Communication based aproaches for shifting public perceptions cannot spur sustained action: a systems approach focused on culture change can
Many of the approaches proposed to effect attitude change have been related to new ways of communication and engagement. Although impactful communication did create a lot of initial awareness about climate change (Al Gore’s advocacy supported by initial briefings of IPCC) and brought climate change on the international screen, the gap from awareness to action has not been bridged and the fight against climate change has just graduated into an inconvenient necessity.
The key question here is what has failed? Communication has created awareness but can communication spur action? Can more effective and innovative tools of communication override the agendas of the world leaders? Even more importantly, can grassroots level awareness really help bring individual action?
Consider the case of a motivated activist, who has recently learnt about climate change and its impact, and chooses to advocate a strong position on extraction of hydrocarbons. The economist will counter him saying that his position would affect the economic growth, the local economy, the employment, and would conjure a picture of an unemployed miner and recount the hardships that his family will face. To top it off, he will say that you are also the beneficiary of the whole process and you also partake of the goods willingly, so there should be no moral ground to complain. Although the scenario pictured above is hypothetical, the real question is would the activist have any answer to the arguments?
It appears from the above that while communication and engagement based systems work well from the perspective of awareness generation and for mobilizing support, these tools cannot catalyze serious and lasting cultural changes that can spur on-ground action, especially in human- behavior related to ethical and moral issues that are at the crux of any climate action plan
What actions do you propose?
Our approach to accept responsibility and act against climate change is largely determined by our worldview, which is dominated by the prevalent socio-economic philosophy. To elaborate, the current economic philosophy of a ‘free market economy’ coupled with the emphasis on continuous growth for a growing population is in direct conflict with a real limited world battling with limited resources. Our collective social psyche shaped by religion also supports an unabashed anthropocentric view of world where man is made in god’s image and is expected to rule over the earth and has claim over everything the earth has to offer.
These underlying themes are strongly etched in the socio-economic culture and any contrarian worldview is not only difficult to accept but is also prone to ridicule. The solutions required to tackle climate change raise the very same contrarian questions and therefore do not get the necessary traction that is required. In this context, if we really want to change attitudes or do something about climate, the problem statement itself has to be reworded. It has to be acknowledged that climate change is not merely a scientific or an environmental problem; it is a moral and an ethical problem and has to be tackled at a philosophical level.
And at the philosophical level, there are very compelling and sensible alternate philosophies from the field of economy, ecology, and religion that support and even vigorously encourage a shift from the current socio-economic paradigm and way of life.
Alternative philosophies in economics: In particular, the concept of steady sate economics, fully developed by Herman Daly, combines the limits-to-growth arguments, with the theories of welfare economics, ecological principles, and the philosophy of sustainable development to develop a persuasive case for a steady economy that actually provides more welfare value and cultural growth to the human society. The center for advancement of steady state economy(CASSE), based in Arlington, US, advocates the concept through different outreach mediums. The zeitgeist movement, a global movement with no affiliation, approaches the problem from the perspective of a ‘resource based economy’ and considers that most of the moral ethical problems stem from a flawed socio-economic structure. The venus project, founded by Jaque Fresco, also propounds a similar view on allocation of resources and the obsolescence of the current economic system. Other alternative worldviews, from E F Schumacher, Lester Brown, etc. raise the same question about the effectiveness and the relevance of current socio-economic system in a changing world.
Alternative philosophies in ecology: The deep ecology movement, advocated by Arne Naess, hits at the root of anthropocentric thinking and advocates the concept of interdependence and sanctity of all non-human life forms, irrespective of their instrumental value. The abiding theme in the deep ecology movement is a deep appreciation for richness and diversity in nature rather than homogeneity or monopoly. This movement in being actively advocated by the foundation for deep ecology based in US. The concept of holism as opposed to anthropocentricism has also been strongly advocated by James Lovelock in the concept of Gaia; the earth, as a living system.
Alternative religious philosophies: Ancient Indian philosophy has been deeply rooted in the concept of interdependence and respect for ecology and environment. Even beyond India, eastern philosophy and religion has also been, in general, more egalitarian and broad minded in defining the concept of interdependence and equality between the Earth and the Man. This equality is emphasized in the insistence of many of these philosophies to adhere to vegetarianism and practice economy and prudence in the use of natural resources. In India, particularly, many ashrams and religious leaders (Auroville, Anand Ashram, Aanandmayee) with millions of global followers adhere to a different mode of economic and social living by forming communities that take only marginal part in the monetary economy and live in a better harmony with nature.
