dissonance, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “psychological
conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously
or when performing an action that contradicts existing beliefs”. Pared down,
this concept describes the discomfort one experiences when consciously carrying
out a behaviour one knows to be wrong in some way. And, according to former
Greenpeace International executive director and prominent South African human
rights activist Kumi Naidoo, there is a good chance that you suffer from it.
leaders are suffering from a simple case of cognitive dissonance, where it is
becoming increasingly clear that we are running out of time in terms of
avoiding catastrophic climate change, and yet these people cannot extricate
themselves from the structural economic system that has set us on this
business leaders know that the economic system in place is broken and that it
only serves a handful of people, perpetuates levels of inequality and is
unsustainable, their brains aren’t able to process the ongoing impact of this
flawed system, because they are key actors in the system – this is cognitive
dissonance,” he asserts.
Updating finweek on the initiatives he has been
seized with since resigning from Greenpeace in early 2015, Naidoo repeatedly
interweaves the twin challenges of climate change and structural economic
inequalities, reiterating that, in attempting to advocate for the world’s poor,
one cannot overlook issues of environmental justice.
struggle activist has long been a proponent of environmental and social
justice, and, during his time at Greenpeace, became well-known for his
unabashed criticism of established global finance and economy bodies such as
the World Economic Forum, dubbing these entrenched seats of capital as
obstacles to global equality.
at Greenpeace also afforded him access to some of the world’s most powerful
business leaders and, as a result, their perspectives on intensifying global
poverty occurring concurrently with profound business growth, Naidoo says.
meetings with some of the most powerful business leaders in the world, and in
the one-on-one meetings they never contest the science; they never contest the
urgency; they never contest the broad data. They don’t necessarily agree, but
they don’t contest.
action on issues that require structural change [by business leaders] is not
the easiest thing in the world. It’s a condition I’ve come to describe as
‘affluenza’,” he says.
difficulties of homogenising the attitudes of business leadership towards
required structural change, Naidoo has observed a continuum of opinion on a
global level that also applies to the domestic private sector.
of business leadership actually fully ‘get it’. They acknowledge that the
current system is unsustainable and that there have to be massive changes in
the business environment and they recognise that climate change is a
game-changer,” he explains.
willing to make changes and want government to take the lead in terms of
On the other
end of the spectrum, another 10% to 15% of the heads of business are still
trying to raise questions and doubts around the veracity of climate change and
civil society of being alarmists, even though they are completely out of synch
with the data,” he declares.
of business leaders, Naidoo adds, believe that “symbolic interventions” are
for example, will say that they’re a green bank because they support the World
Wildlife Fund, but, on the other hand, they are funding fossil fuels. So there
is still a lot of ‘greenwashing’ that happens,” he holds.
Climate finance lobby
with the apparently measured pace of structural change in the global financial
and economic sectors, Naidoo last year joined over 40 organisational delegates
from across the world at an inaugural workshop for the establishment of the
Global Climate Finance Campaign.
goal is to introduce new interventions aimed at urgently shifting finance and
investments away from fossil-fuel and other “climate-destructive” projects, and
towards capital-hungry renewable energy projects.
the campaign as one that aims to address climate change by “following the
money”, Naidoo explains that the lobby’s initial intervention will involve
challenging regulatory and central banks to introduce strong sustainability
criteria in terms of lending, through stricter national regulation.
and perhaps most contentious approach, is to discourage lending institutions
from providing funding to projects that involve fossil fuels, deforestation,
the construction of large dams and other “climate-destructive” lending.
aims of this intervention is to drive 20% disinvestment in climate-destructive
projects by 2020 and to ensure that the world’s 20 largest multinational banks
publicly support climate-constructive investment by the end of the decade.
will also challenge pension funds, trusts, foundations, universities, and
institutions which have investments and actually don’t know where those
investments are actually sitting. We want them to divest from all projects that
involve fossil fuel,” Naidoo tells finweek.
Naidoo remains active in social and environmental advocacy, and is currently
focusing on building a coalition for energy justice in SA.
“This is not
simply about defeating the nuclear deal, but is also about presenting a
different energy vision for SA which is more driven by renewables,” he says.
continental level, Naidoo is readying for the 25 May launch of social justice
organisation Africans Rising for Justice, Freedom and Dignity, a multi-national
African organisation that will promote civic action, fight for social rights
and freedoms, demand good governance and promote environmental justice.
He adds that
the organisation will critically evaluate the methods conventionally used by
civil society to mobilise support in order to become more effective at creating
real, structural change across Africa.
Einstein said that ‘insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and
expecting a different result’, and government leaders are guilty of this, but
to be honest, so are some civil society leaders. We get trapped into a status
quo where we are trying to rearrange the deckchairs while the ship is sinking.
rising… we are being self-critical of what has worked, what hasn’t worked and
whether we are posing the right questions,” he argues.
meanwhile, cognisant of the enduring reluctance of many in business and
government to engage over issues of climate change and structural economic
inequality, but remains resolute in his undertaking to lobby the public and private
sector towards enduring change.
“All of us
want to live a well-adjusted life. But there are so many things in the world
that are unfair and unjust that we should refuse to be well-adjusted to it. If
people say I’m maladjusted to the levels of poverty, structural inequalities,
corruption, then I am okay with that.
that some of your readers will say I’m too radical [around structural economy
and climate change], but I wish I was more wrong about this more consistently,”
This article originally appeared in the 6
April edition of finweek. Buy
and download the magazine here.