Leadership/Management

Climate Tantrums: Protests Need More Than Soup To Stir Change

Soup throwing has become the protest du jour of climate activists whose attacks on works like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers have been met with confusion and derision on social media. Climate change is indeed a gravely serious existential threat, but these protests amount to little more than a toddler’s tantrum. And, like any parent of a toddler could tell you, tantrums are rarely beneficial.

It’s undeniable that throwing soup (or paint, or whatever else has been hurled at famous works of art in recent months) is an effective way to get the attention of media outlets, which are more likely to give airtime to shocking stunts that provoke outrage—and subsequently, clicks—than they are to feature another day of record-breaking temperatures.

But childish antics will get us nowhere. Activists would do better to follow the example of business leaders and creative thinkers if they actually want to make a difference in the climate debate.

Last year was the hottest on record, and January continued that trend across the globe. It’s never been more clear that desperate action is needed, yet little seems to be happening to counter the problem. Politicians take two different paths to not solving the problem—pursuing perfect at the expense of good or denying the problem entirely. Too many corporations at the heart of the issue continue to foist the blame on the consumer, and too often fail to acknowledge their role in the problem.

The protests we’re seeing are well-intentioned but antithetical to what the protestors want to accomplish. Creating a climate movement requires getting more regular citizens engaged and on board to demand action. Soup-tossing protests do little more than spark outrage. They fail to create the necessary enthusiasm for joining the cause. They’re easily dismissable and create a high ground for the opposition. Climate deniers and change avoiders appear reasonable when they aren’t the ones blocking traffic or defacing historical artifacts.

Business leaders can help these individuals funnel their activism into more productive and impactful endeavors. In short, we need to show younger generations that there are better, more effective ways to express anger and build a movement.

As entrepreneurs, we understand keenly the audacity that hope requires, and the power that it can imbue to a cause. A natural prerequisite for any entrepreneurial success is the ability to envision a better future, a problem solved. The most ambitious of us reach for the hardest problems to solve, and perhaps none are more pressing than the looming threat of a quickly destabilized climate.

Many climate problems are solved, whole or in part, through innovation and invention. A company like Terracycle, for example, has taken off thanks to its innovative methods for recycling even traditionally un-recyclable products. Their recycling programs have pushed even major consumer brands to reconsider how they approach packaging and recycling.

Other programs, like the XPRIZE Foundation, offer major financial grants to companies and programs that find solutions to major societal problems. Their Carbon Removal prize has 1,325 different teams working on carbon removal solutions.

These sorts of programs, big and small, are vital in demonstrating what is possible. One of the biggest drawbacks of the current strategy of climate activists is that it does nothing to advance the conversation around the solution—what should be done. Within seconds of throwing a can of soup, youthful protesters are carted away by security or law enforcement. Their real argument never gets airtime as it is overshadowed by the spectacle of the protest itself.

There are several more impactful approaches a protestor can take—from simple outreach to direct protests or boycotts of individual companies or entire industries—to pressure them to change ways and adopt meaningful climate solutions. If they have the passion to commit to a long term, meaningful fight for the world they are to inherit, recent legal action has shown promise.

A victory in August by Our Children’s Trust in Montana set a precedent that could change the course of how lawmakers approach climate-related activities. Earth Justice and the Citizens Climate Change Lobby do similar work of employing existing legal structures to advance the cause.

Businesses can support these initiatives as well with CSR or ESG funds, donating work product or services as an in-kind donation, or encouraging team members to volunteer to support these organizations. By their very nature, businesses exist to organize collective effort to solve problems.

While anger may be highly motivating, it burns quickly. Long term change requires continuous effort, day in and day out. Long term change requires hope, it requires passion, it requires a belief that things can get better. If we’re going to be the adults in the room, we need to show the world that not only can things get better, but we must also show them how it can get better.

A tantrum is where energy goes when a child doesn’t know where else to put it. The recent protests are no different. These are young people who are scared and confused and enraged at the state of the world they are inheriting, and can’t understand why it seems like no one is doing anything to make it better when disaster feels overwhelming and omnipresent.

It’s our job to harness that energy and passion and help direct it to make a meaningful difference in the future planet these young people will inherit. We need to demonstrate what’s possible, by creating and supporting solutions, of all types, that help to preserve and improve our environment. Without effective examples and true leadership, our climate response is bound to be too little, too late.


Chris Yoko

Chris Yoko is the founder of Yoko Consulting and Carbon Off.

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