Tuesday, February 23, 2021

doing vs influencing

it probably isn't a coincidence that human-caused climate change is getting more attention than usual these days. what with a change of US president from one who went out of his way to trash environmental commitments to one who seems to be making the right sounds so far, think-tanks focused on the post COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and catastropic climate changes in some parts of the world that are getting harder than ever to ignore even by the most entrenched naysayers and skeptics, the time seems ripe for change.

however, change is not as simple as it may seem at the outset. one wants change to have an impact, because anything else is simply a waste of time (and time, when it comes to the environmental-time-bomb, is obviously of the essence, as it has always been).

I have tried making changes personally over the years: reducing use when economically and logistically feasible (by buying non-perishable items in bulk without packaging, practically eliminating food wastage, etc), reducing my energy footprint, reusing whenever possible (I go through about 2 plastic bags a YEAR), have taken up upcycling and freecycling items when possible, and finally, recycling when reuse is not possible. but... and this is a big but: all my changes are practically insignificant.

worldwide, household waste is under 3% of all carbon emissions. and we were relatively carbon conscious all our lives to begin with (my energy footprint in Mumbai was so low, I did not have to pay electricity bills for over a year!). Right now, in the UK, I've survived 3 winters without using heating until outside temperatures dropped below 0 - barring January, my gas bill in the UK is the same as it was in Mumbai, despite higher taxes + rates per unit! Despite riding a high capacity sports tourer, my overall fuel usage is under 1/5th of what it was in India - simply because I cycle on a daily basis and ride about once a month (or maybe twice a month when we were not in a lockdown).

And so, it seems clear to me, there's not much more I can do personally by way of action to avert the climate crisis. The problem lies elsewhere.

For example, my personal network in the UK comprises of people who either walk, or (mostly) drive cars. and when they drive cars, they usually do so for short distances. one less family ferrying groceries by car for a month would save on more emissions than I have in a year of cycling! A family of 4 who switches to bulk-buying non-perishables without packaging would save twice as much plastic as I could have. But it's even simpler than that. I don't expect families to go cold-turkey and stop driving completely. Simply cutting down on trips by better planning would make a bigger difference than I possibly can. Families with infants switching to reusable diapers even a couple of times a week would reduce more non-recyclable trash than I produce in a year.

Obviously, nobody is going to wake up and make such changes of their own accord. Which is where influencing comes in.

100 people making a 1% reduction is probably better than one person making a 100% reduction (if that was even possible). 1% is such a small reduction, one may not even notice it! Something like a 50% reduction would be possible without significant impact to cost and well-being. And even that will do spectacularly if a significant number of people do it. The network effect can do wonders - when it actually takes effect.

The question is: how?

How does one motivate people to make changes?

Preaching doesn't seem to help.

Example doesn't seem to help.

Not doing anything (obviously) doesn't seem to help.

One area I feel particularly handicapped is: data. hard numbers. Or better still, tunable models.

If I could spend some time with each person in my network, I could actually help them identify easy wins. But without data, that's practically impossible, becase I'll be asking people to just go by my word. And my word might even be wrong - I am no expert myself!

If I could locate other like-minded and similarly motivated people, we could help each other get better at this.

My goal would be to get people motivated enough to identify easy wins and spread the word about techniques (as opposed to actions).

I'm sure there are many tricks I'm missing, but for starters, let's connect and figure things out.

After all, it's our world we're talking about.

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