Apocalypse governance: Stay woke!


Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate (centre), a Goodwill Ambassador for Unicef, takes part in a protest during the COP27 climate conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. AFP PHOTO

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” — Greek Proverb

A few weeks ago, my 11-year-old daughter walked into my bedroom in a distressed state, tears streaming down her face and totally incoherent. After about 10 minutes I had managed to calm her down to the point where between deep sucks of breath and long nose blowing episodes she was able to unpack her issue. It was a very simple issue. The world was coming to an end in 2050. The End.

She had been watching some climate change video on YouTube probably produced and directed by descendants of the authors of the apocalyptic, biblical book of Revelation.

According to my own descendant, the rate at which global warming was occurring meant that Mother Earth would eventually be worn down by flooding, drought and every imaginable climatic disaster. She would be 39 years old by then and in her prime.

Hopefully with a family that she hoped would be standing together when the big wipeout came rather than her being at a mall sipping on an iced cappuccino while her kids were frolicking at some birthday party. Good people, this girl wept copious tears of sheer angst.

The Greta Thunberg penny finally dropped for me. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last five or so years, Swedish-born Greta was born in January 2003 and shot to global fame as a youthful climate activist.

At the age of 15 she started spending her Friday afternoons outside the Swedish Parliament protesting about climate change. Her efforts didn’t go without notice and she was invited to speak at the 2018 and 2019 UN Climate Action conferences, the latter to which she travelled to the United States by yacht rather than leave a carbon footprint using air travel. Greta, who is now 19, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times in the last four years and has won numerous global awards and recognition.

If you watch Greta talking she’s vocal about one thing: all the people in decision-making positions today, at government level globally, do not give darned care about what the world will look like in the next 15 years as they will be long dead. Together with millions of youth around the world, a “woke generation” has emerged.

My daughter at 11 had the temerity to tell me that there were companies in the world and in Kenya that were adding to the global warming phenomenon and she wanted nothing to do with them. Well that got me thinking. Fast. In the last few years, the new buzz theme in corporate governance has turned to an Environmental, Social and Governance focus (ESG).

Directors are being forced to tackle these issues at a board level with an objective to create companies that operate responsibly with regards to environmental, social and governance issues. Prior to my daughter’s meltdown, I had regarded ESG issues as just another major parameter that I had to keep sight of in my governance journey.

But when she said she’s now becoming conscious, “woke” actually, about what products we were using in the house and whether they were being manufactured in an environmentally responsible way, I now became aware of what our emerging duties as directors is.

Our duty is to ensure that if the companies we oversee do not start paying attention to issues around climate change, their current youthful and future consumers will make that decision for them by simply walking away.

In a report published by Unicef on November 9, 2022 in preparation for the COP27 summit, almost half of young people in Africa said that they have reconsidered having children due to climate change.

This was a result of a Unicef U-Report poll of 243,512 worldwide respondents where 43 percent of the sub-Saharan Africa poll participants said a range of climate shocks had impacted their access to food and water as well as their family’s income therefore making them reconsider their desire to start a family.

Whether you are a climate change believer or denier, the facts is this: every single business has a responsibility to the community in which it operates. If you don’t start doing something about it, your future consumers will make that decision for you. Stay woke!