Gore’s Challenge

By Jim Selman | Bio

There is an inspiring 30-minute speech by Al Gore challenging all of us and our nation to commit to a 10-year program to move away completely from a carbon-based economy. The challenge echoes what a lot of us have been saying for years, but he has developed sufficient moral authority in some sectors that maybe more people will listen. Redesigning our energy infrastructure isn’t exactly the same as going to the moon as he suggests, but there are some powerful parallels.

For example, I am told that about 75% of the scientific community said that getting a man to the moon and back in 10 years was impossible and was JFK’s political posturing at best and naïve at worst. BUT, (and this is a big but) they were willing to commit to the possibility anyway and ended up writing the specifications that the “believers” delivered on to accomplish the ‘impossible’. The question here is whether we can rally enough alignment and common cause between business leaders and politicians of both parties to take the challenge. 

A NY Times Op Ed piece by Thomas Friedman hit the nail on the head. He suggested that the problem is our addiction to oil:

What doesn’t the Bush crowd get? It’s this: We don’t have a “gasoline price problem.” We have an addiction problem. We are addicted to dirty fossil fuels, and this addiction is driving a whole set of toxic trends that are harming our nation and world in many different ways. It is intensifying global warming, creating runaway global demand for oil and gas, weakening our currency by shifting huge amounts of dollars abroad to pay for oil imports, widening “energy poverty” across Africa, destroying plants and animals at record rates and fostering ever-stronger petro-dictatorships in Iran, Russia and Venezuela.

I know a bit about addiction. I am an alcoholic. I also wrote an article for “New Management” in 1989 called “Managers Anonymous” that suggests we can be addicted to ideas just like we can be addicted to substances and behaviors and when we are, our responses and patterns are identical—the principle example being denial. Addictions occur when we become trapped in our self-referential conversations and think we can control something we cannot. Whatever we think we control that in fact we do not controls us. It is as simple as that. Then when we add denial, we become trapped in a downward and self-destructive spiral until we hit the proverbial ‘bottom’. All the reason and evidence in the world will rarely make a difference to addictive behavior until reality delivers the hard message—YOU DON’T HAVE A CHOICE AND YOU THINK YOU DO YOU ARROGANT JERK!!!! Every recovering alcoholic and addict I know has hit bottom, and the only variable is how far down the bottom is. I was lucky that my bottom was fairly high and I didn’t have to kill anyone or go to jail or destroy my life completely, although I caused a lot of suffering in others and suffered myself in the process.

After the Valdez oil spill in Alaska, I was working in a major oil company to facilitate a process to create and align the organization on what their alcohol and drug abuse policy should be. I remember saying to them that “You are all alcoholics and until you get that you are unlikely to succeed in implementing much change.” It took a while, but eventually the light went on for everyone that even though only about 10% of those in the room were personally ‘out-of-control drinkers’, they all shared the same organizational workspace—that addiction is as much a social phenomenon as it is a personal one.

It is becoming more and more clear that our world and our planet are just one big space and our notions that ‘we’ can be okay while those around us are suffering is just not workable, regardless of what we may believe. When enough people cannot afford to drive to work or afford a healthy diet, breakdowns appear that begin to unravel everything from supply chains to design of cities. Whether we can ‘prove’ that the connection between climate change and your local smoke stack is melting the Arctic Ice Cap, the fact is that it is melting and prudence would suggest we assume responsibility for it and change what we can that might affect it. The thousands of species that have become extinct do not care about our ‘civilized’ and rational arguments. They are gone.

Wisdom always suggest that when playing with guns that you don’t know are loaded or not, don’t pull the trigger. Al Gore (along with millions of other leaders and scientists) has highlighted the problem and thrown down a challenge. It is now up to the rest of us to declare whether or not we’ve reached bottom and begin the campaigns and actions to change our government’s policies and bring the influence of the marketplace to bear on business. And while we’re at it, let’s stop pulling the trigger by trying to tip the bottle just a little bit higher so we can get that last drop of oil before we crash and burn!!!

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.