“While we were finishing the book [Drawdown] I spoke with three of the best-known international climate change experts—professors and authors who have been leading this field for the past 25-30 years. I asked them to write down their top-5 solutions for global warming. It took them a long time.
Moreover: They were all wrong.
Their top solutions are not the top solutions according to the data of the leading institutions as we have researched those.
Here’s my point: We are 40 years into global warming. It is the most serious problem humanity has ever faced. We have created it and the authorities in the field cannot name the top-5 solutions. That’s an astonishing anthropological fact. There is no plan…” (emphasis added)Paul Hawken in The Optimist Daily, 2018
Most problem experts on global warming are academics and scientists. - meteorologists, climatologists, botanists, hydrologists and the like. They know a lot about their chosen field and the politics within their academic silos - but how much do they know about the worlds of business, including manufacturing and distribution?
The multiple planetary boundaries we're challenging all have their roots in the 1-way mine/make/use/dump design thinking that industry inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Academics and scientists often operate in very traditional organisations and specific silos. So they can sometimes have suprisingly mainstream "solutions" ideas collect from what "everybody knows" - thinking like:
So it's not surprising that they would automatically look to "the authorities" for action.
"We've got to get the people to tell the government to tell business that its alright to take action"Famous environmental campaigner
Unfortunately, human perception automatically designates the focus of a message as the causal factor.
If "everyone knows" that the environment is a government responsibility, then many of our more traditionally-minded experts are all to likely to act from that mindset.
So what happens when you tell the average consumer or business person about the environment and the need for government action? They worry - and then get on with doing business as usual.
Who changes industrial design? Who delivers economic innovation at scale? Who designs, constructs and delivers the vast majority of the products and services we use every day?
Look at the smartphone in your pocket or bag and think about its history? Whose idea was it? Who paid the engineers who built the factories that manufacture them at scale?
To reverse the harm we've caused, we need to get our best and brightest business innovators scaling the design solutions of the last 40 years into practical, regenerative solutions. We need to accelerate smarter, more efficient, more profitable models like Circular Economy and Biomimcry and turn them into globally scaled industrial practices.
Government policy change isn't the only - or best - option for accelerating an industrial revolution.
I absolutely agree that governments can - when they choose - create supportive environments for sustainability innovation. I absolutely agree that government policies can be counter-productive (at least).
I know from 20 years of my own observation that there are many, many, many national, state, regional and local governments doing amazing things - and they have been doing them for decades.
Still, the most powerful, immediate leverage point for reversing global warming probably ISN'T voting for a government to make policy changes.
Vote, lobby AND go industrial...
One of the world's most sustainable businesses is Interface, and their approach has consistently been to "do well BY doing good". They take a strategic, longer term view - but they're about "good for the environment, good for the community AND good for our bottom line".
They have proven that strategic sustainability - like quality and safety in previous decades - is an innovation driver that offers trillions of dollars in business opportunity.
The Interface journey started when a series of events put sustainability front and centre in their CEO's head.
Think about who was behind the development, construction and commericalisation of :
Who drove the design and delivery work that made it a desirable consumer product?
The systems that deliver the products and services we use every day go back centuries. Their environmental impacts were multiplied and magnified by the Industrial Revolution. Then they were further accelerated through the 20th century.
Their primary problem is that they are fundamentally 1-way, mine/make/use/dump designs. Making them "more efficient" is like slowing down the speed of the car you're driving over a cliff.
To survive, you actually need to change direction. You need smarter, fairer safer systems - circular, renewable systems that restore and regenerate BY DESIGN. You need to change whole industry mindsets.
Industrial innovation at scale isn't typically delivered by democratic national governments.
Western democratic governments aren't "in charge" of the design of industry. They can set policies and - to a certain extent - regulate what business does.
Who is the primary force in designing, building and delivering the majority of products and services you consume every day?
Who directly briefs the engineers , designers and technologists who work out how to provide us with transport, clothes, energy and communications?
Research and development may be done in laboratories and think tanks using government funding . However, scaling a product or service for a national or global market is primarily done by canny business innovators.
These innovators are at all levels. They can be an entrepreneurial head of a global manufacturing corporation; the owner of a family construction business; or a collective of citizen entrepreneurs delivering a renewable energy coop.
