Can consumers help fix climate change?
As Big Fish becomes a climate-considerate consultancy, one of the issues I’ve wrestled with is the question of just how much individuals (and the brands that they buy) can affect climate change. On the one hand, it’s clear that the everyday actions of individuals have a huge impact on the planet, from what we eat to the methods of transport we choose. But on the other, our capacity to actually improve that impact is limited – by our wealth, but also by the technologies that currently exist and by the choices that are open to us.
It’s easy to feel despondent, and to think that any effort to encourage consumers to behave differently is like banning drinking straws – divisive, noisy, rife with unintended consequences, and ultimately a pointless distraction. Are we just fiddling while the world burns, allowing fossil fuel companies and governments off the hook while we distract ourselves with petty arguments?
That’s the theme of this week’s article: just what can we ordinary folk do? And for those of us who spend our time speaking to consumers, is trying to get them to change their habits a useful endeavour – or a pointless distraction?
This week’s article
Being an individual concerned with climate change can be pretty demoralising. Is there anything we can do as individuals, or will the answer come from a small number of bureaucratic heroes in the government, universities, and R&D departments?
This week’s three interesting link
Evocative advice on how to combat writer’s block:
“BUT: sometimes you do everything right and you still have writer’s block. In my opinion, there’s no reason to force it at this point. Writing comes from the deep and complex things happening within your mind. It is an expression of Creativity.
“It helps to think of Creativity as a force, a capitalized word.”
The anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, who died in January, is the subject of a fantastic retrospective in Edge that features many of the things she wrote and contributed to the publication over the years.
If you read only one thing, make it “How to be a Systems Thinker”, from 2018. It’s a goldmine of thoughtful advice about thinking, from the interconnectedness of complex systems:
“We were doing all sorts of things to the planet we live on without recognizing what the side effects would be and the interactions… Once you begin to understand the nature of side effects, you ask a different set of questions before you make decisions and projections and analyze what’s going to happen.
“We have taller smoke stacks on factories now, trying to prevent smog and acid rain. What we’re getting is that the fumes are traveling further, higher up, and still coming down in the form of acid rain. Let’s look at that. Someone has tried to solve a problem, which they did – they reduced smog. But we still put smoke up the chimney and think it disappears. It isn’t gone. It’s gone somewhere. We need to look at the entire system. What happens to the smoke? What happens to the wash-off of fertilizer into brooks and streams? In that sense, we’re using the technology to correct a problem without understanding the epistemology of the problem. The problem is connected to a larger system, and it’s not solved by the quick fix.”
…to the importance of narrative and metaphor in our thinking:
“It turns out that the Greek religious system is a way of translating what you know about your sisters, and your cousins, and your aunts into knowledge about what’s happening to the weather, the climate, the crops, and international relations, all sorts of things. A metaphor is always a framework for thinking, using knowledge of this to think about that. Religion is an adaptive tool, among other things. It is a form of analogic thinking.”
…and so much more besides.
She wraps it up with an exhortation not to neglect bigger-picture thinking:
“The tragedy of the cybernetic revolution, which had two phases, the computer science side and the systems theory side, has been the neglect of the systems theory side of it. We chose marketable gadgets in preference to a deeper understanding of the world we live in.”
Gasper Nali is a Malawian musician who plays infectious, danceable music using nothing more than a cow-skin kick-drum, a home-made bass guitar that he plays with a beer bottle, and his voice.
“The instrument he’s playing is called a ‘Babatoni’, it’s a home made bass guitar, about 3 metres long, with one string and a cow skin drum as a resonating box.”
In response to some internet interest in his music back in 2015, Spare Dog Records provided some studio time for him to record a single. He’s since released two albums; the second is raw, unfiltered, and represents him and the Babatoni at their best, I think. #