Periodically, a spark reminds people what has been tolerated for far too long. Perhaps there is no better recent example than Greta Thunberg. The Swedish teenager sat alone at the Stockholm parliament building for the first time in August 2018, holding up a self-painted sign with the words School Strike for Climate. Just over 12 months later she was joined by more than 6 million people, across 185 countries, for the Global School Strike for Climate. Before going any further, I must also acknowledge the Extinction Rebellion’s ‘crusties’ (as Boris Johnson called them) at the other end of the age spectrum for taking action for the planet.
But, in the main, it is young people who have stepped into the void left by previous generations, their parents and grandparents, who focused on creating personal wealth at the expense of society, which includes taking care of the planet.
The Five Facets of Leadership
I have spent most of my working life supporting people who wanted to be good leaders; sad to say that there aren’t many people who aspire to this. Developing as a leader is hard work and most managers are more interested in developing their technical and commercial skills, as these are what tend to be rewarded with higher salaries; most only pay lip service to being a good leader.
When I first started researching what a good leader looks like, in the mid-1990s, I discovered that authentic leadership has 5 different facets. Over the last two decades I have become convinced that to develop as a true leader you need to grow in all of them.
Three of the 5 facets Leading Self, Leading Others and Leading Society are old and have been part and parcel of leadership for millennia. Leading Business and Leading Complexity are much more recent, they are direct products of the emergence of the merchant class and the industrial revolution.
Despite Leading Self and Leading Others gaining new prominence, through the ‘invention’ of Emotional Intelligence, in reality what is sought from leaders today is totally out of balance. Leading Business and Complexity have become far too prominent and Leading Society has been all but forgotten. You may say don’t forget we have Corporate Social Responsibility. And yes, for a period of time in the 1990s it looked like CSR may support business transformation, but by the early 2000s it had in reality become a ‘bolt on’ PR exercises or ho-hum ‘tick box’ governance process. There were not enough good, forward thinking leaders in business prepared to challenge CSRs downfall and so it wilted.
The team at Nature Needs More strongly believe that to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies, we have to remember who we were. We must relearn how to do that and rediscover leadership that serves society, including taking care of the planet getting equal billing to business and people.
The current top 1% will not lead this transition; they profit from maintaining the status quo as long as possible. But maybe we are being too hard on them; it is maybe the case that they simply can’t process the changing situation in the world – to use one analogy, they are obsolete hardware.
Mark Blyth Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of Political Science at Brown University tells a great story of obsolete hardware. As Blyth puts it, there is ‘new software’ that reflects the changing situation and context in the world. This software takes into account global warming, the extinction crisis, massive wealth inequality and human population growth.
The problem is this new ‘software’ – this new thinking – cannot run on the current (now obsolete) hardware – our institutions and political systems that have been shaped over several decades of neoliberal reforms. This obsolete hardware insists that governments should be ‘small’, that markets and private property rights should reign supreme and that it is ok to create secrecy jurisdictions that have enabled decades of capital flight and tax evasion. This obsolete hardware, which has been indoctrinated into the “free trade” mantra, Thatchers “There is no alternative” (TINA) and the panacea of the “sustainable use” model (even though they have no proof it works).
Just two perfect examples of obsolete hardware are associated with the World Economic Forum in Davos, maybe the place and global event most widely connected with the current top 1%. The World Economic Forum sees its role as ‘improving the state of the world’. But, until those attending Davos put more ‘genuine’ focus on fixing the world’s broken economic model, then political analyst Anand Giridharadas is right when he dubs Davos as “a family reunion for the people who broke the world”. Giridharadas’ statement is confirmed by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman who was invited to attend the 2019 event and observed “I hear people talking the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency, but then, almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share,”. He went on to say he was surprise that there was only one panel at Davos dedicated to the topic of tax avoidance, “It feels like I’m at a firefighters’ conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water”.
I had a similar experience at the recent CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Geneva in August 2019. CITES regulates the legal trade in endangered species, but the legal trade data is not actually discussed at CoP. Over two weeks there was no mention of trade data, trends, trade analytics; anything that would allow linking the trade to the actual state of wildlife populations and the looming extinction crisis.
This ‘obsolete hardware’- these institutions – are not intrinsically motivated to change. And currently, too few people with the means to challenge them are focusing on anything other than wealth generation; as a result, there is no pressure for them to transform in to something more relevant to the changing context and needs.
The New 1% Leaders
To upgrade the obsolete hardware we need a New 1% who can think and act differently; these people are not the richest or the most famous. The New 1% are people of every generation prepared to take a stance and do something active to force a transition back to taking care of people and the planet. The New 1% have maintained their ‘freedom to act’ by not getting caught up in life’s noise, they go beyond social media and petitions to be visibly active and a visible force for change in the real world, every day, week or month. In doing so they show their children and grandchildren that they are committed to ensuring they to will have the chance to experience nature’s wildlife wonders.
