You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic

This is such a great, simple message. It looks like it comes from a marketing team (hey, they know their craft) but it shows how powerful a few words can be in communicating a message that challenges the way people see themselves and their behaviour.

We have a tendency to not see ourselves as part of systems, to analyse our or others’ behaviour as isolated rather than symptomatic of a larger social, economic or political structures, particularly when it comes to collectively undesirable or unsustainable behaviours. A message like this puts our behaviour in context, perhaps in a new light, prompting us to question it.

It reminds me of this great illustration on how unsustainable our addiction to cars over public transport or cycling is.

picoftheday0012-space-60people

Interestingly recent research suggests that, for some, our attachment to cars is largely about a sense of privacy, autonomy and personal space. This is interesting because governments tend to make public transport “competitive” with private transport in terms of cost and convenience yet these are not always the main considerations for people’s the preference for driving. As the researcher Jennifer Kent of Sydney University put it in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“It is an attachment to notions such as privacy, autonomy and predictability, as well as comfort provided by things like air-conditioning, private sound systems.”

Which suggests that if we want to cut down on private car use we need more than just neat slogans to cut through and challenge people to think about their behaviour. We also need systems level thinking. As Kent suggests, we need governments to conduct “a full-scale evaluation of transport and land use to see which policies might be inadvertently, or quite obviously, perpetuating car reliance and car appreciation.” Systems level change and design while bringing people along with that change and the reasons for it.

A breakthrough

Australia’s been a little short on good news stories concerning renewable energy over the last few years. But this week’s announcement from the South Australian government that Australia’s first solar thermal plant will be built in Port Augusta is a welcome ray of light.

Solar thermal plants capture solar energy and store it using molten salt so it can be released, as electricity, when needed. This one, to be called Aurora, will provide all of the state government’s energy needs. Not only is the Port Augusta plant an Australian first but, when completed, it will be the largest in the world! And it comes hot on the heels of the South Australian government’s July announcement that Tesla will build the world’s largest lithium ion battery in the state.

These world leading innovations in renewable energy generation and storage show that with ambition, policy certainty and support Australia can help lead the global transition to clean energy. They will help spur Australia’s technological and economic transition to a low-carbon energy system. And they will be tangible examples for the wider public of clean energy solutions in their own backyard. They represent exciting steps and long awaited signs of better things to come.

Climate action for a fairer, better world

Last month David Wallace-Wells penned a now much-discussed article in New York Magazine on a potential worst case scenario of a world riven by runaway climate change. I don’t want to comment on the article, per se, as much has already been written on it both critical (here and here) and supportive.

What I want to focus on is how we inspire people to take and support the kind of climate action that is needed to realise the huge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that are required to avoid dangerous climate change. People need to understand the severity of the threat climate change poses but also to be galvanised by a vision of the better world that can be created by tackling climate change and decarbonising.

Writer Kate Aronoff, in response (below) to the Wallace-Wells article, suggests the need to frame climate action as a means of creating a fairer, not just more sustainable, world.

Kate Aronoff

The causes of climate change are deeply intertwined with global and national inequalities and power structures. Those of us who live wealthy lifestyles create a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions while those who will suffer the impacts of climate change most strongly are the poor and minority groups. Indeed, according to Oxfam, “the poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of global emissions” while 50% of emissions come from the richest 10% in the world.

As Aronoff suggests, tackling climate change presents a powerful opportunity for us to address these systemic issues and create a fairer world, one where more of us have access to affordable and clean energy enabling us to lead healthy, happy and prosperous lives. One where energy production is democratised and localised through new domestic or community owned renewable energy and energy storage technologies. One where air pollution is reduced in cities through widespread electric vehicle usage and cycling leading to better health. One where businesses, from multinational corporations to local corner restaurants, aren’t just held accountable for their social and environmental impacts but actively engage in minimising them as part of their responsibility to the society and environment they operate within. One where developing countries have access to clean energy technologies that allow them to prosper. And one where developed countries take responsibility for their legacy of greenhouse gas emissions by greatly reducing their emissions and aiding developing countries to grow in as clean a way as possible.

This kind of vision of climate action as a vehicle for creating a better, fairer world for all of us but is sorely lacking in contemporary political and media discourses. It may not have the headline grabbing appeal of doomsday articles but it just might help us avoid the kind of scenarios they envision.

Social. Connected. Visible.

 

Climate change is a wickedly complex problem, no small part of which is due to its causes being invisible in our everyday lives. This video from Vox and University of California is a great explainer of how particular types of messaging can make the causes of climate change visible and deliver nudges that help us change our behaviour to tackle them.

Give it a watch! To help lodge the message in your brain these are my key takeaways:

  • Make behaviour change activities social and competitive (eg. comparing energy savings with neighbours)
  • Connect the behaviour change to a wider problem, ideally one that people can relate to personally (eg. air pollution affecting kids’ health, particularly impactful for parents with kids)
  • Make the problem or impact of changes visible (eg. show people their home energy use by device, put data in their hands).

System check

Is capitalism the system that’s best suited to build our future society?

I love how simply and innocuously this question frames capitalism. It’s taken from an article by Jason Hickel and Martin Kirk.

Since the end of the Cold War capitalism has appeared unassailable, aided by increasing living standards and decreasing poverty, the growth of international finance and multinational corporations the narrative of global dominance. But with growing inequality, corporate influence, climate change and environmental degradation more people are questioning the merits and, indeed, inevitability of capitalism.

Hickel & Kirk’s question not only neatly captures this growing discomfort in a straightforward, non-ideological way but prompts us to think about how capitalism can be changed to address these growing failures and even what better alternatives might replace it. Most importantly, it inspires us to think about what we want a future society to look like and how we can reach it. Will the continuing pursuit of ever greater profit help us get there or do we need a fairer, more environmentally sustainable economic model? What new ideas, communities and business models are being explored right now that can help us create the future we want?

Read the article here, it’s a good’un.