Friday, November 6, 2009

"Boys will be boys." And why it is important to change this in the world climate debate and decision structure

Editorial: In the triple nexus that is the defining concern of World Streets – namely, mobility, land use and climate – we have to be ready to take stock and face up to the reality that most of the problems we face today in each of these areas are the result of the domination of an "old order", a certain way of seeing and doing things. What have we got wrong? What can we do about it? And what might this mean to COP15 and beyond?

(This is the latest in a continuing series of articles that World Streets is contributing to the run-up to COP15 -- in which we are trying to get under the skin of the process that is, see it or not, shaping the debate and the decisions. A process that we feel strongly now needs to be fundamentally redrawn if our planet and the future of our children are to be ensured. (List of related W/S articles follows below.)
Can we spot the fundamental underlying problem that is shaping, and limiting, the whole process debate? And if so, how to make a big, defining difference fast?

Here is our analysis and our proposal.

What about this as a real problem that is deforming the world climate debate?

Recalling the old saw that many of the problems we face today are in all too many the result of someone's earlier "solutions, let's consider briefly how those old solutions were largely shaped in our particular case.

In this context it is useful to recall that just about all of the decisions which have brought us to our present impasse in our particular underperforming sector have devolved from a form of political organization, society and decision structure that was (and is) almost entirely dominated by . . . males.

And more than that, in the areas that concern us particularly in this instance, by males who just happened to be owners and drivers of cars. And in the process, by various devices and reasons, males who are ineluctably tied into the car culture. Hmm.

(And very much by the way, one of the really big problems with culture as a driver of decisions is that, by its very nature, it tends to be so deeply imbedded in everyday life and values that it becomes almost entirely invisible. Invisible perhaps, but still very much there and, in this case among others, in the driver's seat.)

Now it strikes this one observer that, if there is any truth at all to this reasoning, it is time past to give it some real attention, because perhaps somewhere in all this may lie some valuable clues as to how to turn this situation around.

How to make better decisions, including in the important decision fora that in many ways shape our lives and our planet? For example, in the board rooms of great corporations and financial institutions? In congresses and administrations at all levels of government? And in international meetings and negotiations such as those defining COP15 and all that we would like to hope will follow?

So now on to our proposal:

Change the decision structure, and move from today's reality in which in almost every country (and every delegation for COP15) the delegations are by and large not only male dominated in terms of the numbers of men in leadership roles, but also by and large shaped by a largely male vision of society, and of the priorities and possibilities that underlay our decisions as to what to do next.

So now that we know that, let's change it.

And if on the one hand I am not at all sure as to how to execute this sharp turn, how in terms of the actual mechanisms to get this particular elephant to turn on a dime, I can promise you that once we have done it, once we have restructured our delegations and the underlying decision structures so that there is "full parity", male/female, a very different vision will emerge. And with it different decisions and actions to preserve the planet and the future patrimony of our children and grandchildren.

A final word on the concept of "gender balance".

Image three different types of decision fora: (a) all male, (b) mostly male, and (c) gender balanced.

Now, it is my observation that (a) and (b) invariably end up being pretty much the same in terms of their tone and outcomes, (with the all too rare case where there may be an exceptionally strong, aggressive even woman or women in the miniscule minority. There indeed you may see some sparks fly and different outcomes. But how often does this occur?).

On the other hand when you approach "gender balance" (let’s define it for now as a minimum of 35-40 % participation of the "other sex" - whatever that might happen to be), you open up a very different kind of social, communication and decision environment. The fact is that (a) and even (b) are in almost all cases dominated by male values, even if in most cases these may not be entirely palpable. But they are there and they influence the terms, and the outcome, of the debate and the decision process.

So when it come sorting out our planet, let's all get behind this concept of full gender parity at all stages of the climate debate, and decision process. Because if we don't we are going to lose this war.

I promise you.

Eric Britton
Editor, World Streets

PS. If you have any doubts about this ask the Norwegians and the other Scandinavians about it. They will set you straight fast.

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For your reference, from World Streets in 2009:

1. Winning the World Climate Game: Brainwork challenge- Oct. 26, 2009
2. "COP15? One thing that can change the debate right now!" - Nov. 5, 2009
3. "International agreements take too long. We only have months, not years, to save civilization – Nov. 4
4. Sustainable transport on the road to COP15? "In my humble opinion we are not ready." – Oct. 23
5. Sustainable transport on the road to COP15? (We are a generation of great talkers.) – Oct. 20
6. Women as our metric for sustainable lives: Leadership role – Oct. 5
7. The Year of the Woman in Transport – Part II “Don't treat women equally”. Sept. 3
8. 2010: The Year of the Woman in Transport (Now, how do we get there and where do we start?) – Sept 2
9. Message to COP15 Copenhagen: Think Sustainable Transport - July 14

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