The type of awareness that Greta has raised for climate change is unprecedented. No one could have anticipated that a 15 year old girl from Sweden sitting alone outside of the Swedish parliament could have turned that single action into a worldwide movement. But she did and the reason it worked is that it was a genuine stand against a ruling class that stopped paying attention to the 99%. I think we need to be very mindful to not tell young people who have the most to lose, what they need to do, what is achievable and what will work.
We need to learn from the misguided exchange that Senator Feinstein had with a group of passionate students (7 -16 yrs) from the Sunrise Movement. After the senator heard their pleas to address the climate crisis she said:
I’ve been doing this for 30 years. You come in here and say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that…I know what I’m doing. Maybe people should listen a little bit.
With all due respect to Senator Feinstein, I don’t think she has the first clue as to how to address this emergency. She and her political allies like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are stuck in the past. And in that same light, I think we also need to be weary of the billionaire class that likes to think that they can solve problems like “superheroes”.
As Anand Giridharadas explores in his must read book, “Winners Take All”, billionaires have a way of solving problems in ways that maintain the status quo. Whether by accident or by design billionaires and the corporate elite avoid systemic solutions that could erode some of their wealth in favour of “market solutions” that shelter their wealth or even give it a chance to grow. That’s the beauty of “doing well by doing good” it looks like you’re trying to help, you think that you’re trying to help but in the end, you’re only helping yourself by sharing your wealth in ways that leave the door open to accumulating more wealth. I explore this in greater detail in my article titled, “How Billionaire Greed Ruined a Perfectly Good Strategy Called Corporate Sustainability.”
The beauty of “doing well by doing good” is that it looks like you’re trying to help, you think that you’re trying to help but in the end, you’re only helping yourself by sharing your wealth in ways that leave the door open to accumulating more wealth.
So, no thank you Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill McGlashin, Meg Whitman and Jack Ma and any other righteous billionaires who suddenly feel like they have what it takes to save the planet — just pay your taxes and your unpaid bills for the social and environmental harm that you caused and we’ll take care of the rest.
The reality is that no one really knows what to do or how this will play out. Each day the playbook is being written and those young people just might have the best chance of writing a winning script.