My last post was on confronting Ecoanxiety and the feelings of frustration, overwhelmed-ness, and despair when faced with climate change.
So how do we overcome such a complex and slow moving problem?
When you have time, watch this TED talk by Per Epsen Stoknes. He so nicely summarizes how to change our focus from doom to climate solutions. I enjoyed this video because, in a wonderful Norwegian accent, Stoknes’ is succinct and focused on positive solutions. So refreshing!
There are two current approaches in climate communication right now. One is to overwhelm people with data and information, in the name of so-called “evidence-based” research. But this only leaves us feeling confused, detached and small. The other communication technique is to use doom and gloom scenarios – which only shuts people down with fear.
The solution to climate change, Stoknes says, is all in our head. So he counters the 5 common “inner defences” we put up on hearing overwhelming climate news, with these 5 solutions:
Instead of distancing ourselves from something that is happening “over there”, in the arctic for example, we should bring it home by making it social. If we devise new social norms for climate action, it creates momentum that spreads to our friends and neighbours. He gives the example of solar panels as a tangible individual action that has already taken off. If one person in a neighbourhood has them, their neighbours are far more likely to follow suit. This is the power of peer influence!
We should ditch doomsday scenarios and in their place create supportive scenarios. Disaster needs to be reframed into opportunity, where we link climate action to social change: improvements in human health, poverty reduction, better housing or new tech jobs (solar is a growing industry).
To change the negative spiral we need to be mindful of the 3:1 ratio. For every doomsday picture we need to paint an additional 3 supportive pictures.
We all have that internal voice that calls out “hypocrite!” when we drive and could have walked, biked or taken transit. We feel this dissonance when we know that our lifestyle is contributing to climate change – but do it anyway. To remedy this, Stoknes says, we can use simple “nudging” to make more environmentally sound choices. These policies, taxes and even physical infrastructure would make it harder (and more expensive) to carry out a heavy emissions lifestyle and make it easier (and cheaper) to opt for what is better for the environment.
If there were more protected bike lanes, more people would bike. If it was more expensive to drive in the city, transit would be cheaper by comparison. If all packaging was recyclable or biodegradable, less garbage would go to landfill.
In order to feel incremental change and eliminate the paralysis of feeling overwhelmed, we need to signal to ourselves and each other how we are improving our lifestyles. By visualizing our progress we can stay motivated in our climate action (the old carrot vs. stick). The app Ducky is an example of how real time feedback can help people and businesses transform their carbon footprint and reduce their energy waste. The Ohm Connect dashboard is another great example of providing realtime feedback to reduce emissions (read my post One Small Step: Ohm Connect for more info).
We need to change the stories we tell about those who care about the climate if we want to engage everyone in finding solutions. We need more and better narratives of new heroes pioneering real change rather than pitting one political view against another. Electric Vehicle owners speak from positive personal experience, for example, rather than supporting a specific political party.
The Earth is a self-regulating system.
Stoknes invites us to re-envision the air of the Earth as living air. It moves the oceans; it forms clouds that water the forests; its warming and cooling makes the weather.
The air surrounds us at every minute, wherever you may be, reading this post. You can feel it moving through your nostrils right now. We rely on the air to breathe and to regulate the Earth’s surface temperature. It makes life on this planet possible. It’s all that separates us from space.
Our lives exist inside this “fragile wrapping” of living air around our planet.
If we reimagine air as a living thing instead of taking it for granted, it’s only natural to care for the air. Only if we take care of it – will it take care of us.
Maybe that’s the first step in the next evolution of the three Rs. We know we need to go beyond “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
Reimagine, Reconnect, and Reverse climate change!