The duty of leaders
Q: This week's nuclear summit presents one of those difficult leadership challenges: focusing attention and resources on a low-probability problem that would be disastrous if it occurred. Global warming, 100-year floods, financial meltdowns are other examples. How can a leader fight the natural tendency among followers to put off dealing with what seem like such abstract and complicated threats?
In preparing people for a potential threat, leaders must supply the context and describe the possible consequences. It's always the duty of leaders to prepare people for the future, and this applies to negative situations as well as positive ones.
Sometimes it's the role of our leaders to simply serve up the blunt truth, unpleasant though it may be. This is especially so when the subject is global warming, nuclear combat, or some other potential catastrophe. Certainly, in the case of nuclear warfare, the argument can be buttressed with a reference to two examples from fairly recent history.
The bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed those Japanese cities, and yet those atomic devices were relatively small compared to today's weapons. One shudders to think of the destruction our modern weapons could do. It's all the more crucial, then, that we support our leaders' efforts to institute systems of control, particularly in a world where rogue nations and terrorist organizations are trying to get their hands on such devices.
In the case of global warming, just ponder the terrible consequences of inaction. Just a small rise in the global temperature could bring drought and disease to the interiors of many countries, and it could raise coastal waters that will drive millions from their homes.
Of course, even in such life-and-death matters, our most clear-eyed leaders must cut their way through the tangles of politics. Indeed, some politicians in this country have built careers on mocking science. You can almost understand why they do so, when you see surveys - like the National Science Foundation survey of 2004 -- indicating that sizable percentages of the public don't know that the Earth revolves around the sun or that dinosaurs and humans never co-existed or that the Earth's core is hot.
This level of ignorance is, in itself, a high-risk problem, making it that much tougher - and that much more urgent - for our leaders to guide the way toward a future that's as free as possible from threats to our planet and everyone living on it.
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