One key characteristic of our Inconvenient Species is our habit of using anger and blame to try and generate change around climate change.
This isn't surprising. Read a majority of many "mainstream" articles about anger, and you could be forgiven for thinking that anger is a useful force for change.
However, there's NOT a lot of actual, scientific evidence that supports this view. While our anger response is instinctive, it's actually hasn't been particularly useful for centuries in producing long term, sustainable, positive results.
"The ancient instinct to lash out when angry has evolved because on the wild and dangerous savanna where early man lived in small cliquey societies , a vengeful reputation may have been an advantage."The Anger Fallacy, p. 70
We don't live as tribal hunter-gathers any more. Leading anger researchers today are validating what philosophers from both eastern and western cultures have taught for centuries: anger is NOT useful for achieving anything much that's positive and sustainable over time.
Feeling angry is one thing - it's part of being human. Faced with the cumulative human irrationalities that have resulted in global warming and climate change, feeling angry (and scared and sad and resentful) is pretty much inevitable.
BUT can you effectively use anger as a tool for creating positive, long lasting change in the world? That's where the evidence is lacking.
And there are things you could well miss out on if you're angry all the time...
There has been a lot written about "channeling anger" - but it isn't backed up by the research.
What anger motivates in the long term is victimhood and vengefulness - NOT learning, cooperation and sustainable, supported change.
There is no actual evidence that anger is useful in generating long term, positive change. Its processing costs outweigh its supposed "motivating power".
Yes, you will be angry - you are human, after all.
BUT once you understand the reason why you're angry is it helpful to STAY angry?
What evidence there is suggests that the processing costs are pretty high....
The state of anger compromises your thinking in a few ways :The Anger Fallacy, p. 72
• It makes your thinking rigid and automatic .
• It distracts you and clogs up your random - access memory ( RAM ) .
• It makes you fixated on external change .
Neuroeconomists tell us that - since we are organic beings - we have a limited amount of processing capability. Anger uses up your time, energy and problem-solving space - and then wastes it as you stay angry and become angrier. Being angry fixates you ON being angry - when you could be solving problems instead
When you express anger , what you actually do is rehearse it , rehash it , go over it , remind yourself of all the details of what’s making you angry . This works you up . As you hear yourself advocate and proselytise , you tend to mount arguments , which simply reinforce what you already thought .The Anger Fallacy, p. 17
When you're angry, you play the blame, shame and guilt game. That's an been an ongoing feature of human behaviour for centuries (and one leveraged extensively by social media in recent times).
But think about the last time that someone tried to motivate YOU by blaming and shaming YOU. Did you respond by agreeing with them and quickly, enthusiastically taking on their issue and acting on it? Really?
Blaming is a strategy aimed at getting others to take the burden of emotional and real work; that is, it’s a way to get out of having to do stuff... It makes you reliant on other people doing stuff for you. It makes you soft, lazy and unskilled.The Anger Fallacy, p. 94
Getting angry with other people and playing the blame game takes away YOUR power to be part of the wealth of solutions already happening in the world today. (Which means you could well be missing out on some great business and career opportunities.)
Even if your anger gets you acquiescence - will it get you the results that you want to the level that you want them?
... expressing anger to weaker or more desperate opponents may make them concede more (because your stance will seem tougher), but they will also be more likely to deceive or conceal , they will resent you , and they will be less inclined to renegotiate with you in the future ...The Anger Fallacy, p. 39
...expressing anger to more powerful opponents is always a bad idea : it will make them feel and express anger in return , and concede less ( or be less likely to settle a dispute )
So if you're expecting that shouting at others is going to deliver the climate solutions you want, have another think.
Good leadership is defined as:
"Managers get people to do what needs to be done. Leaders get people to want to do what needs to be done."Warren Bennis
It's plain hard work using anger as an approach - it means you're pushing people to do something they don't care about or don't want to do.
...influencing another to do something is often magnitudes more work than problem-solving it yourself.The Anger Fallacy, p. 94
And what are your chances of getting a result you will actually LIKE? When you push someone else to do something they don't want to do, mostly they do it:
Overall, anger turns out to be a tiring, uncomfortable, unproductive way to create change.
The approach that has been summed up in Stoic Philosophy and Zen Buddhism to Psychology - and practiced by Seneca, Gandhi and Martin Luther King - suggests that there is nothing you can do with anger (once you understand its cause) that you couldn't do more effectively using more positive emotions to create sustainable change.
A key enabler for moving beyond anger is to understand what we now know about how automatic human behaviour actually is. The emerging science tells us that our behaviour is mostly far more automatic than we would like to think.
The decisions we believe we’re making ‘ freely ’ are all in fact determined by a dense thicket of crisscrossing cogs and causes — biographical , physiological , cultural , psychological , neurological and environmental . They don’t come out of nowhere.The Anger Fallacy, p. 177
We are incredibly complex creatures , entwined in incredibly complex situations , which makes our choices often seem baffling and unpredictable ; but we are nonetheless , ultimately , biological machines that obey the laws of physics just like everything else.
