Sri Lanka can Lead the way for us to Win at the Game of Climate Change
It was almost a decade since I had been involved with climate change activities, so I was happy when I was invited to a capacity building session held in Kathmandu in July by the Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA).Â CANSA is part of a global network of NGOs addressing climate change issues in the region.
I was eager to learn about the current science of climate change and how well nations around the world are responding to it.Â To my dismay, I found that global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 70% in the last 20 years.Â Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the evidence is even stronger that human factors have exacerbated the climate change process.Â Â In fact, we are knocking on the doors of a Climate Catastrophe, if our planet’s temperature rises more than 2 degrees Celsius and the atmospheric carbon levels move towards 400 parts per million (ppm), when it should remain below 350.
Almost every country had not met their promised commitment to the 1992 UN Framework Convention in their national economic interest, except the European Union coming close.Â I was really disappointed that Canada, a country that is normally socially and environmental conscious had dropped their commitment in favor of squeezing oil from the Alberta Tar Sands.Â Japan and Australia were also way behind and of course US did not commit at all.
Then there is India and China moving into carbon regime like a freight train out of control. They are going to win the prize for the highest rate of increase of carbon emissions as they post 10% plus annual economic growth rates and displace the US as highest emitters in the next few decades.Â According to Asoka Abeygunawardana, Executive Director of the Energy Forum, even Sri Lanka has increased its rate of carbon emissions by 230% Â from 1990 with all the new thermal energy generation and will take it over the top when the first coal power plant comes on line in 2010.
As developing nations, the argument goes that we have to play catch up and the only way to do so is through oil and coal technologies. With lower standards in emission controls in the developing world and the use of cheaper high sulfur coal, there is going to be huge adverse impacts on the local population, agriculture and the ecology, let alone the globe.
The end result for humanity isÂ – Â we may all suffer together when the climate change curve hits the point of no return.
How ironic I thought as I sat through session after session in Kathmandu feeling helpless and musing at the contradiction, that we live in a world of high technology doing things beyond the wildest imaginations of science fiction writers of yore, yet we are primitive and selfish when it comes to sharing and caring for our planet and humanity.
When I was asked to facilitate the last session to plan CANSA’s activities for the future, I felt the urge to do something innovative to get everyone’s attention at a different level.Â One of the challenges we face is that we externalize and compartmentalize all the negative evidence as a survival mechanism.Â Â So we tend not to act as long as we feel a semblance of normalcy and balance in our personal lives.Â Â As such, we do not inquire and reflect on how we act and contribute to the status quo, even though intellectually we know about all this and talk a good game. Therefore, we need to put a mirror on our selves first.
At the same time, we are selfish in thinking in relative terms â€“ we feel owed in relation to others who may seem to have more materially than us. This is the problem we face in the developing world as we shirk our responsibility to act in the greater interest of this planet and its future generations.Â Â So, I needed an activity to provoke people to become mindful about individual and collective responsibility â€“ both the haves and have nots – Â if we were to avert a Climate Catastrophe as it is described now.
At the spur of the moment, I thought of a game my friend and business partner Robert Vanderwall of Sage Training introduced me to that brought out our true selfish and competitive natures.Â It is called the Winning Game.
Playing the Winning Game
The Winning Game is designed to play between four teams where the objective is to win as much money as possible.Â I named the four teams with the areas identified for strategic focus in taking CANSA forward.
I played five rounds with them where each team had to make a choice of selectingÂ X or Y onÂ a piece of paper per round.Â If all four teams scored X, they all lost $ 1000 a piece and if they all scored Y, they all won $ 1000 a piece.Â However, in the combinations, if one or more teams scored X they won while the teams who scored Y lost.
In the initial two rounds the four teams were not allowed to talk to each other. Â On the third round where I offered a two times bonus they were given an opportunity to communicate with each other and a chance to collaborate. There was one team which was committed to scoring Y throughout the game as they realized Y was the only way to win in the long run. When they all met to negotiate, they tried to convince the others that scoring Y was for the common good. Everyone made a commitment to do so, just like they did at the UN Convention back in 1992. However, two teams decided to deceive the others in the interest of a short term gain by scoring X while they knew for sure at least one team will score Y.Â They got well ahead as they sextupled their earnings.Â Â As a result of them breaking their promise by being selfish, everyone lost trust in each other and became competitive and even vindictive.
