Want to solve climate change? Here’s the key…
Almost every low carbon forum I get involved in gets obsessed with technology. And when the Duke of Cambridge announced his Earthshot prize to fund a total of 50 Sustainability solutions £1m a pop, there was an implied assumption that this was all about harnessing technology – just like the ‘moonshot’ 50-60 years ago. Other conversations revolve around “we need more windfarms/insulation/electric vehicles/hydrogen vehicles [delete as applicable]”.
Frankly, the technology is the easy bit. Many clever people have added up the potential for existing technology and found that we have the toys at our fingertips to solve the problem (and inevitably, as they become the norm, those technologies will improve further). So if we have the technology we need, why are we still on a dangerous climate trajectory? Well, because the problem is not so much ‘what?’ as ‘how?’ We have electric vehicles, how do we get people to buy them? In other words, beating climate change is largely a change management challenge.
I’ve often said the biggest barrier to Sustainability is just 6″ wide – the space between our ears. Our view of the world is highly blinkered by what we know – hence the reason why we get campaigns against windfarms, but there are no campaigns to pull down electricity pylons. When we get together into organisations, all of our narrow perspectives multiply into what I call ‘institutional inertia’, what others might call groupthink, which really clags up the opportunity for change. Change management is largely about breaking minds free from business as usual and opening up new panoramas of possibilities.
Decades of environmental activism has proved that shouting at people isn’t a very effective way at achieving change – people tend to cover their ears rather than opening their minds. So what should we do? My advice to the environmental movement is to read some psychology books. Understand what makes people tick and why they make the decisions they make (hint: most are made by default, not design). Then we can work out how to effect change.
Psychology will save the planet. You heard it here first.
[For the record, my three recommended reads are: Switch by the Heath bros, Nudge and Thinking Fast and Slow – the last two at least are found in almost every bookshop. My own book Green Jujitsu sets out my approach to effecting Sustainable change].