, DuPont — which was the arch-enemy in the days when its Freon product was blowing a hole in the ozone layer – is now deeply committed to going green.  They saved $3 billion in energy costs between 1990 and 2005, even while increasing industrial production by 40%.  Ten years ago would anyone have believed DuPont CEO Chad Holliday would be testifying on Capitol Hill that “prompt action by congress is needed” on climate change?  Fortune received 100 nominations for companies that were seriously committed to green technology; they highlight ten of them in their April 2 issue.**

What is interesting is the interplay among seeming opposites.  The Democrats — and even harder left-leaning thinkers in Europe — and some moderate Republicans have played a major role.  They have forced new rules and are driving for prudent stewardship of the only planet we’ve got.  AND business and scientific innovation are taking over from there, doing what only they can do.  Either without the other – government without business, or business without government — would be like one hand clapping.  Hopefully, together they can get it right.

Perhaps those who seem to oppose you, have something valuable to add, as you

Lead with your best self,