Round four, was a five times bonus round and again offered an opportunity for the four teams to speak to each other.Â They all refused to talk as they said the trust is lost and three teams ended up scoring X.Â Round five was the same as everyone decided to be silent and the end result was a collective loss of $ 24,000 for everyone.
Taming the Reptile within us
Some realized that the game was about cooperation, open communications and trust as there was an interdependency.Â What one team decided impacted on all the other teams.Â Yet, it was interesting how everyone got competitive, emotional and even vengeful when it was about protecting one’s self interest and winning. Our reptilian nature was coming out. Finally, breaking the promise made most of them angry and irrational. Even when they knew scoring X meant a potential loss for everyone, all scored X and everyone went down together. How interesting that our minds act to destruction when the chips are down.
There was rich learning in playing the game in revealing our psyche when it comes to protecting our turf, building fences and then acting irrationally when emotions are hurt. This is a result of centuries of left brain driven linear and reductive thinking protected by the ego â€“ an ego that deceives us with its self talk.Â IQ in terms of logic, reductive and rational thinking linking economic profit to power alone is dominant, but makes us reptilian â€“ eating our own for our survival.Â We do not need to do this as there is enough to go around if we let our limbic brains tame the reptilian fears. In the process, we ignore both our emotional (EQ) and spiritual intelligence (SQ).Â We demean the common good, let alone sacrificing for it.
If we were emotionally and spiritually intelligent, we would care about our planet as a living system and realize our own sustenance is dependent on its bounty. Instead, we have created a system where a tree, the very tree which gives our breath of Oxygen, has its economic value when its cut.Â How much farther should we look to our own stupidity ?.
To stop the Climate Change Catastrophe, we all need to sacrifice.Â The west will have to sacrifice on its high per capita use of energy and the east will have to find a way to short cut the bell curve by moving boldly towards more environmentally friendly technologies immediately.Â Therefore, India, China and even small Sri Lanka saying we have to catch up and not care about the environment is like all four teams scoring X in the hope of winning, but everyone losing together, eventually.
The Folly of the International Responses
Finally, having learned and dealt with various mechanisms that were concocted over the years since 1992 in the name of reversing climate change, seems to me nothing but a big game for some to make money when others lose where the status quo never changes.Â Â If you say CDM, only the rich, whether in the developed or the developing world, can play the game with all its sophistication and costs.Â So, money changes hands at the top and nothing much moves at the lower end, so the reptilian response continues. It also absolves the polluters to continue unabated, the same way a sinner goes to confession to redeem self, but continue to commit the sin, as long as there is a way to redeem, but the sin continues to be committed.
EQ and SQ
Therefore, if we are to win this game of climate change for survival we need to put a mirror on ourselves first through our own emotions and spirituality to complement our intelligence.Â If we acknowledge our spirituality we will think twice about destroying the earth and its beings as we will have compassion.Â Â Spirituality is about integrity, generosity, graciousness and dignity.Â We have to awaken and nourish our limbic mind to control our reptilian fears and desires.Â These attribute do not sit well with the values that stand for the oil and coal industries.Â They are aligned with nature and if we need its energy for us to live comfortably and in dignity we have an abundance to harness it from.Â Surely, having been to the moon and mars, we can use the sun to power our needs.
Change takes time but I wonder whether we have the time. We need to ask ourselves, is it short term, logic and rational thinking, reductive, highly analyticalÂ – winning arguments by manipulating information, like we justify our current power generation expansion plan which calls for 3370 MW more of coal power by 2020, increasing our carbon footprint by 820% or will it be high touch through the understanding of the subtleties of human interaction; high concept to combine unrelated ideas by seeking a balance through renewable energy technologies â€“ the mix of the two will give us energy security and democratize the energy sector.
So, as Asoka Abeygunawardana asserts in many of his writing, we need to urge the government to revisit the generation expansion plan and be open, creative and innovative in exploring a mix of both thermal and renewable energy to generate and provide services in Sri Lanka.Â This way, we can forge ahead and be an early adopter to show the world the way to win the climate change game together.