Frustrated with Trump's election victory? Me, too.
So ... now what?
I see four options:
1) Let the negative, sad, frustrated emotions drag you down into utter despair (That sounds just lovely, right?)
2) Pretend it will go away soon, or that someone else will fix it for you while you watch "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" (Hate to break it to you, but this will not go away anytime soon)
3) Fight fiercely against the change Trump and his voters desperately want (Presents a huge risk of getting caught up in the bitterness and hate that already divides far too many people in the Western world)
4) Roll up your sleeves, and through your actions and words, be the change you want to see (If your reaction to this option is "boooooring" then maybe just go with option #2)
While you ponder these four options, I'll tell you I think the Trump Presidency is the biggest opportunity our societies have been presented with in a really long time. After reading this post, I hope you feel the same. Don't get me wrong, last week I was almost numbed by sadness. I felt depressed and discouraged by the fear, anger, and racial and ethnic animosity the Trump campaign brought to the surface. But he didn't single-handedly create it - it was already there. And we know this is not just an American phenomenon. What happened last week was a replay not just of Brexit but of many similar events worldwide - the election in my home country of Denmark last year included.
Because of my personal and professional dedication to sustainability, I am horrified by Trump's promise to ditch the Paris climate agreement and abolish restrictions on the production and consumption of coal and other fossil fuels and his dismissal of global warming as a hoax "created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Deep sigh.
But then, I realized, I had been there before. Exasperated with the failings of a political process. Profoundly disappointed and shocked to my core. Depressed. It was seven years ago, in 2009, in the days following the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. For three years, my team and I had worked hard to engage the international business community in the negotiation process through the Copenhagen Climate Council. Despite extremely high expectations of a new legally binding treaty to tackle climate change signed by all nations, the negotiations broke down and 190 Heads of State fled the scene, leaving behind utter chaos and desperation. And a treaty in the very distant future.
Powerful action grew from a state of despair
For two years, the climate establishment was in a state of collective shock. The momentum and excitement that had grown leading up to the Copenhagen summit was gone. Many refused to believe the system had collapsed and that we needed a new approach. So they continued with the same rhetoric and actions as before - out of fear and resistance of doing something new. They lulled themselves back into a comfortable state and went on producing conventional policy papers, old-school work streams, arranged (mostly) all-male panel debates that sucked all life out of you, and they continued to use an extremely elitist language. Many still do to this day.
Meanwhile, a miracle happened: Thousands of community projects and sustainable start-ups, progressive city plans taken on by thousands of mayors, new innovative industry partnerships, and the popularity of the "circular economy" flourished while most politicians and NGOs were either repeating themselves or in grid-lock. Thousands of people and companies took matters into their own hands and brought about the change they wanted through their actions. That wealth of global action, and that positive spirit of powerful bottom-up action, was a critical component in securing a political success in Paris, in December 2015, when a new global treaty was finalized and agreed to by all key nations.
The same kind of bottom-up movement that emerged in the aftermath of the Copenhagen summit is already happening in the wake of last week's election. American companies have already united to urge the President-elect not to abandon the Paris Agreement as it would endanger U.S. prosperity. And I have never experienced so much love, courage, and feistiness since the election last week. Millions of powerful voices are finally speaking out, as they now have something real and tangible to fight for. That wouldn't have happened had Hillary won last week. We would have sighed in relief for a few days, and then returned to business as usual. But the underlying problems would have remained.
Wake up and face the music
Globally, we need to wake up and face the music. We must realize that old institutions, systems, and structures must be reinvented or replaced. We must ensure that the change we create is not elitist or top-down. We need to think out of the box, as we cannot solve our problems with the same solutions that created them, to quote Albert Einstein. Let's do our best to look at the years ahead as the most fascinating time in history and know that we're lucky to be alive and ready to help shape the future.
Returning to my four options, I see #4 as the only way forward, if you want positive change and want to affect the world you live in. Those sleeves of yours need to be rolled up (and you can even watch a little "Kardashians" on the side if you want). If it seems daunting, start small. As a consumer, you have the power to vote every day: buy organic and fair trade; get rid of your plastic bags; support gender equality wherever you can - from your workplace to the classroom; teach your kids compassionate behavior; shift your bank account to one that practices responsible investing ; bring a meal to the homeless; be kind to all people; recycle; buy second hand; quit your job if it doesn't match your values; put your foot down on all bullying and discrimination; seek to understand and listen to the people around you. I could go on, but you get the picture. Dry your tears and move on. Speak your truth, and act in accordance with the values you want more prominent in our society.
I thank Trump for making me even more focused and determined. I'm going with option #4 and have decided to use the money I had saved for a down payment on a house to build an organization focused on helping sustainable solutions scale. I'm no hero, but I know what kind of society I want my 3-year-old to grow up in. There's no way politicians at home or abroad are going to create that for me alone - I have to roll up my own sleeves, and so do you.
Buckle up and stop whining. And, thank you, Mr. President-elect, for waking us all up.