While it conflicts with 20th century ideas about "free will" and "choice" - this view of humans as actors in systems can make our intervention plans and strategies far more powerful.
If you're not angry, then you can get curious about the human systems in play and how you can leverage them for change.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”― Buckminster Fuller
The more you fight against the system, the more those in the system fight back.
The world's 10% (approximately) innovators and entrepreneurs have been building solutions for centuries. The first solar panels were installed in New York City in 1884 - and renewable energy is multiplying, sourced from sun, wind and waves. We have all the technology we need - the challenge is to use it.
If all your energy goes into fighting the status quo, how do you support (and benefit from) the renewable revolution? What opportunities DON'T you see because your Reticular Activating System is preoccupied with the problems of the status quo?
You can study the wealth of commercial climate solutions we already have, and explore the smorgasbord of new jobs being created as those solutions are scaled.
You can study the systems causing the behaviour - the pressures, the beliefs, the culture, the motivators. You can learn about both the physical production systems doing harm AND the human social systems around them. You can explore everything from Systems Thinking for Social Change to Paul Hawken's Project Regeneration.
You can explore for leverage points that can create shifts in those systems - without having to wait for "belief" and "agreements" and a time when "everybody is on the same page".
(And if there's one top skill for progressing your career and growing your business success, it's the capability to innovate human systems.)
If you're not using up valuable energy in rehashing anger, rehearsing your grievances and "shoulding" about what other people "ought" to be doing, then you can use your brain for problem-solving.
The most creative parts of your brain only operate when you're functioning well - you lose them when you're stressed, angry or anxious.
You can still be an activist - but when you ditch the blame and shame, you can be an intelligent activist working to create paths forward.
You can follow Buckminster Fuller's advice, and be part of "building a new system that makes the old system obsolete"...
This post draws heavily on ideas from the 2013 book The Anger Fallacy, by clinical psychologist Steven Laurent cognitive behavioural therapist and researcher Ross G Menzies.
It has elegantly put in to words many of my concerns over years of listening to passionate, well-intentioned (but ill-informed) environmental activists - confirming that we need to become smarter communicators.
Defaulting to the anger/blame/shame/guilt emotions used so toxically by social media platforms is unlikely to deliver the future we want.
The book is published by Australian Academic Press - and is well worth adding to your change-making toolset.
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
"...as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself". NUDGE, 2008. Richard Thaler with Cass Sunstein
Richard Thaler's 2017 Nobel Prize for Economics "nudged" me into finally reading the New York Times Bestseller NUDGE on the illogical nature of many default human behaviours.
Thaler proposes that those of us interested in changing human behaviour and systems should learn how to re-engineer them so that it's easier to make good choices - a process he call "Choice Engineering".
Supermarket designers apply choice engineering all the time, from putting chocolates at the checkout to displaying high-margin items at eye-level while budget brands languish at floor level.
Subscriptions that automatically renew and using a habitual parking space at work are other examples of automatic behaviours that we simply repeat without conscious consideration.
Traditional economics regarded humans as logical decision-makers, who make the best possible decision on the information they have available.
A more up-to-date understanding of human perception, human decision-making and human emotions is that we are busy people struggling to cope in a complex world - a world in which our brains cannot afford the energy to think deeply about every choice we have to make.
Thaler's books offer examples of systems changes that can ethically nudge people in the direction of choices that will improve their lives.
For anyone interested in sustainability, it's worth asking how we can ethically nudge people toward better environmental and social choices:
In one NUDGE example, food waste in canteens was reduced simply by removing trays - so people were limited to what they could carry on a plate.
In a recent UK trial, initial studies indicate that buyer behaviour is changed more when a small extra fee is charged for a disposable coffee cup than when a discount is offered for BYO mug. (Loss avoidance trumps benefit.)
Recycling rates are substantially improved by matching the shape of lid of the recycling bin to what's being recycled, such as small circles for cans and bottles, slits for paper.
Project Drawdown published the first ever research into reversing global warming and shifting to an economy that consumes greenhouse gases using current technology in April 2017.
How could we engineer better choices that shift us towards more beneficial Drawdown actions? What would contribute to better refrigerant gas management, reduced food waste, educating girls, the take-up of silvopasture or eating more vegetables?
If economic decisions were rational, the financial benefits of being sustainable (such as Interface's $393,000,000 savings) would have started a major industry shift to a regenerative economy decades ago.
Maybe it's time to try:
ON (W.A.I.M.O.O) instead ?
After all, there are savings of $74 trillion over 30 years identified by Project Drawdown and private sector opportunities of $12 trillion estimated from delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals. But "look at the opportunity" could be less powerful that "what are you losing in 'status quo' thinking?"
Read Nudging: A Very Short Guide for a quick introduction to the subject.
Watch Thaler speaking on the subject here: Richard Thaler on Behavioral Economics: Past, Present and Future