The climate crisis is arguably the biggest leadership challenge that humanity has ever faced.
It is a prime example of system complexity illustrated by our rich interconnectivity and our interdependence on the delicate ecosystem which sustains all of our lives. Healthy people cannot exist on a poorly planet; we are Earth and Earth is us.
There cannot possibly be anything more urgent or important than ensuring a livable future for our children and our children’s children. At present, that is very much at risk and the generational injustice of this cannot be underestimated. It is for that reason that much of the climate action movement began with Greta Thunberg and the school strikes – highlighting that leadership can come from anyone, anywhere. Even the most vulnerable members of our society (our children) can be powerful agents of change.
The health implications of the climate crisis are profound, with climate-related deaths expected to escalate at pace over the next two decades. During the heatwaves of Summer 2022 in the United Kingdom (UK) alone, there were 3271 excess deaths attributable to the extreme heat experienced, and we have already seen child deaths due to toxic air pollution levels. It feels as if we are sleep-walking into our own mass extinction and many of our political leaders appear to be dragging their feet.
There may be light at the end of this gloomy tunnel, however, and that light is the growing passion ignited within our communities, and in particular the health community for action in the climate arena. We are seeing clinicians from all professional backgrounds, health leaders and educators rise to the occasion, advocating for a greener, healthier future for the sake of our planet and ultimately for our patients. In the UK, some aspects of climate action have been spurred on by the NHS’s commitment to be Net Zero by 2040; illustrating how much can happen when supportive policy and legislation creates an environment for meaningful change. Whilst supportive conditions are, of course, crucial for success, there is still much work to do and creating sustainable healthcare systems forms only a small part of this mammoth task ahead.
It is clear that whilst those already involved in the climate action movement may be feeling tired in what feels like an uphill battle, they remain deeply inspired and committed to change. The beauty of a growing movement and collective action means that those involved are able to pass the baton on to others when a moment of rest is needed; self-care, a crucial aspect of effective leadership. This is a marathon, not a sprint and so remaining energised is an important part of sustaining momentum for change. We must also rejoice in our moments of success, appreciate one another’s efforts, continue to welcome new people to the action space and celebrate the wins, no matter how big or small.
Rise. Reflect. Rest. Rejoice. Repeat.
The Greener Leader blog series aims to hear from those within this climate action movement, doing what they can, when they can, to lead the way for a positive future. It also offers a space of reflection and celebration of the achievements to date, whilst also emphasising both the challenges and opportunities ahead and the persistence and engagement required to enable meaningful progress. The change required is not something that will happen overnight; it is the ultimate paradigm shift in how we view our lives and requires a deep and vulnerable exploration of what health creation and true equity actually mean. It could also be viewed as a call to action for those who are curious or interested in learning more about how to get more involved in this work.
This blog series aims to provide a space for sharing empowering and thought-provoking stories of leadership through the lens of climate action and sustainability, termed in the literature as “eco-ethical leadership” and giving voice to those who are part of the ever-growing community of health voices striving not only for a livable future, but for one that is healthier, fairer and brighter. Health voices are trusted voices and with that trust comes responsibility. Future generations will look back on this moment and ask our generation of leaders – “what did you do?”
What do we want our answer to be?
As awareness and momentum builds, perhaps the standard operating system in which we work and live will be one in which planetary health is incorporated into every aspect of our leadership. Maybe one day this will mean that “eco-ethical leadership” will simply become known as “leadership”; an acknowledgement that anything less will hold us back from truly rising to the challenges ahead.
I invite everyone to read, share and write for the Greener Leader blog series, which aims to keep the dialogue open and the hope alive, whilst reminding us that we can all be leaders in this space too.
Dr Rammina Yassaie
Dr Rammina Yassaie is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership at the Centre for Leadership in Health and Social Care, Sheffield Hallam University. She is a medical doctor by professional background but has worked as a leadership development practitioner since 2018. She is Alumni of the HEE Yorkshire and Humber Future Leaders Programme along with the FMLM Regional Clinical Leadership Fellow Scheme and is currently an Editorial Fellow at BMJ Leader. She is a longstanding advocate for compassionate, inclusive, collective and eco-ethical leadership, with a strong passion for multi-professional education and development.
Declaration of interests
We have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: None