The IPCC has 2.5 billion data points behind the last assessment – the fifth assessment. It is the most astounding problem statement that humanity has ever created…Extraordinary!
But you don’t solve a problem by repeating the problem over and over again to each other. You solve a problem by looking at the possibilities that are inherent in that problem.Paul Hawken, Project Drawdown - University of Queensland, 2018
A whole lot of people in the world KNOW that climate change is an issue - so KNOWING THE PROBLEM is probably NOT the real problem.
For someone to take action on change, they need to:
Anyone working in public health knows that you've GOT to do more than fear messaging - they know (as Martin Seligman wrote in LEARNED HELPLESSNESS 30 years ago) that you've got to connect people with immediate action they can take today.
That's why today's anti-smoking ads always finish with a QUIT line number - because when you WANT to change you need to know HOW to change and WHERE change is already happening.
How many of the smokers who stand in groups outside cancer hospitals are there because they don't believe that "smoking causes lung cancer"?
The human mind does not run on logic any more than a horse runs on petrol.Rory Sutherland, Alchemy
So it doesn't matter how many "threatening futures" you talk about - if you don't tell people what THEY can do that will make THEIR world better today, you're not going to get a lot of action. (That's particularly true when we've been told for decades that "the people have to tell the government to take action".)
Back in 2014, sustainability entrepreneur Paul Hawken decided to find out for himself. After years of asking, no one had been able to tell him what the commercial climate solutions actually were. So he started Project Drawdown on a shoestring, and recruited 70+ volunteer researchers from 22 countries. They catalogued the top commercial solutions, selecting only those that had independent, peer-reviewed data that could be modelled at a global level.
Their initial findings - 80 commercial solutions - were published in 2017 in DRAWDOWN: THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE PLAN EVER PROPOSED TO REVERSE GLOBAL WARMING. They've updated their list and their modelling regularly, and in 2022 they were up to 93 commercial solutions that offer savings of $80-$140 trillion as a ROI on their investment.
Hawken moved on from Project Drawdown to explore the solutions that individuals, communities, regions and SMEs were creating, and in 2021 he published REGENERATION: ENDING THE CLIMATE CRISIS IN ONE GENERATION. So far, the experts of Project Regeneration's Action Nexus have compiled nearly 100 action lists for individuals, communities, SMEs, regions and industries.
And in parallel, the world's innovators and entrepreneurs have ALSO been developing design solutions. So anyone in business can get involved in solutions from Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation to Doughnut Economics.
There are a whole range of contexts supporting Regenerative Business innovation, so go exploring for the one that works for you. If you're industry, it might be a Circular Economy hub. If you're community oriented, it might be the Doughnut Economics Action Lab.
I offer 1-on-1 Regenerative Thinking in Action coaching/mentoring programs - check out Think Act Regenerate for details.
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