Citizens have made two big jumps but they have not told their politicians

9 February, 2020 Leave a comment

While the greenhouse effect has been well documented for decades, up until recently only a small percentage of the population really engaged with the topic. The hot summer of 2018, Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future and the Australian forest fires have done a lot to bring the climate crisis into the mainstream.

My hypothesis has been that citizens have changed their mindset significantly over the past two years, namely:
– they now see climate change as a serious threat
– they are willing, in theory, to change their lifestyle to protect the climate.

Nevertheless when I observe the people around me I see little evidence of consequent ecological action. I attribute this to people being too drugged up on work, kids, social media, consumerism, travel, sugar, alcohol and sleep deprivation. To a lesser extend the widespread green-washing creates some confusion which does not help.

To test my hypothesis I ran a four question survey between 8 and 16 February 2020. A big thanks to the 75 persons who responded.

If you haven’t responded to my survey, I would be grateful for your contribution. It takes about 60 seconds: Survey.

The first jump is that 99% of the respondents assessed the climate change situation as either critical or serious (+7% over the same question I posed in August 2018 with 49 respondents).

The second jump is that there is quite some intention at an individual level to contribute to a solution (high score = completely open to the idea, low score = completely closed to the idea):

And even if the lifestyle changes actually undertaken lag behind the positive intentions, the results indicate that quite some citizens consider that they are making a high number of lifestyle changes (high score = high number of changes, low score = no changes):

And now comes the interesting part. To help close the gap between positive intentions and actual action, citizens are open to having governments impose lifestyle changes on them (high score = completely accepting, low score = completely rejecting):

So why this openness? I think imposition reduces the amount of self-discipline one needs to muster up to make the necessary lifestyle changes. And it provides some reassurance that you will not be the only one making such lifestyle changes so your effort will contribute to a bigger and more impactful endevour.

And here comes my unresolved question: If citizens are willing to accept government imposed lifestyle changes, why are governments not acting?

Is see two possible answers:

  1. They haven’t noticed the mindset shift in the population and therefore they still fear that by imposing change they will pay the price at the next election;
  2. They fear that if they impose change, the corporations that finance in part their political parties will pull the rug from under their feet.

In all likelihood it is a combination of the two. So instead of legislating change, governments continue with green rhetoric and symbolic/minimalist green actions.

But citizens are becoming more aware and critical. They see the climate crisis getting worse despite all the green political talk. As a consequence the media are becoming more critical. This situation, in combination with other socioeconomic factors such as income inequality, result in voters abandoning the centre left and centre right parties in favour of more far left and far right parties.

My prediction is that the centre left and centre right parties will lose power and implode before the can reform themselves. And it is my hope that some of the political parties, along with their voters, will subsequently move towards the centre to fill the vacuum created by the old centre left and centre right.

The big question will be whether we, as a society, manage to implement significant climate protect measures at the same time as navigating these turbulent political waters.

How do you read the situation? Please leave a reply below.

And please share these survey results with any politicians you are connected to!

A letter to Président Hollande

15 November, 2015 Leave a comment

Dear Monsieur Le Président,

I listened to you speakingPeace for Paris to your nation following the events in Paris yesterday. I thought your words were steeped in the old story – a story that keeps the world in its stuck state. I felt it was an opportunity missed.

I would like to share with you what I would have wished to have heard you say:

“The killing of so many people last night is hard to grasp. It triggers a mix of feelings including dismay, pain and fear. It is a tragedy for those who died, those who are injured and those who are relatives and friend of the dead and injured. It is deeply disturbing for me and for so many people around the world to read and hear about these events.

It is a generally held belief of mine that values can only be virtuous. Such values include kindness and compassion. Yet as humans there are times in our lives when our behaviors deviate from our virtuous values. When this happens we have an internal conflict. And I know of two options to overcome this internal conflict: either we bring our behaviors back in line with our values or we tell ourselves a story.

I want to speak to those who have carried out or supported the actions of last night. Over the past weeks and months you have been telling yourselves one of these stories. Your stories needed to be big enough to justify the killing of people. They needed to be big enough to be able to dissociate yourselves with the suffering you were about to cause. If you had managed to disconnect yourselves from your story for a moment – just a brief moment – you could have placed yourselves in the shoes of those directly impacted by your actions and those being confronted with the most heart wrenching of realisations that their loved ones are gone and will not be coming back.

To those of you who supported the preparation of these events, I urge you to pause for a moment, connect to the suffering you have contributed to, disrupt your story and reconnect to your values.

