Promoting climate action via vision & progress

Banner: Promote a vision and progress

On this page:

You can achieve change by promoting:

  • a vision of the future,
  • progress towards the vision
  • the benefits of the change
  • plans for reaching the vision,
  • dissatisfaction or dangers of the current situation, and
  • the costs as reasonable or inevitable

You can unintentionally inhibit change when you warn of dangers, like climate dangers; the dangers can call for changes that are would be difficult for some people, leading to grief and resistance to change via:

  • denial of the dangers,
  • grasping fantasy solutions,
  • becoming angry and attacking, and
  • becoming depressed.

A powerful way of urging change is to promote the self-reinforcing trio of:

  • a vision of the future,
  • achieved progress towards the vision, and
  • achieved benefits of the progress.

Vision, progress & benefits

To urge climate action in Australia, you can use progress to encourage more progress by promoting:

  • a vision like Australia being a renewable energy superpower,
  • the achieved progress towards the vision, and
  • the resulting benefits.

Australia has already made remarkable progress towards the superpower vision, so we can use this progress as part of a solid argument to promote this vision. It’s solid as it rests on things that have happened, not things that you claim will happen.

The progress indicates that the superpower vision is realistic, while the resulting benefits show that the progress is valuable.


The example argument

I give a brief example of (1) promoting the superpower vision, (2) supported by the progress in South Australia, Fortescue Metals, and Sun Cable, and (3) supported by the resulting benefits. The example is at the top of:

This example shows the type of argument that I would like to hear people using in interviews and TV shows like the ABC Q&A. People will want to present variations of the vision and different examples of our progress and benefits; regardless, this should be an effective way of:

  • promoting the economic advantages of climate action,
  • energising people to push for climate action,
  • replying to financial questions about climate action, and
  • disarming fear-provoking questions like “How would a rapid transition to renewable energy not drive the economy into recession?”.

You’d think that arguing in this way would be common sense and common, but I rarely hear people promoting renewables in this way.


The progress amplifying cycle

The example argument promotes each of (1) popularity of the vision, (2) progress towards the vision, and (3) the resulting benefits. One fascinating thing about these three components is that you can think of them forming a closed cycle of cause and effect.

More popularity for the superpower vision———->.
^
l
l
l
l
v
More benefits<———–More progress towards the vision

The components form a cycle as having a vision tends to:

  • increase progress towards the vision, which tends to
  • increase the resulting benefits, which tends to
  • increase popularity for the vision, which tends to close the cycle by increasing progress.

This cycle is a self-amplifying feedback cycle in which each element tends to keep on increasing. It’s a wonderful causal cycle as we want each of these three elements to increase.

I think of this as the “progress amplifying cycle”.

Consider some snippets of the South Australian experience to clarify this. The government’s vision is to harness their wind and sun to (1) generate five times the electricity they need, (2) develop industry powered by renewables, and (3) export energy.

  • This vision has led to progress towards the vision like:
    • planning for the big Tesla battery,
    • building the battery, and
    • increasing their renewable generation to 60% of their demand
  • this progress has led to benefits like a significant drop in their wholesale price of electricity, and
  • these benefits have led to greater popularity of their vision, with more people endorsing this vision and people having a greater attachment to the vision.

I’ll describe this progress-amplifying feedback cycle further after considering two models of change.


Background: Climate march banners

I focused on how to promote climate action after a climate demonstration in September 2019. Most of the banners pushed:

  • what to stop, e.g., “Stop Adani”,
  • the dangers of climate inaction, e.g., “Welcome to the Age of Fire”, or
  • unspecified action, e.g., “Climate Action Now”.

The banners suggest people are:

  • frightened by climate change,
  • clear about what needs to stop, but
  • not clear about what needs to start, about solutions.

Unfortunately, these fears and stop signs are not attractive.

I didn’t see banners promoting solutions like:

  • Australia can be a renewable energy superpower,
  • Industrialise with our renewable energy & minerals,
  • A green recovery for a million jobs,
  • Electrify Now,
  • The big Tesla battery turns me on,
  • Export green steel & aluminium,
  • Legislate to allow “Star of the South” offshore wind, and
  • Use low emissions concrete.
  • See a brainstorm of possible banner slogans.

Three models of change

Gradually, I realised that two models of change gave me a balanced way of thinking about these banners: (1) the states of grief, and (2) the determinants of change. I also formulated another model of change, “the progress amplifying cycle”.


Model: The states of grief

Demonstration banners that warn of climate dangers and demand closures lead people to fear and loss – and grief. There are several stages or states of grief:

  • Denial: People can deny well-established climate science, e.g., refuse to accept that our current high levels of greenhouse gases are causing the planet to heat, bringing dangers like longer fire seasons with more intense fires. Another form of denial is, “we all want to act on climate, but we have to be slow incremental and realistic”. This stance denies the climate emergency.
  • Fantasy solutions: They can grasp onto fantasy solutions, like:
  • Anger: They can react with anger, for example, attacking the messengers of the bad news about fossil fuels, saying that greenies stopped hazard reduction burning, and so caused the recent fires.
  • Depression: They can be overcome by depression or despair, believing things like, “We have already blown it. There is nothing we can do”. They can also resort to “flight” and try to not think about climate, e.g., not watching David Attenborough wildlife shows to avoid distress.
  • Acceptance: They can accept well-established climate science and support climate action.

