With climate change and resource scarcity reaching tipping point and the global economy flat-lining, Simon Leadbetter asks, where have all the ‘leaders’ gone?
In times of great crisis, great leaders emerge to help us, the ‘followers’, reach a brighter and better tomorrow; from overthrowing fascism in the 1940s to facing down a nuclear threat from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Today our environment, society and economy may be in deep trouble but we appear to be adrift and leaderless.
One thing that strikes you about the heads of government from the richest nations is their apparent paralysis with the current crises. As democratic government gives way to technocratic management in Italy and Greece and the International Energy Agency (IEA) declares that we are heading for irreversible climate change, it is becoming apparent that our leaders are, well, leaderless.
Our politicians have been discredited by regularly breaking election promises and allowing corporate interests to take priority over those of the people and then fiddling their generous allowances (albeit this was a rotten minority).
Our largest media group has been caught hacking phones, bullying politicians and digging through dustbins to find dirt on their victims. At the same time, they’ve distorted our national debate about serious issues into an uninformed free-for-all, where anyone can espouse ill-informed prejudice.
Our banks have crashed the global economy and then nationalised their losses while still paying massive bonuses for failure. Has any bank leader been prosecuted for the trillions of dollar damage to the global economy? Does anyone think we’ve got a fair deal on Northern Rock?
Most recently, our religious leaders have joined the debate declaring that ‘something must be done’ to link finance with ethics; it could be argued that this is too little, too late from those who describe themselves as our ‘moral’ leaders.
A healthy scepticism about leadership has given way to cynicism and pessimism, “They’re all useless. I can’t make a difference, so why should I bother?”
But something can be done. Something is being done.
As Glenn Close says in Yann Arthus-Bertrand‘s amazing and beautiful film, The Home Project, “it’s too late to be a pessimist“.
Consider these facts from the end of the film (watch from 1:18 if you don’t have 90 spare minutes – although it’s well worth 90 minutes!)
- Over four out of five of the world’s children have been through primary education – the highest number ever (UNESCO). An educated population is one of the sure ways out of poverty and into self-made prosperity
- Lesotho, one of the world’s poorest countries (ranked 154-164th by GDP depending on the source), invests the third highest shares of its GDP on education, 10.4% compared to the UK’s 5.3%. They have chosen blackboards over bullets (UNHDP)
- A Bangladeshi created a bank for the poor in his country and has helped 7.34 million people, 97% women, out of poverty (Grameen Bank)
- Governments have acted to protect 6.3% of the world’s territorial waters, that 6.3% more than 10 years ago (World Database on Protected Areas)
- Protected areas cover 13% of the world’s land (WDPA)
- Costa Rica has abandoned having armed forces, choosing sustainable development over military spending (CIA)
While over 80% of the fuel we use may come from fossil fuels (US EIA), literally thousands of companies around the world are spending billions on developing cleaner technology and cleaner energy sources.
From carbon capture to limit the damage of fossil fuels to incubating and building natural energy sources, such as hydro, tidal, wave, wind, geothermal, and solar. Just one hundredth of 1% of the sun’s energy that is absorbed by the earth in one hour could power our global economy for one year. We just need to capture it.
It’s too late for pessimism
You can make a difference by thinking for a few moments about what you buy as you reach for that shiny new gadget for Christmas, who you invest in and understanding climate change.
Capitalism and democracy may have given the UK its position as the world’s sixth largest economy, but globally we now have weak leadership, a weak economy and a planet under threat. Capitalism and democracy may be the prevailing systems but we can make them work for us – using our triple stake as voters, shareholders and consumers. Some in the developing world would argue we have the sixth largest responsibility to clear up our mess.
It’s easy to be informed, get engaged and make a difference.
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The world needs ethical, environmental and entrepreneurial leadership.
It’s too late to wait for someone else to lead us.
In the consumer and digital age, we are all leaders now.
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We advocate four ways of making a difference: invest, shop, travel sustainable and use clean energy.
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If you need some ideas on what to buy this Christmas without costing the earth, visit the Ethical Superstore, who have a smorgasbord of ethical, fair trade and organic ideas.
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