Don Abel - Originally posted on Stuff

It is extraordinary that school students around the world have taken direct action to highlight the indifference of the powerful and resourced to address global warming with any sense of urgency. The science is incontrovertible, the evidence is before our eyes in melting polar caps, extreme weather events, diminishing species, sweeping fires, the degradation of precious habitats. For many years, global warming denialists provided succour to politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders willing to accept their ill-founded beliefs. That crutch has been swept away by the accumulating and overwhelming evidence of warming across the planet.

The debate has shifted and a new grouping allied to the status quo has formed. This group might be described as global warming appeasers. They recognise the threat posed by global warming but, instead of implementing practical steps to reduce carbon emissions, the matter is avoided by saying that there is no point in taking action when we cannot influence the outcome.

In New Zealand’s Case

A third grouping is also forming, more nuanced in flavour and with a deal more credibility. This group is promoting long-term mitigations to reduce the harmful societal impacts of global warming.

Neither of these two latest groups is concerned with introducing policies to reduce carbon emissions in the immediate future. Yet the recent IPCC report made it clear that to limit global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius over the remainder of the century would require a 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2030.

The response of leaders to this challenge has been profoundly short. Carbon reduction in New Zealand is almost entirely based on government rapidly expanding forestry to create carbon sinks to offset emissions.

But even using fast-growing pines, the sourcing of land, then planting and watching the seedlings grow enough to create significant carbon sinks will take longer than 10 years. The current path is expedient as it has a respectability conferred by longevity and by the fact that it is the least intrusive option to existing practices.

global warming
Thousands of students protesting in Christchurch last month, as part of the global student climate action.
The problem for the protesting students was that they could not see how their interests aligned with the interests of the country’s leaders. That goes to the heart of ethical leadership – a leadership that is based on trust, shared perceptions of outcomes and, overall, a commitment to the common good and not to individual considerations.

Better Leadership

Ethical leadership reflects values and these can take different complexions. However, the complexion the students were asking of leaders seems to have been relatively straight forward.

They viewed the common good of confronting global warming to be truly global, not confined to the narrow interests of a single nation.

They also concluded that the policy outcomes being announced by leaders had little to offer their generation, a generation that would be forced to deal with the consequences of poorly constructed policies that avoided taking direct action on reducing emissions.

Finally, their trust in present-day leaders to provide a clear way forward had been shaken. There seemed to be not much on offer to rebut the findings of the IPCC report that emphasised the urgency to take countervailing measures.

Stuff accepts the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by human activity. We welcome robust debate about the appropriate response to climate change, but do not intend to provide a venue for denialism or hoax advocacy. That applies equally to the stories we will publish in Quick! Save the Planet and to our moderation standards for reader comments.

Final Words

All of this should give the adults in the room pause for reflection. Every country has a responsibility to enact policies that offer a meaningful and sustained reduction in carbon emissions, even if the likely contribution is minor because of its size.

Global warming is a profound existential threat and the need for ethical leadership could not be clearer.