The New 1% recognise that writer Ed Abbey was right when he said, “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” The New 1% are people who consistently speak out for nature and wildlife and challenge the status quo which ignores the needs of the planet. They are people who don’t wait for the right moment or for that elusive period when they have ‘more time’, they are visibly active all the time. They make the time, even when they don’t have any or when they don’t feel 100%.
The New 1% understand that social media only has a small, niche role to play in speaking truth to power and spreading the new story. They understand that social media is primarily noise and designed to keep individuals addicted to clicking, tapping and swiping for companies to collect your data to sell for profit.
Therefore they focus on action and conversation in the real world, be that through protests, legal challenges, direct challenges to politicians, holding conservation agencies accountable to be transparent (no more “In principle we believe in sustainable use” – force NGOs to explain what they mean by such vague statements and back up their positions on sustainable use with real facts, not ideological statements – but they can’t use the crocodile example!!!).
They understand that people are looking for new ideas, as the old system is visibly broken. They also understand that people are frightened and unable to contemplate the full scale of the looming climate and extinction crisis. The best way to counter fear is to demonstrate that some changes can have impacts in the short term; and these pragmatic starts can provide breathing space for the wildlife and the planet and help with its recovery.
Going To Where People Are
If we want to bridge the chasm between sentiment and action, then people who are visible active need to sell Leading Society to family, friends and colleagues. As with any good leadership, the first step is to go to where people are at and to offer insights that challenge the current dominant worldview, which ignores the needs of wildlife and the natural world.
Even with the success of Greta, School Strike and Extinction Rebellion in the last 12 months there are still too few people who are reflecting on why these individuals and groups are needed and too many people either ignore them or see them as a nuisance to their day. This apathy or frustration are distracting from the issues and under the radar laws are being tightened which aim to discourage peaceful activism; in Australia girls just 12 months older than Greta Thunberg have been strip-searched for protesting for Extinction Rebellion. What do you do when society is so disengaged? You go to where they are and lead them to where you need them to be.
When it comes to wildlife, people are not taking any notice of the research highlighting that 96% of mammals on the earth are either human or livestock (domesticated); only 4% are wild mammals. People are not taking any notice of research that highlights only 3% of non-government donations go to the Environment & Animals, and when it comes to wildlife conservation this is as low as 0.3%.
Urban society is still too dissociated from the need to stop land clearing and change agricultural practices. But what city dwellers (the people with the biggest environmental footprint) could become more conscious about is trade, they are surrounded by it 24/7.
Taking Action Today
If we can make people more conscious about their purchasing decisions, this may lead to people moving away from denial about the effects of our economic system on nature. So, while we know it may seem a frivolous exercise to people who genuinely care about wildlife, Nature Needs More has decided to go to where the 99.7% of people are who don’t donate to wildlife conservation. People are in the workplace, enjoying sporting events or socialising with friends. To get their attention, we must take wildlife into these spaces,
which is why we have created the annual World Games For Wildlife and annual global afternoon tea for wildlife, the Style Icon Afternoon Tea. Once more and more people participate in such events, their worldview changes to be consistent with their new actions.
We know this will be slow. We have already lost count of all the people who have told use to buy ‘Likes’ on social media so we are of more interest to sponsors, but we won’t do this. What we do has to be genuine and we know it will take years. We want to see how the ‘real’ New 1% grows and we will be excited to share the stories of what this New 1% do and achieve over the coming weeks, months and years.
So, here is a first activity that we would like you to share with your network who currently doesn’t think about the trade in endangered species and its effects (the 99.7% of people). Remember in the May 2019 IPBES Report, the trade in flora and fauna was confirmed as the second biggest threat to species survival. So having people be more conscious of their purchasing decisions during the Christmas shopping period is powerful.
We are asking people anywhere in the world as they head out to do their Christmas shopping, when they take a break from their purchasing activity, they consider making a donation to the Christmas Shopping Trip Afternoon Tea For wildlife. In taking this moment to reflect and make a small donation they are saying they are being more conscious of their Christmas purchasing behaviour.
Feathers, fur and exotic skins are big this year. If taking these few minutes means that one less pair of python skin shoes is bought, one less manta ray skin handbag, one less marabou stork feather trimmed dress, one less rosewood jewlery box, one less fur lined parka, one less exotic pet, one less tin of caviar then that would be a great start. Remember there is currently NO transparent supply chain for any of these ‘products’.
The Style Icon Afternoon Tea was inspired by socialites Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, who in the 1890s staged tea parties to inform their wealthy friends that birds were disappearing because of millinery. Many of the birds we see today may not have been around if it wasn’t for these two women.
Buying (mostly) luxury items that contain wildlife body parts is just one of the strange ways we have developed to showcase social status and status differentiation. Just because a growing number of people are rejecting this form of consumption, doesn’t change the fact that the pressure for social differentiation exists. Providing new, different avenues for status differentiation, such as gaining status from contribution to society by being a part of the leadership the world is looking for is desperately needed. This is why we urgently need to develop a New 1%, who take over Leading Society to protect wildlife and the natural world.