President Trump’s Paris Announcement is a Gift to the World
There’s a fair bit of heartache, dismay and even quite some anger around in response to President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. For my part, I’m absolutely thrilled.
I see it as a great gift to the world. I believe it represents a critical and potentially great breakthrough – depending on what we do with it - in our collective efforts to tackle climate change. That’s because it throws everything into chaos and amidst chaos, to survive, history suggests, we always refocus back on ourselves, on who we are, on what we believe. Yes, it’s about values.
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. ― R. Buckminster Fuller
I’ve long argued that only by connecting fundamentally with our deeper values will we change tack and stand a chance of saving ourselves and the planet from the worse effects of climate change. Some years ago, I stepped away from the operational running of the organisation I founded to focus on spreading the word about values. I wrote Beyond Certification to highlight the need to move away from any notion that we can control others’ behaviour through norms, laws and compliance regimes and instead urged that we spend our time working with people to invite them to reconnect with their soul, a much richer, more powerful ‘s’ word than sustainability. Some friends in the NGO world wrote me off as having lost the plot; “he’s gone all spiritual on us”.
I went down this path because it is clear to me that we aren’t going to make it one company at a time. NGOs focus on beating up on a company with a view to changing it. In many cases it works, but the time and effort it takes to build a case, to set up and implement a market campaign and then ride the bucking bronco when the gate is opened is too much. Other NGOs say a values based approach won’t work. Company CEOs and Chairs change they argue and so a commitment today can be thrown out the window by a new boss tomorrow. What we need they suggest are rules and regulations to control behaviour, to ring fence people who would otherwise run amok and destroy everything and everyone in their path. Given the bad and damaging behaviour we’ve seen too many times from too many humans, particularly CEOs, it does sound compelling but to my mind, it has always sounded hollow. For all the campaigns, all the work done to create new, restrictive laws and certification schemes, there has been equal and opposite energy to subvert and avoid these controls and the planet is not in a great place as a result; we’re in trouble.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve seen time and time again the change at scale, beyond a company’s borders, that can be achieved when leaders connect to their values. Leaders do get disconnected from their values in pursuit of profit and shareholder value and this can lead to bad outcomes for people and the planet. Yet, my experience tells me that if we can help CEOs reconnect with their fundamental values (and often that means getting them out in Nature) and they feel empowered to act from that place then we can achieve much, much more than by telling them they’re evil and trying to shackle them into better behaviour with laws and regulations. When a CEO bangs a fist on the table and says, “I will not be connected to deforestation, to slave labour, to pollution [to whatever]”, then things change all the way along the globally dispersed supply chains that deliver their products or raw materials.
So it is with climate change. When we use laws, regulations, certification, or global agreements to force someone to act differently, they don’t like it. “It hurts my business”, “It costs us jobs”. So just as we might see a CEO change, when a new political leader enters the fray, we often see them spending a lot of their initial time in power unravelling laws etc. put in place by their predecessor that they deem to be against what they believe in. Indeed, it’s a legal merry-go-round. This is exactly what we’re seeing with President Trump. If you’re trying to bring permanent change, it might be better to split some of your time away from law-making (I'm not saying we shouldn't have laws and regulations, just that alone, these are not enough) and focus more effort on helping folk reconnect to their values so that their actions will never change.
What’s actually happening today? Already we’re seeing reaction from US Mayors and State Governors saying they’ll go it alone, that they will be the torchbearers. We’re seeing great pushes in India and China to go green on many different fronts. The Europeans are reacting strongly, redoubling their commitments to Paris which let’s face it, wasn’t strong enough anyhow. Trump’s announcement will force people to look beyond the weak Paris Agreement to see what more they can do. Today, a lot of people are banging their fists on tables; they’re being galvanised into real action.
Man is perishable; but let us perish resisting,
And if it is nothingness that awaits us,
let us so act that it may be an unjust fate
— From "The Tragic sense of Life in Men and in Peoples" (1913) as quoted by Lynton Keith Caldwell
So amidst the chaos of Trump’s announcement comes opportunity; an opportunity created when people are forced to confront their own values, an opportunity to double down, to refocus collective efforts, to realise we can’t depend on someone else to get us out of jail, that we have to do it ourselves. Trump’s decision forces us to ask ourselves – do I believe in climate change? If the answer is ‘yes’, then the response to action will for sure be stronger today than it was yesterday. Trump has unleashed the key change-driver – that determination created by a person’s unwillingness to accept values forced upon them by others – and it might be just the tonic we’ve needed.
So today I’m actually thanking President Trump. I feel sorry for my American friends who are worried and ashamed of their President and their country but they’ll be OK, especially as they themselves double-down on their own individual actions on climate change.
President Trump just gave us the huge collective “wake-up!” kick in the pants we all needed. He kicked the slumbering world into the edge of chaos, that place of great creativity, problem solving innovation and inspiration. I’m truly grateful. Now the key task is to take the tension this has created and use it to get on with the critical and urgent work that’s needed to fight this blessed climate change.
Thanks President Trump for this gift to the world. In time, we all might be looking to President Trump as a reluctant climate hero.
And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good -
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
— Robert M. Pirsig from "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance"
Scott Poynton is an Australian forester who founded The Forest Trust (TFT) in 1999. TFT works to protect the environment and people's lives around the globe. He lives in Gingins and works at the TFT headquarters in Nyon. He's a strong supporter of the Movember Foundation and founded the Gingins Cricket Club in 2008.
This article first appeared on Scott's blog. Read more articles from Scott on scottpoynton.com.
*"How to get there" is used with permission from the wonderful Michael Leunig, Australian philosopher and cartoonist.