Delegates to conference on global warming froze their butts off

The cold spell over the Nordic countries was felt by all the delegates to the COP15 conference on global warming. The result of the summit was a lame document that despite its lameness wasn’t accepted by all countries [1]. Is there a connection between the cold weather and the outcome?

This may sound like a condescending question insulting the delegates’ intelligence. Of course there are a lot of reasons for the failure of the conference. I think the question is relevant to some degree though.

As I’ve hinted in an earlier post, the mitigation of the global warming is the greatest change management project humanity has ever undertaken. The idea is to fundamentally change the way we produce and use energy to avoid dramatic changes in our environment and living conditions.

So why does freezing one’s butt off matter? Humans are, despite the evolution of the large neocortex fundamentally controlled by the old “reptile brain”. This part of the brain is what makes us angry, makes us make love, makes us eat candy, and makes us do many other things based on emotions. Emotions are very strong motivators, often stronger than any “higher order” logic we can come up with in our cortices. Emotions are rational in the way that they have kept us alive and procreating from the time when our ancestors were tiny lizards (yes, you have lizards in your family). We base many of the biggest decisions in life on the emotional “click, whirr” response described by Robert Cialdini in [2].

Recent change management literature emphasizes the role of emotions in leading and promoting change. Dan Cohen says: “Both thinking and feeling are essential, and both are found in successful organizations, but the true heart of change is in our emotions.” [3]. Black and Gregersen discuss the importance of creating “confrontations” to move people to change. These confrontations should be what they call inescapable experiences that “cannot just be mental” [4]. Instead they “need to actively involve as many of the senses as possible: touch, smell, sight, sound, taste.” Although Black and Gregersen don’t use the e-word, the clear purpose of that multi-sensory experience is to evoke emotions, not just thoughts.

To evoke the right emotions, the “inescapable experience”, the summit should probably have been held in a very hot place – without air conditioning, not in a cold place like Copenhagen in December. An inescapable category four hurricane passing by the venue would probably have added a few signatures to the treaty.


[1] Preliminary version of the Copenhagen Accord.
[2] Robert B. Cialdini. Influence, Science and Practice.
[3] Dan S. Cohen. The Change of Heart Fieldbook.
[4] J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen. Leading Strategic Changes, Breaking Through the Brain Barrier.

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