Of procrastination…

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Khaleej Times, December 14, 2011

We all know what this means to us… putting off something we ought to do. There is even a day set aside for this task – Frenchman David d’ Equainville proclaimed that March 26th, 2011 should be International Procrastination Day, but he said he did not mind “… if it were later”.

Today, or thereabouts we are faced with two sets of procrastinating groups who are interconnected. These are the negotiators from around the world discussing climate change in Durban, South Africa (over 28th Nov – 9th December) and the less numerous EU financial change negotiators in Brussels, Belgium (December 8 – 9th). The similarities are that both groups are beset by years of procrastination for very similar reasoning: we must not disturb our electorates.

On the financial side Jacques Delores (a former president of the European Commission and one of the original architects of the Euro) said he believed ‘the Eurozone’ was always a weak concept without it embodying a stronger federalisation and centralisation of fiscal control. But it is not feasible to attempt to run a single currency managed by one central bank over a continent in which each participating country manages its own fiscal affairs independent of the others. Therefore failure to deal with imbalances in member nations has brought the currency to the brink of collapse today.

With respect to climate change we see something similar – the complex scientific findings are decried as politicians, commentators and business people look in vain for a simple explanation. Meanwhile, the media has fragmented and the old expectation of quality and ethics has gone in the pursuit of market niches across all media types.

An Ipsos-Mori report ‘Tipping Point or Turning Point?’ attempted to qualify the public’s worry. Its authors say that complexity in science and the notions of probability do not translate easily to the public who, in the absence of definitive ‘proof’, search out signs of doubt. 40 per cent question our ability to predict the climate system; while as many as 56 per cent believe that the scientific jury is still out on the causes of climate change… and uncertainty by the public in the science is matched by widespread confusion and doubts about what actions to take and which products to buy. When asked unprompted what they are doing to confront climate change, most cannot identify anything beyond recycling, begging the question whether this has become a token behaviour that discharges responsibility in other areas.

The public is torn between competing and conflicting mindsets. As citizens they want to avert climate change but, at the same time, as consumers they want to go on holiday, own a second home, a big car and the latest electronic goods. They acknowledge their collective responsibilities but guard jealously their personal rights and freedoms – they also form a part of the tribe of procrastinators.

Finally, bringing both the Durban and Brussels issues together are the ‘hot money’ decision makers. These guys take decisions based on risk and have driven up their requirements for pay-back according to their perception of being repaid, or not. These guys do not procrastinate; they know that by delaying until tomorrow they will lose out on their own income stream today.

Within the climate change arena, specifically on CO2 mitigation, many EU nations have moved heavily to building up their electricity generating capacity via renewable sources, partly by stimulating markets through feed-in tariffs and partly by offering long term loans at low interest rates. Recently two problems have occurred.

Governments have lowered their offers of low-rate loans and have reduced tariff rates; at the same time they have placed greater stress on the use of natural gas as a fuel. So again the quick moving financiers have dropped solar and wind power project support, and instead are now investing in natural gas exploitation as they expect better returns from these new investments.

Procrastination is the biggest challenge we have to overcome. We all have an emotional reaction when we have to do something we don’t want to do, don’t enjoy doing, or we have become convinced we simply must not do. Acknowledging this reaction will not only make us aware that we may be procrastinating, but will also help us to stop procrastinating.

Frank-Jurgen Richter is chairman and founder of Horasis, a Swiss-based international organisation.