Burning Question #15: What is Climate Quitting?
Picture this: You’re a passenger in a car, driving happily along at a rapid clip (Bob, the driver, is a bit of a speed demon), and suddenly something in the distance catches your eye. You squint and see what appears to be a plummeting cliff ahead. You’re headed straight for it.
You lean toward the driver and say, “Hey Bob, do you see that?”
Bob glances at you and asks, “See what?”
“That,” you say, pointing ahead. “It looks we’re headed for a cliff.”
“Nope,” Bob says. “There’s no cliff. I know this area really well. No cliffs around.” He keeps his foot on the gas, and you continue barreling ahead.
You start squirming, more anxious by the second, because you’re pretty sure the car is barreling toward a fiery crash at the bottom of that cliff, despite what Bob says.
At this point, you have an uncomfortable choice: Stay in the car and hope Bob is right despite all appearances to the contrary, or open the passenger door and bail out, hoping you don’t break your neck as you roll through the bushes.
Introducing the dilemma faced by many workers in today’s rapidly climate-changing world: Continue with business as usual despite the looming cliff of ever-worsening climate change, or engage in something known variously as “climate quitting” or “conscious quitting”.
A February 2023 article in Yahoo Finance quoted Jeremy Campbell, CEO of the performance improvement consultancy Black Isle Group, “‘[The COVID-19 pandemic] has made many people think entirely differently about work… Merge that shift with the realization that we are killing the planet and you bring together two powerful forces which have reprogrammed the mindset of people about the way they work and what they expect of the companies they work for.'” ‘Conscious quitting’ is the newest trend sweeping the workplace. Here’s what leaders can do to avoid it (yahoo.com)
More and more people, it seems, are beginning to see themselves as the passenger in Bob The Speed Demon’s car, considering whether to sit tight or bail out.
I recently heard a fascinating podcast from the BBC called The Climate Question, in which the staff interviewed several people around the world who had changed their careers to move away from carbon-intensive jobs and into work that helps the planet and makes our kids’ futures brighter.
Among those interviewed was a man identified as Donald who quit his job as an engineer at Exxon Mobil in 2018. “Over the course of my career,” he said, “I grew more and more disillusioned. My concerns were really coming to a head around 2013… that the company was going in the wrong direction, that… there
weren’t any concerns about the greenhouse gas and climate change impacts…. It was glaring to me how hypocritical we were.” The Climate Question – Should I quit my job to fight climate change? – BBC Sounds
It only makes sense to bail out of a car that’s clearly barreling toward disaster, but the difficulty of a decision such as this is powerful. We all need to make money and feed our families. But the great quandary is how to balance short-term needs (and let’s face it, wants) with long-term factors.
To conclude the allegory with Bob the Speed Demon, our best choice is to convince Bob to slow down and consider rerouting away from the cliff. And many people are starting to find alternate routes, both for themselves in their own work and individual lives –from switching jobs to convincing their employees to adopt climate-friendly practices to driving electric vehicles and installing solar panels–and as part of a growing chorus demanding action from employers and governments.
If Bob the Speed Demon truly understood he was headed full-tilt toward a cliff, he would (unless he’s suicidal) quickly decelerate and drive a different direction (in his new electric vehicle, hopefully). Those of us who see the cliff owe it to Bob, and to ourselves, to speak up.
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