Last night I went to see the new movie Invictus and I learned an important lesson about the challenge of global warming. That may seem an unexpected experience as the movie is about rugby in South Africa. The film tells the true story of the world championships rugby in South Africa in 1995, about a year after the Nelson Mandela had been elected president for the first time by the black majority of the country. After Mandela’s party, the African National Congress (ANC) had come to power Mandela resisted pressure to change the name and colors of the national rugby team, the Springboks. The Springboks had become a much-hated symbol of the Apartheid policies of the white minority in South Africa.
Against the deeply felt sentiments of his black supporters Mandela took a huge gamble to let the Springboks keep their name and colors. More so he aligned himself with the captain of the Springboks, Francois Pienaar and inspired him to lead South Africa against many odds to the world championship. Mandela realized that he would alienate the white minority by taking ‘their’ Springboks away. He also saw in the rugby world championships a great opportunity to unite his country behind a common national goal. His gamble brilliantly paid off as South Africa took the championships and the vent triggered national celebrations never seen before indeed bringing together South Africans.
It is a beautiful film with Morgan Freeman (Mandela) and Matt Damon (Francois Pienaar). And it’s a lesson in statesmanship. As Freeman says in the film to his angry black supporters who don’t understand why he wants to keep the Springboks (and Mandela might have well said the same): “You elected me to lead you. Now let me lead you.” Mandela withstood vested interests and built a new nation.
That’s exactly what government leaders around the world now need to do as well in response to the challenge posed by global warming: withstand vested interests and build new clean energy economies. It is hard to expect the oil industry with all its related political interests to easily and happily join in the transformation of the economy. However politicians representing the interests of the people at large should, like Mandela, point the way and make the shift to clean energy happen. Their “gamble” is hardly as risky as Mandela’s was. South Africa was an outsider to win the worlds championships in 1995. Mandela and Pienaar could have so easily lost. However the nations who dare to transform their fossil fuel based economies into sustainable renewable energy economies first will almost certainly gain a lot. Germany is leading in solar power and German industry – and employment – is already benefiting from that. The world is moving in the clean energy direction anyway and early leaders will be rewarded.
But to reap these rewards we need much more than, for instance, the initiative of US senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. This is a perfect example of a careful step-by-step approach that almost never leads to big victories. As the architect of the successful German renewable energy policies, Bundestag member Hermann Scheer, says in an essay in a special free edition of Ode Magazine on solutions to global warming: “Fear of revolutionary change is the motivating factor behind widespread resistance to renewable energy. It is necessary to overcome this resistance. There can be no environmental revolution in energy supply without creative destruction of the existing conventional energy industry. In the end, this is a question for politicians elected by the people. They have to decide what is more important: taking care of the future interests of the conventional power business or taking care of the future of society.”
Mandela would have known the right answer. We should hope that the world leaders that will be coming together in Copenhagen later this week will find some of his inspiration for their talks and meetings.
And, by the way, read the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley that inspired Mandela during his many years in prison and that gave the movie its name. It’s a truly beautiful and inspiring poem.
Global Warming is a big topic, the Climate Change Conference is a big event, and there are many points of view on both: Be sure to check out Care2′s daily coverage of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference which is taking place now at Bella Center in Copenhagen.