Climate change is, without much doubt, the greatest current threat to life as we know it.
You know that already, right?
So why are we both staring into a screen? Why am I still taking flights to my beloved Africa, running a travel business (http://brilliant-uganda.com and (www.brilliant-ethiopia.com) and indulging in other activities that contribute? Surely we should do something about it? Now.
Sacrifice. Stop. Crisis. Extinction. Rebel. Change. Critical.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe much will change, except for the climate, unless we change the way we look at the problem and the solutions we propose.
I’m no marketeer, or psychologist. Yet even old Simpletom knows that the way we’re going about trying to get people to change their behaviour is way, way off.
The narrative is entrenched. The believers – climate change campaigners – perhaps rightly shrill that we must change dramatically and immediately. The naysayers poo-poo these activists, simply tuning them out and doing nothing, often becoming more entrenched. The louder the shouts, the more the desperation is belittled. Particularly as life around us doesn’t seem that different. What’s all that noise about? Please do not block my way to work, thanks very much, for something I can’t see, taste or feel just because you believe it.
Typecasting is easy. Hippies, piercings, dreadlocked, Swampy-types, home-brew, tie dye, hemp – even though many of those bashing the table are entirely respectable – this is how they’re described. All of these words were used in a single Times article this week, claiming to be balanced. The Prime Minister, writing off the movement in one fell swoop as “uncooperative crusties… in heaving hemp-smelling bivouacs”.
Dinner tables are divided. Much like ‘the other big debate in the UK’ at the moment beliefs have polarised. There’s the boy/girl who cried wolf in every family, at every dinner and in every newspaper… Or Father. The Prime Minister’s own Dad, speaking at an Extinction Rebellion (XR) debate, said he was proud to call himself an “uncooperative crusty”. Wow, take that right in the Borises.
In the other corner, there are SUV-driving, stuck-in-their-ways, Jeremy-clarkson-esque, Daily-Mail-Reading, meat-eating, conservative, keep-buggering-on, privileged, ignorant, port-swilling, out-of-touch, Middle-England folks who selfishly watch whilst Rome, and all the the other countries too while they’re at it, burn. There’s some organic mud slung right back at you, deniers.
For all of the stereotyping, these people share the same DNA, houses and social classes. The slurs polarise, disrespect and calcify.
In a previous article I supported XR, in the absence of a better way to make a difference. It’s raising awareness for sure. People are talking, the conversation has started. You can’t wait for ‘someone to do something’ – when that someone is someone else. The dinner debates are growing. Extremes are needed to get those unchanged to change. Long may they continue. I hope there are more protests.
But it feels to me that we’re light years away from changing climate change, despite the increasing awareness. Don’t fly or eat meat for environmental reasons is totally the wrong message and could even result in greater inaction, not action.
Frankly, there’s part of me… a largish part of me… the thinks that we deserve what we’ll get. We humans, in the last 100 or so years have egotistically and selfishly paved, felled and polluted our world in order to create comforts for ourselves which, once we’d improved our own health and situation (regardless of whoever is mining our smartphone innards), has quickly made us manic, obsessed and depressed. We’ve overdeveloped and demanded more and more, way beyond our marginal happiness and fulfilment, to a point where we’re all less connected. We have too much stuff, we’re obese, depressed, lonely and inward-looking (as I discussed in my TEDx Talk). We need less, not more and we’d be happier – which is selfish, but also helps the environment too.
What to do?
I live near a hospital’s main entrance. Whenever I go past, there are a multitude of overweight people clutching UV drips in hospital gowns smoking cigarettes.
If you can’t encourage a sick person to stop smoking or eat healthily – when the actualisation of their actions directly effect them – how is it possible to make a difference to climate change, if the collective actions are so disconnected from the uncertain outcomes? Asking someone to do a gruelling bout of physio because of a looming illness when they feel fine, will most likely result in no action. And probably guilt, anger, upset and rejection, which means that they’re less likely to listen next time, when it’s even worse. That’s how psychology works people.
Why stop flying if there will be a 300-700% rise in the number of flying miles by 2050? I’ve discovered that I emitted about 20 tonnes of carbon last year. What do I do with that information? What does it even mean? Calculating it is useful if embedded in the cost, but elevating it into my consciousness? Not useful, because I don’t know what to do with that fact, except feel guilty about something or try to do less of something that I want to do. Maybe the social benefit of putting money into poor communities is more important than climate change? Welcome to pandora’s box where we can have a heated discussion for a few hours and leave feeling dammed whatever we choose.
Just knowing how much carbon that I produced is such a lame, almost-statistic that feeds into the apathy. Sure, it feeds into the problem, but asking single people not to fly results in guilt or willing ignorance. I’m not saying people shouldn’t fly less, or that flights shouldn’t include their full polluting cost, but there has to be a better message and method.
Does the Israeli/Palestinian disagreement improve when both sides insult each other? What does individual action do? If we’re doomed, why don’t we just enjoy ourselves? Why give up eating meat if you never hear the piglets scream?
Please understand that I’m absolutely not suggesting no action. Far from it. We need to start with the basics. Individual action DOES make a difference, as William MacAskill argues. But instead find something that will appeal… or at least be easier for both sides to accept. For sure, those that think we face a crisis will want more faster. But we need to BEGIN with messages for the 80% who are unmoved, not the 20% who are. We need messages for the people of Tennessee, not Bristol.
Here’s my solution, which I think could actually begin to change climate change:
I want you to imagine an advertisement that went out to Boris Johnson AND an ‘uncooperative crusty’ and appealed to them BOTH. Find that, and I think we’re on to something. It may be too little too late, but then it’s not really worth campaigning at all, is it? Change can compound, for good and bad. So let’s get started with the easier stuff, the things that will be constructive to the debate rather than inflammatory. A journey begins with a single step, n’all.
I have many suggestions, which I’ll add in a subsequent post. Think electric cars, taxing polluters properly, more efficient aircraft, cycling and walking, eating so you feel better and live longer (plant-based), complementing people on what they are doing, rather than what they’re not, living more simply, using consumer pressure effectively, greening the home – purely for cost-saving reasons at first (think insulating, light bulbs etc), encouraging your employer to be more responsible because they’ll become better businesses (financially and ethically), buying less stuff simply because it’s making you unhappier, not happier… and so on. Positive messages. These are just common sense. I don’t need to leap onto an organic-naturally-constructed-soap-box to sell these to you, yet they will all have a significant effect on climate change too.
If you’ve got more suggestions which fit, please add them in the comments.
Let’s START by making the easy but meaningful, positive changes that we all want and make sense regardless of what may or may not be happening elsewhere, in order to start to make the difficult change we all need. Once these start to work, we’ll be able to move to the next level.