A lack of trust slows progress acting like a tax, whereas in a high trust environment, things can happen faster. So claims Stephen Covey jnr. in his book The Speed of Trust. Two of the wicked problems that face us now, covid and climate change, reveal the importance of trust.
Covid and trust
In my country (Aotearoa New Zealand) we were doing well. Then the delta strain of covid came along resulting in our biggest city, Auckland, enduring over three months of lockdown. Having covid back on our communities helped to accelerate vaccination rates, and after a slow start, we now have over 92% of the eligible population with their first dose, and 84% with the second. This is (at the time of writing) 278 days after administering the first dose here. The CNN vaccine tracker rates us at 145 doses administered per 100 people, compared to the United States (for example) on 135 after 346 days.
One of the reasons for our relative speed could be that we are a more cohesive society, compared to the U.S. where politics is becoming increasingly tribal. As of 13 September there was a 13% difference in vaccination rates between counties in the U.S. that voted for Joe Biden (52.8%) and Donald Trump (39.9%). Where populations are polarized, trust is low. Today, in Aotearoa, the Auckland District Health Board has the highest rate of vaccination (>95%) while my region, Northland, has the lowest at 85%. Northland has the highest percentage of Māori population in Aotearoa. They were on the receiving end of colonisation with its legacy of distrust. If you are a member of a population group that has low trust the government, why would you accept public health messaging?
Climate change and trust
If climate change were just a technical problem, we might have solved it by now. But it is cultural and social. Cultural because we are embedded in a culture of consumerism, and social because we see most of those around us not showing overt sighs of concern. We know that burning fossil fuels is a big part of the problem, but most of us, when fueling our cars manifest a higher priority for personal and family mobility than contributing to climate action.
The scientists are telling us we are in an exponential crisis and a two degrees warmer world may be catastrophic for humanity. But for some reason we aren’t responding with the same urgency as we are for the covid pandemic.
I wear a mask in public places mostly to conform with others around me, who probably have similar motivations to me. I have been vaccinated mostly because I want to protect my family and community. But where are the same behaviors in relation to climate change? Where is the daily briefing from our political leaders? What is the equivalent of seeing our Prime Minister sanitise and wear a mask in the realm of climate action? Where is evidence of massive government expenditure to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis? We need a sense of urgency from leaders at all levels of the community.
Look around. Who do you trust to lead the way with climate action?