How should France react to these events? I would like our reactions to strive to achieve a number of outcomes. I would like them to be supportive of a deep healing of all those impacted. I would like our reactions to reduce the chances that such events occur again. And I would like our reactions to drive a deescalation rather than an escalation of violence.

I know that our security forces are doing there best to prevent further events. We need to be aware that there actions can reduce threats but they have not and will never be able to completely prevent them. And some of their actions come at a cost. When their actions result in death they spread more suffering and fuel more hatred. When they increase the invasiveness of our intelligence services they comes at a cost of civil liberties. And financially they consume public funds that could be used to facilitate healing and well-being. And while we may take some additional measures to reduce the short-term threat, these measures need to be made with a protective rather than punitive mindset.

Beyond protecting ourselves from the immediate dangers we need to focus our energy into being the change that we want to see in the world. Only by looking after all beings can we look after the people of France. We often don’t realize how much our lives are interconnected. We share more than we realize. But events like last night’s can give us an insight into how the state of the world impacts the state of France. How France decides to respond will have impact on the state of the world. If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we always got. Let today be a turning point for all of us.

France will observe three days of mourning to give us time to absorb and reflect on what has happened. After these three days we will start a dialogue on how best to shape the future that looks after the well-being of all.”

Yours sincerely,

Tony O’Grady

Carrots and sticks

2 May, 2010 9 comments

The mismatch between what science knows and what business does

There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is a time to fear its hold over us. The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea; it has us.


Punished by rewards

The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans A's, praise, and other bribes

These were the opening words from Alfie Kohn’s book ‘Punished by Rewards – The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s praise, and other bribes’. These words rang a bell with something I had been questioning for some time. My studying of, and work with, Marshall Rosenberg’s concept of Non-Violent Communication had lead me to question the use of superficial praise such as ‘thanks for the great presentation’ or ‘that’s an excellent report’.

When I discuss the shortcomings of such communication with people in my close environment, they can relate to what I say, but nonetheless appear content, or even get a short-lived kick, out of such superficial praise. I can’t help but think that we are missing out on so many opportunities to have more meaningful and life-enriching communication.

So it was with much interest that I picked up Alfie Kohn’s book, in my search of a better understanding of the impact of rewards and praise in our society and in particular in our workplaces. In a book packed with notes and references to articles and field studies I found what I was looking for. Read more…

Ecological transparency

8 November, 2009 7 comments

Radical ecological transparency

Something needs to change

My interest in environmental matters goes back to sometime in my early teens. It started with saving electricity by turning off lights at home when growing up in Ireland, to getting more into recycling when I moved to Germany in early adulthood. It has continued to evolve over the years as I became more conscious of the ecological impact of my ways and found alternative and more sustainable ways of living.

By the beginning of 2007 I held the belief that the environmental situation was getting steadily worse and that if we didn’t start to address some of the issues in a more concerted manner our lives were going to get uncomfortable, retirement in 30 years time would not be pleasant and our children would be asking us why we didn’t act sooner.

A wake up call

The film from Al Gore that helped push the Climate Change centre stage

The film from Al Gore that helped push Climate Change centre stage

Then I picked up a copy of Al Gore’s film entitled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. While watching this film I realised that a number of these environmental degradation processes are not at all linear and that the degradation process is not a steady one. I understood that we have set in motion a number of vicious circles (e.g. the melting of the permafrost which releases methane – 21 times more damaging than CO2 – into the atmosphere) and potentially even a number of tipping points (e.g. the Atlantic heat conveyor).

This new realisation encouraged me to redouble my own efforts to reduce my ecological footprint. I sold my car, reduced my flights and switched to green electricity. In 2006 I produced 12 tonnes of CO2. Two years later I had reduced that figure to 7 tonnes. I had increased my percentage of organic purchases and I had encouraged a number of initiatives at my workplace which were starting to take effect.

But I could also see that these efforts were not enough for several reasons:

  • As a inhabitant of a developed country my 7 tonnes of CO2 was below average but disastrously high compared to the world average;
  • My 7 tonnes only included the energy related carbon footprint component. If I were to calculate the carbon footprint from my consumption we are talking about a multiple of this; and
  • I still wasn’t including the toxicity generated through my consumption nor it’s social impact.

In addition when I looked around at my family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and the world at large I still felt very much part of a minority community who was seriously concerned with ecology. I figured that this minority was not enough to have the impact that I believed we needed. Read more…