The Art of Taking Risks — It Can Be a Life-Saving Game Changer for People and Planet
June 28, 2023
From Peace to Planet — Why We Need to Make A Difference at COP28
There’s more than one kind of risk that a person can take. Most people and companies — a composite of culture and mindsets — are risk averse. It can feel unnatural as if you’ve turned down the wrong road to your destination. The status quo feels more comfortable and secure.
There are moments when history can shift for the better. Times when people must rise to that special call to action. We are approaching one of those inflection points. Right now, we as a society — look to the upcoming COP28 meeting — consider the risk of doing nothing weighed alongside the risk of taking courageous, bold steps to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, plastics and other oil-derivative products.
Some risks are dumb, and others are needed to advance people’s and planetary sustainability; which will we choose as climate change experts head toward Dubai this November?
Many people are weighing whether or not to attend COP28 because of the sizable and influential presence of the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists. Undoubtedly, this industry has a significant negative impact on the environment.
There are many reasons to suspect fossil fuel companies intent on attending COP28. Their core business model and profitability rely heavily on extracting and selling fossil fuels. Shifting to clean energy sources threatens their futures. Not shifting threatens ours. While policymakers are working on setting out legal requirements to drive change, many fossil fuel production companies are using their impressive political influence and lobbying against those policies that promote renewable energy.
It’s not that these companies disagree with the science. Some companies are actively diversifying into renewable energy sectors. But others dig in their heels — smiling outwardly while scheming inside smoke-filled rooms.
Courage isn’t needed when there are no apparent risks. The risk they must take is to do things differently and use their considerable talent, resources, and policy urgencies to shift toward renewable energy alternatives.
Think Through Moments of Significant Historical Change
When President Richard Nixon visited the People’s Republic of China in 1972, the two nations were politically estranged and had no formal diplomatic relations. Nixon sought to jump-start a constructive relationship between the two countries. It was a seismic shift in anti-Communist US foreign policy. Later, this bold and successful effort was the salve to heal Nixon’s severely wounded reputation. More important, it was the foundation for the accelerated growth of the US-based technology industry.
Planned Visit to Egypt Under Attack — the Risks of Leadership
Nixon’s action was a model for others. In 1977, courageous Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Israel on a historic peace mission. Some wondered whether his visit was a genuine offer or a dramatic gesture for the cameras. They were suspicious of his actions and intent.
The significant risk to Anwar Sadat in going to Israel was the potential backlash and hostility from his fellow Arab nations, who viewed the trip as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and Arab solidarity. It endangered his safety and jeopardized Egypt’s leadership position in the Arab world. Even Sadat needed support from unexpected sources — Middle East peace advocates.
A 10-day corresponding peace visit to Egypt by a delegation of American Jewish leaders from all walks of life was immediately criticized. Many demanded that the trip be called off. For Sadat and Egypt, this almost miraculous visit to long-time enemy Israel resulted in Egypt being suspended from the Arab League. Several countries severed diplomatic ties in protest.
Soon after, I was tasked to chaperone this delegation to support peace. For a few, it was the risky career opportunity of a lifetime. For many others, it signaled the end of a young person’s professional journey. Boycott, they said!
The then-presidents of the Synagogue Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America called the trip “…ill-timed, ill-conceived and ill-advised and not in the best interests of the (Middle East) peace talks.” The media picked up on the public spat, and suddenly, I was under their “hot lights.” Would this responsibility to shepherd this delegation endanger my career and prospects? The greater mission is what mattered — the alternative to endless warfare — peace.
Here was my message in response to the vitriol that I offered media in response:
“I want to feel that we are doing everything possible to keep the peace initiative alive. We support all moves which will stop the danger of war and recognize the essential interests of all peoples in the area. This can be done only by compromise and mutual consideration without using ultimatums and threats.”
Sadat’s efforts led to the Camp David Accords and the resulting peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. That agreement — which survived the Arab Spring and other upheavals, eventually led to the normalized ties between Israel and other Arab nations. It resulted from the tremendous political and national security risks taken risks by the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Sadat. Camp David, including the Abraham Accords, became a model for future peace agreements.
Tragically Anwar Sadat’s readiness to take risks to save lives led to his assassination by Islamic extremists. Yet, his bold view and responsibility for human life secured an enduring peace that has kept countless others safe.
The Fossil Fuel Industry Must be Cajoled, Pushed or Incentivized to Take Risks
Our water, air and soil quality is at risk. One way or another, the fossil fuel industry must shift its business model toward renewable and clean energy sources. COP28 must not be an exercise in “greenwashing” but rather an opportunity for these industry leaders to step forward to show that they are making demonstrative progress toward Paris Climate Accord commitments.
Global incentives and national and local policies create a supportive environment for the fossil fuel industry to transition toward cleaner and renewable energy sources. Their effectiveness depends on the specific policies, implementation, and market dynamics in different regions. This is where COP28 must take full advantage of the fossil fuel industry’s presence to call for an accounting of its progress toward carbon neutrality.
CSR, Environment and Sustainability
Countries and regions are setting renewable energy targets to increase clean energy access. These targets create market demand and signal that the fossil fuel industry shift investment and operations toward renewable energy projects.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Green Climate Fund, and others provide financial support, technical assistance, and capacity-building programs to facilitate the transition to renewable energy. These initiatives encourage the fossil fuel industry to diversify investment and explore clean energy opportunities.
Corporate sustainability and ESG frameworks championed by shareholders — including mega-investment groups such as Blackrock — have made it clear that investors and financial institutions include environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions — they are ROI risks.
Greenwashing or Grandstanding: Which Will We Choose?
Taking risks involves exploring uncharted territory and pioneering new approaches. It fosters innovation and encourages creative thinking; it pushes society to find unique solutions and challenge existing norms. Taking risks allows society to seize opportunities that lead to significant rewards.
The fossil fuel industry must declare its readiness to take risks and be held accountable for its progress. And at the same time, at COP28, NGOs, governments, and innovators must take a different type of risk — to welcome into the room a long-time nemesis. Greenwashing and grandstanding will not advance our planetary agenda of survival. There is no prize for maintaining the moral high ground while the planet sizzles.