Evoke the racing mindset - reflections on the responsibilities of leaders in shipping

I’ve just got back from a climate seminar at Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Dr Emily Shuckburgh’s early morning presentation shook us to the core. She’s no graven faced scientist talking in algorithms and graphs (but here’s a very sobering one anyway). 

She’s lively, entertaining and shares pictures of her gran and her kids. She’s very, very human. And that makes her all too believable. The evidence she presented is irrefutable - our species is in deep, deep trouble. Off the scale kind of trouble.

Dr Emily Shuckburgh obe

Dr Emily Shuckburgh obe

We, the audience, struggled to come to terms with what we’d heard.

Reflecting on our group reactions to the myriad of complex feelings that had been unlocked by this new, terrible knowledge I realised that our various responses were like those of kids that have been found out. I’m a mum, I know.

At first we tried deflecting the blame: “it’s not my fault” pointing the finger elsewhere to protect ourselves.

Much like the finger pointing - “but we’re much better than THEM” – in Splash 24/7’s Monday report from Copenhagen where Henrik Madsen, former ceo of class society DNV GL, pointed at the agreement thrashed out by ICAO, aviation’s equivalent to IMO at the UN, earlier this month on emissions reduction. He told delegates that the agreement ICAO had reached was “very weak” and was only binding from 2027.

That still doesn’t make it OK for the IMO to do nothing.

I now know that even if all of the commitments made in the Paris Agreement last winter were kept we are still in grave danger of global catastrophe – mass migration caused by droughts and sea level rises triggering greater and greater civil unrest. As if what we’re experiencing right now isn’t awful enough, this is only the tip of (a rapidly melting) iceberg. Paris might mean we won’t experience species annihilation but it’s still going to be bad. We can’t keep playing chicken.

Some of us felt guilt and remorse. ‘I’m not doing enough’. Collectively we pledged to go above and beyond individual actions and effect material change wherever we could, as this was a highly influential set of business leaders this will make a difference.

We need to see this same sort of courage from the IMO.

Others of us wanted to know why the ‘grown-ups’ allowed us make this terrible mess. Where were the leaders?

It’s as if we were asking the people ‘who knew’ to stop our bad behaviours because we never realised it would turn out so bad.

The scientists have been telling us shipping for years (this from 2012 is an example) that climate change is the defining challenge of our age. But leaders don’t want to act because how we must collectively respond is inconvenient, expensive, unpopular. The reality is the later we leave it the more inconvenient, expensive and devastating reality will be. When will the leaders of the shipping industry have the courage to act?

Hope came in the shape of Paul Rose – the polar explorer and TV presenter who helps scientists unlock and communicate important stories. Paul told us of several smallish, but significant, victories he’s had in effecting material change. He suggested we were entering a new age of enlightenment. The Enlightenment was marked by an attitude captured by the phrase:

"Dare to know".

In the 21st century age of enlightenment it takes huge courage to know, and we can’t unknow.  And now we must figure out, with great haste, what we can actually do.

I’m from a motor/yacht racing background, I’ve already opined in Splash 247 about the benefits of a racing mindset in achieving, what Paul Rose describes as, ‘hairy-arsed’ goals.  

Set a demanding target, set a deadline and clearly articulate the generous prize (in this case, a small matter of remaining in existence) and then let the market figure out how to get on the start line – those who can will find the sponsors to fund the great endeavours. They’ll build the best teams and those teams will be utterly focused and inspired. Every second of every day will be devoted to winning. That’s how it was in F1, in offshore yacht racing. This is a very real race against the ticking clock of climate change. It’s like F1 and America’s Cup combined and put on steroids.

We dare to know. And we dare to win.

This is the courageous 21st century age of enlightenment attitude, the mindset we need to evoke to tackle the climate challenge.