“From boardrooms to battlefields and churches, to states, why being in charge isn’t what it used to be.” For those of us who are interested in how to stop climate change this simple sentence provides insights into why it seems such a struggle.
The theme of this 2013 book by Moisés Naím is that power is weakening because the barriers to power have weakened by:
- “more revolution” – more people, better standards of living, more literacy and education;
- “mobility revolution” which has sent people, money, ideas etc across the planet; and the
- “mentality revolution” of changes in mindset, aspirations and expectations.
Naím presents an inverted “U graph” (reproduced below), with the Y axis showing political and social stability and economic vitality, and the X axis being the diffuseness or decay of power. The left side of the X axis represents where power is highly concentrated – representing tyranny, the right side where power is almost all dispersed – representing anarchy. For institutions with an interest and influence in how to stop climate change, the middle of this curve is the sweet spot.
In politics there has been a decay of power because of the drivers of more, mobility, mentality: e.g.
- More information flow, so more scrutiny
- More alternatives
- More micro-powers aggressively pushing ideas and positions.
In many parts of the world where tyranny has prevailed Naím identifies the value arising from a decay in power, which has shifted such countries more to the middle of the curve.
How to stop climate change – and the decay of power in politics
However in well established democracies he identifies the decay as perhaps having gone too far. Naím looks at checks and balances in our democracies (ie upper house vs lower house, senate vs legislature) that were originally created to prevent abuse.
He argues that in the leading democracies around the world the decay of centralised power and rise of micro-power means that governments are in many cases stymied because they no longer have majority power. The influence of micro-powers, whether that of the minor parties or of factions within the minor parties, to be able to say no, has created what he describes the “vetocracy”.
Witness in Australia the climate elections, starting with Kevin07 in 2007, where solutions with a focus on how to stop climate change have been deeply influence by micro powers.
As a result many if not all major initiative from any of the main political parties or leaders stall. He argues that one of the reasons we aren’t that effective at solving big problems (such as climate change) is because leaders haven’t had the power to act, whether in their own country, or had the mandate to be able to effectively influence and collaborate with other countries.
In other words the decay of power means many well established democracies have moved too far to the right side of the inverted U curve. One of Naím’s proposed solutions is a suggestion that we need political systems which are premised more on trust and which have reduced checks and balances.
Trust and the climate change challenge
To me, when looking at how to stop climate change, it appears that to get to this point of more trust we need a better understanding and appreciation of what it is to be trustworthy, and more value placed on trustworthy behaviour. Perhaps trust is paradoxically both enhanced and depleted by the three revolutions – more, mobility and mentality – that Naím has identified.
Trust is enhanced because mobility and more are lifting the shrouds – make a gaffe or worse – and it can be hard to hide if you are under scrutiny – you are more likely to be found out if you act in a (grossly) untrustworthy way. But trust has reduced also because in an effort to break through the information and messaging overload – created by the more revolution – more of us distort the truth – reverting to exaggeration and hyperbole, presenting the unimportant as important. In looking at how to stop climate changes it can be seen that spin – both for and against action on reducing emissions – has reduced trust and the progress to effective solutions.
The production of “spin” is fuel and revenue for our media. Witness the growing tendency for click-bait type online articles even from those old media companies which previously had been held in high esteem, for interest groups to exaggerate their case, for politicians to spin their cause.
Listen to a radio or television interview from a reputable source – such as a national broadcaster – of a government minister and very rarely will the interviewer call out the minister for exaggeration, omission, or hyperbole. On the other hand the government minister – or many of us in our workplaces – don’t see anything wrong with exaggeration, omission or hype. The result, as Stephen M. R. Covey pointed out in “The Speed of Trust” is cynicism… and a distrust of power.
Building trust inside a business or within a government is also an important part of sustainability initiatives.
The End of Power is a well researched book with valuable insights, for me it was an eye opener as to what may be contributing to the dis-function of democracies in dealing with big challenges such as how to stop climate change.