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of our premiers and presidents, give the
negotiators their riding instructions ?
Good people, smart people, can undermine
themselve s and each other by stepping into a
bubble and thinking it’s real. The archetypal
groupthink was the “Bay of Pigs” disaster
caus ed by President John Kennedy’s te am all
convincing themselves that wishful thinking
wa s the re al deal. Man agement trainers warn
company directors about groupthink. You can
have the smartest guys in the room, but they
can lead you to Enron or the 2008 Global
Corporate disasters often c ome from
board rooms with good vie ws over the
city, plenty of gourmet food, a willingness
to agree with each other and slip into
Yes, it would be a mistake to believe they
have decades to get round to a well crafted
treaty. But climate change negotiators act
within the con sciousnes s we give them.
Diplomats trust their, as we ll as our own, high
moral purpose , and then it dissipate s a s they
ration alise their riding instruction s by virtue of
the way we vote, re spond to electricity bills, and
love our c omfort. Maybe they are being fair
messengers. They do our, not their own, deed.
It’s also true that they are an elite caught in
their own groupthink. To belong on the floor
among the great debates of climate ch ange
history, one must code that one understands
how things work. That usually means self
censoring the sense of urgency, to show you
are a suit and tie or flash frock like anyone else
– otherwise you will be ignored. Good people,
wise people, who wryly trivialise the flash
mobs in the atriums doing their community
theatre, enjoying the momentary respite from
a debate about a hanging clause. There i s a
code of honour. But we mu st not demonise
them for being in this bubble, whether they
are the historic or contemporary big polluters.
We are in the bigger bubble with them.
Groupthink is about making faulty
deci sions c onvincingly. Negotiat ors ignore
the pressing evidenc e, manage risk badly,
don’t return to discarded alternatives, a void
experts, ta ke on only evidence that pleases,
and fail to have a back-up plan.
We are all in that bubble. It wasn’t just
in Qatar. It is in our national parliament, in
our workplaces, a nd in our homes.
What are we to do?
Hope is essential. But a lot of effort must
go with that hope. We must be scientifically
literate. Th at’s a nece ssity as re spon sible
citizen s. We must pay attention to the facts ,
and apply them dispas sion ately to our lives and
workplaces and communities. We must seek
the truth, re cognise the urgency ahe ad, face
it courageously, make it meaningful by acting
and calling others to join us. All this will take
such an effort – to act decisively, intelligently,
and with kindness.
And, with all the trouble that might
be ahead, we may need to bring the deep
compassion and connectivity to the six
degrees that separate us, as well as to the six
degrees that may deva state u s.
‘Countries that have grown
phenomenally in the last
20 years – Brazil, China and
India – aren’t required to
reduce carbon pollution
under it, because they are
still developing countries
outside the agreement.’
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