It's surprising how few climate "experts" seem to know this - but we do. According to one analysis, simply by scaling 80 existing, commercial, no-government-required solutions we could be carbon negative by 2050.
This is what Paul Hawken found when he was preparing to release the first Drawdown report on reversing global warming in 2017:
“While we were finishing the book I spoke with three of the best-known international climate change experts—professors and authors who have been leading this field for the past 25-30 years. I asked them to write down their top 5 solutions for global warming. It took them a long time.
Moreover: They were all wrong. Their top solutions are not the top solutions according to the data of the leading institutions as we have researched those.
Here’s my point: We are 40 years into global warming. It is the most serious problem humanity has ever faced. We have created it and the authorities in the field cannot name the top-5 solutions. That’s an astonishing anthropological fact. There is no plan…” (emphasis added)Paul Hawken in The Optimist Daily
The problem experts don't know the answers. If they did they may still not have the supply chain smarts to turn good technology into great products and services.
It seems likely that the most powerful place you could campaign for climate action is inside an entrepreneur's head.
You can still march on climate strikes.
You can still use your vote to send a political message.
You can still reduce your meat intake and your car miles.
And when you've done those things you can do more!
You can learn about the existing, actionable solutions that are being collected under titles like Circular Economy and Regenerative Business.
AND you can do more than protest, vote and eat more veggies - you can take the best solutions to work and use them to build your career (or business)!
Find out more at my sister website Balance3.
Fear and anxiety were great for human survival when we wandered the plains of Africa as hunter gatherers 20,000 years ago.
We needed to be afraid of the world around us - so we'd be ready to RUN or FIGHT when a rustle in the long grass turned out to be a saber tooth tiger.
Fear and anxiety have a place - and back then the body chemistry involved in them was balanced by physical activity. Running away from that tiger (or ganging up and killing it) burned off all the stress chemicals.
The psycho-social impacts were appropriate too - blame and shame kept the tribe together, story-telling cemented social bonds and spread wisdom (as well as juicy gossip).
Fear, anxiety, shame and blame WILL NOT HELP change the 21st century world we live in.
(You just need to look at the groups of smokers outside cancer hospitals to recognize that fear alone is not enough to change human behavior.)
Fear has been the methodology of the communication about climate change. You mix fear with doom and gloom and stir well with shame and guilt and you have apathy.Paul Hawken, Founder of Project Drawdown https://www.optimistdaily.com/2018/12/solutions-thinking-climate-change/
(If fear REALLY changed human behavior, then 40+ years of warnings about looming, accelerating "environmental collapse" would have generated a whole lot more action.)
However scared you are about the future, IF you want to generate action instead of helplessness then don't JUST use fear.
Don't JUST talk about horrible futures and irresponsible governments and the need for policy change.
Constant, unrelieved fear - fear without access to immediate personal action creates HELPLESSNESS. It shuts down our brains and primes our bodies to run, fight or hide.
AND when you add shame and blame and guilt to your message it gets even LESS effective.
Think about it....
When someone comes at you with accusations about being "greedy" or "stupid", isn't your first reaction "NO I'M NOT!!!" Regardless of how valid their point is, how likely are you to REALLY listen to what they're trying to tell you?
This is what the experts have to say about making a person feel helpless:
Tell them that their problem is:Dr Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, researcher in Learned Helplessness
2) pervasive; and
Yes, we face massive environmental challenges. Yes they're multiplying and accelerating. Yes, we're late to action.
We have the technology to solve them.
Millions of people around the world are busy doing that.
There are scores of viable, scalable solutions that don't need "government policy change" in order to succeed - and the world's entrepreneurs are out there making them happen.
Much as it might feel good to complain about the people you think are guilty of inaction, it's worth thinking carefully about what you're saying and how you're saying it...
Is the WAY that you complain complain about a lack of government/ industry/ consumer action actually limiting the potential for that action?
When you loudly demand "national government action" - and especially when you complain about its absence - is this what you're implicitly telling people ?
It's a common message - AND IS IT ALSO SPREADING HELPLESSNESS?
So if the communication strategies that environmental campaigners have been repeating for 30+ years don't work, what do we do instead? Here are some starters:
If you're serious about solving global warming, ocean plastics or species loss - how much do you know about the solutions?