All these philosophies, though diverse, actually recognize the shortcomings and the problems of the current socio-economic model and propose a simple alternative model of living, essentially a new culture of living. However, despite the similarities, there are no linkages between these philosophies/systems and each of these systems works in isolation.
To effect a real cultural change to tackle climate and associated broader ethical questions, it is very important to bring these alternative philosophies together on one platform so that people who are aware of climate change and feel a need to act are inspired and emboldened by these alternative concepts and by the work that these institutes and individuals are doing.
To recap, just communicating and emphasizing on action will not be enough. It will be equally important to show various alternatives that will open a path to self-enquiry and self-actualization for really dedicated individuals, who can then influence others to follow their lead.
To start with, we propose creating a charter of common objectives between these institutions/ individuals. This charter will be circulated to these institutes along with a concept note outlining the need for an integrated action based on common denominator. This charter would serve as a template for the creation of a monthly magazine “The climate dynamo”. The magazine would focus on the study of alternative worldview concepts, case studies of alternative communes/communities or religious organizations , important system changes and news related to climate and ecology , stories and poems with the theme of climate, ecology, holism, etc. Over time, this magazine would invite contribution from the members of these institutes.
The potential subscribers initially will be students and researchers in the field of philosophy, ecology, social sciences, economy, religion and political sciences across the world. Subsequently, the subscription base can be extended to corporate sustainability and CSR professionals as well as development funding agencies in addition to select non government and government organizations globally.
The content will be collated and edited by eminent editors and reputable authors/researchers in Pune, India and will be sent for peer reviews before publication.
Going forward, there is a possibility that the movement may be taken forward by some interested institutes and organizations by forming a new knowledge exchange and research institute that takes on research in new fields like science, sociology, and political science to widen the scope for developing alternative world views.
Who will take these actions?
The proposer along with a reputed Pune (India) based editor and senior researcher and academician will draft the charter and share it with identified organizations. Subsequently, the same team will create content, collate and publish the first six copies of the magazine and circulate it among researchers and students across the globe.
Where will these actions be taken?
All the research, content development and publishing activities will happen from Pune, India. But the engagement will be global.
How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?
It has already been emphasized that communication and awareness generation cannot spur action by themselves. A bigger challenge is related to the inability of people to visualize or comprehend alternatives to current socio-economic paradigm that runs counter to the argument for climate advocacy.
This action will, for the first time, bring diverse alternative theories and philosophies (with the same underlying themes), together and present a larger systemic picture of an alternative socio-economic paradigm. Further the potential of this proposal to bring a diverse group of people from different background together offers a very exciting possibility of mobilizing support for an alternative way of life. The potential for self-enquiry and inter-disciplinary knowledge coming out of this proposal can also have limitless potential to develop more robust transition models for facilitating the ultimate shift to a fully alternative socio-economic paradigm that is climate-fitted.
What are other key benefits?
The proposal looks at the problem from a system’s perspective and focuses on bringing about sustainable changes through cultural interventions. Unlike other tools that are space and time dependent, a system change in more permanent as it changes the cultural context of the issue by engaging the actors philosophically through a motivated thought process.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Initial 1st year cost estimates are USD 30000 approx
For subsequent years, USD 18000 per year
It is envisaged that the staff costs will go down after 1 year as contributions increase in number. Further, after first year, some advertising revenues and donations are expected to infuse some funds.
0-3 months for preparation of common charter
3-6 months for revision and review based on feedback
6-8 Content development for the first edition
9- Publication of magazine, monthly
- The Concept of Steady state economy, Herman Daly
- Center for Advancement of Steady State Economy
- Mission Statement, The Zeitgeist Movement
- The Venus Project, Jaque Fresco
5: E F Schumacher; Book: Small is beautiful: A Study of Economics as if people mattered, E F Schumacher
6. Lester Brown: Book: Plan B 4.0: mobilizing to save civilization, Lester Brown
7. Deep Ecology Movement: Book: Environmental Ethics : The Big Questions, David R Keller
- Foundation for deep ecology
- Gaia Theory, James Lovelock
10. Auroville community
11. Ananda Yoga Village
12. Amrita Ashram