What President Obama Could Learn from Joe Oliver

President Obama is trying to lead his nation forward in the climate debate.  But leadership isn’t always about proving that you are right.  Joe Oliver demonstrates another approach that may be more effective.

State of the Union

President Obama

© Larry Downing, Reuters

United States President Barak Obama delivered his State of the Union speech last night.  One of the talking points is likely to be his strong stance on climate change.  He wants to put the USA at the forefront of the discussion, and has clearly decided that it is time to show strong leadership in this area. “I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action,” he said.

But I winced when he broached the subject.  Not that I’m a climate change sceptic.   It’s obvious that mankind has had an impact on the world in which we live.  Are we doing irreversible damage to the environment?  If so, how can we fix it?  And who should pay?  These are contentious issues.  And I think Obama is going to struggle to lead American politicians into a constructive debate on this subject.

How to Lead

Strong leadership is one way to overcome the obstacles.  But there is another way, a less confrontational approach, which I think would lead to a much healthier debate and a better outcome.  The discussion about climate change needs to be reframed.  It can be presented in terms that avoid divisive language and speak about things which would find much broader support.  It can begin on common ground.  It can use language which is positive and respectful of other views.

Joe Oliver models this approach in his recent TEDx talk (available here on YouKu.com)

United We Stand

Like Obama, Oliver describes climate change as “the most important challenge of our generation.”  But unlike Obama, he introduces the topic by finding common ground, by respecting his audience, by seeking harmony rather than arguing his case.

It seems that the terms “global warming” and “climate change” are used primarily to create fear, and often generate a defensive reaction.  But I don’t feel that I need to hold a strong position on the subject in order to contribute – I don’t need to be a scientist, to quote the Republican cop-out (even though I am a scientist.)

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s start with what we know:

  • That mankind has made amazing advances in the last few centuries
  • That our technological progress has allowed us to live much better lives
  • That we don’t want to sacrifice this lifestyle
  • But that we have impacted our planet, by cultivating vast areas of land while reducing the size of forests, by using up resources while polluting the environment, by spreading plants and animals and diseases across the world via our global lifestyles

Then, let’s think about our responsibilities:

  • We want our planet to be around for our children to enjoy
  • We want to enjoy the environment ourselves
  • We want to nurture our resources so that they can sustain us in the future, so that we can continue to enjoy them and maintain our lifestyle.  We don’t want to ‘kill the golden goose’

If we can agree on these things, isn’t that a better starting point for a discussion about climate?

Related Posts

Meet Joe Oliver: Artist and Social Entrepreneur

What Do Google’s Green Efforts Teach Us?

Remembering Stanford Ovshinsky



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