NOT the problem - but the SOLUTIONS!!!
(REMEMBER: Government policy change ISN'T a solution! It's just one channel - among many - for delivering solutions to the root cause issues.)
If you can't list the top 10 existing, scalable, evidence-based actions to reverse global warming, then how can you effectively "campaign for climate stability"?
So once you've picked your issue - whether it's global warming or ocean plastics - then get informed about the solutions.
(If it's global warming then download the latest Project Drawdown update - NOW!)
Professor Martin Seligman researched helplessness for years - and also how to overcome it. One of the outputs of years of teamwork (that led to Positive Psychology) came this ABCDE of helplessness-busting:
If you're a book junkie like me, then Seligman's classic Learned Optimism is a must-have reference. In the mean time, this summary of the ABCDE of helplessness-busting is a useful start.
Since (at least) the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972, environmental campaigners have been pushing pretty much the same line:
"We've got to tell the people to tell the government to tell business to action on sustainability."Various respected figures
Despite what they know about who and how smartphones, cars, social media and Internet business were commercialised at scale, they're still massively addicted to "government policy change".
The most powerful anti-smoking campaigns are the ones that start with fear and end with a call to action and immediate contact details for QUIT programs.
We're an Inconvenient Species - so if you MUST use fear, then make sure you finish with immediate, personal, beneficial ACTION.
For overwhelmed citizens, the movie 2040 is positive and accessible.
For anyone in industry - or with an entrepreneurial bent - the Project Drawdown list of 80 existing, commercial, no-government-required business and community development opportunities. These are all solutions that people can start action on immediately.
There are lots of other solutions, from systems-level design such as The Doughnut Economy and The Circular Economy to detailed product/process design approaches such as Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation.
You can explore further Regenerative Business solutions at Balance3.com.au
Human systems are actively self-conserving - so changing the fundamental design thinking behind them can take a revolution.
That's where we're most likely heading, led by the likes of Germany and China - towards a Third Industrial Revolution.
You wouldn't think it to look at the latest sexy, leading-edge technology products - but the design thinking underlying the systems s that deliver our smartphones and EVs is still largely stuck in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today's supply chains are still largely 1-way mine-make-use-dump based on extracting natural resources and exploiting human systems. They've left us with challenges from ozone depletion to species loss.
Jeremy Rifkin's take on this is fascinating:
“How do you grow ... when your businesses are plugged into a second industrial revolution infrastructure of centralised telecommunication, fossil fuel, nuclear power, internal-combustion transportation for roads, rail, water and air transport, and we know that the productivity in that infrastructure peaked, and all the major industrial countries over the last 10 to 15 years?”https://www.businessinsider.com.au/jeremy-rifkin-interview-2017-6
Rifkin proposes than a Third Industrial Revolution is on its way - one where we’re moving toward a planetary digital interconnected platform. He sees three global "internets" developing and converging: the communications internet, an expanding distributed "energy "internet", and a "mobility internet of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles.
At it's best, we could be heading for a complete transformation of our economic models - one where everyone connected could potentially engage in social entrepreneurial networks to form a global economy.
But the problems with revolutions tends to be that they sneak up on the majority of us. The existing status quo with its existing power structures fights for survival, and lots of assets, businesses, careers and individuals get stranded when the dam breaks and the flood arrives.
Economist Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics provides a great visual explanation of smarter economics, where the economy is more accurately sited as a circular system supplied by both the communities and the ecosystems it inhabits.
The most powerful place to change a system is in the mindset that created it - and whether the label is Doughnut Economics or Cradle to Cradle Innovation, Circular Economy or Biomimicry, the mindset shift is the same.
The shift is in the fundamental paradigm - that business exists outside ecosystems and communities. The fallacy that "the environment" is the domain of governments and charities is increasingly glaringly obvious.
The paradigm shift - which as been happening since the 1970s - is to re-designing the human systems we call "business" and "the supply chain" so that they protect and regenerate the ecosystems and communities that business needs to flourish.
The solutions are scaling, their efficiency and their financial benefits are increasingly quantifiable - to all sizes and types of organisation.
There's much more fun to be had delivering solutions - along with business, career and community development opportunity.
Are you missing out?