These are the “stages of grief” described by the psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I refer to them as “states of grief” as people do not move through the states in any set order. Indeed, people can flip between these states quickly and repeatedly. Even within a brief conversation, a person can flip:

  • from a state of denial and anger, fiercely saying that climate change is nonsense,
  • to a state of depression, saying that there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.

An effective climate campaign should help people accept climate science by reducing people’s chances of entrapment by the climate action inhibiting states of grief, i.e., denial, fantasy, anger, and depression.

Other models of change suggest ways of doing this.


Model: The Determinants of change

Often, people urging climate action focus on the dangers of climate change. This model of change offers a range of things to promote. The five determinants of change are:

  • dissatisfaction with the current situation, e.g., concern about looming dangers,
  • a shared vision of the future,
  • plans or next steps for achieving the vision,
  • the benefits of the vision,
  • the costs which need to be low, reasonable, or inevitable.

You make change more likely when you foster each of the “determinants of change”:

(I’ve based these “determinants of change” on an organisation development model of change like The Beckhard Harris Change Model.)

Vision as a determinant

For change, you need a vision that is widely shared. This site suggests that the vision of Australia as a renewable energy superpower could become widely shared as it can appeal to a wide range of people, including people who value the economy and those who value the environment.

Dissatisfaction as a determinant of change

For change, you need dissatisfaction with the current situation. An example of dissatisfaction supporting the superpower vision is concern about the dangers of climate change.

You get more resistance to change when you frighten people into change by threatening climate dangers than when you draw people into change with an attractive vision, like the superpower vision. It’s the difference between wanting to change and having to change.

Plans as a determinant

For change, you need plans that include the next steps for moving towards the vision.

We have many plans that are consistent with the superpower vision, plans by:

Beyond Zero Emissions has a comprehensive set of plans for Australia to move to a zero-carbon economy. Also, their “Million Jobs Plan” details how Australia can stimulate our virus-hit economy by accelerating the transition to a zero-carbon economy and towards the superpower vision.

People need to know about these plans so that their desire for climate action has a positive focus.

Benefits as a determinant

For change, you need people to see the benefits of the proposed change. The superpower vision offers many benefits like:

  • new employment opportunities,
  • a more robust and sustainable economy, and
  • zero-emissions energy for Australia and the world.

Costs as a determinant

To get change, people need to view the costs as low, reasonable, or inevitable. One example of how Australia could reduce the superpower vision cost would be to openly work for a just transition for fossil fuel workers who will lose those jobs.

Promote each determinant

The “determinants of change” model suggests that you make change more likely when you promote all of the determinants. It also asserts that you get no change unless you have a vision. You also need disaffection, benefits, and a plan detailing the next steps.


Model: The progress amplifying cycle

The above two models of change do not consider one key factor supporting change, progress towards the vision. The more you reinforce progress, the greater the momentum for change.

When you promote progress and two of the determinants of change: benefits and vision, you make change more likely. This is because vision, progress, and benefit can link, forming a cyclic causal sequence, a progress amplifying cycle.

More popularity for the superpower vision———->.
^
l
l
l
l
v
More benefits<———–More progress towards the vision

The green gold rush

Arguing for climate change by promoting (1) popularity for the superpower vision, (2) process towards the vision, and (3) the resulting benefits can fire up the progress amplifying cycle and increases the likelihood of rapid growth or even exponential growth of each of the components.

We have recently seen tremendous progress towards the superpower vision, e.g., the progress in South Australia, Fortescue Metals and Sun Cable, as described on the home page. We may have already pushed this feedback cycle past its tipping point and into dominance. It is the dynamic behind the green energy gold rush.

We need the will to take climate action

The progress amplifying cycle develops the superpower vision’s popularity, which we need in our population and our politicians. We have the technology to limit climate change; we need the political will to use it.

This cycle is a virtuous feedback cycle

There are all too many vicious climate feedback cycles by which global heating leads to further global heating. It is a relief to find a virtuous amplifying feedback cycle that could limit climate change. It is also a relief that we can strengthen the cycle by promoting our vision, progress, and benefits.

Each causal link is only a tendency.

Note that each link in this cycle is only a tendency, e.g., more progress towards the vision only “tends to” produce more benefits; the progress could also lead to problems. Here I am considering the shown “amplifying feedback cycle”.

Advantages of this argument

This way of arguing has several advantages, it:

  • is a fact-based argument,
  • highlights economic benefits and comes with environmental benefits,
  • encourages people to reach for a desirable future, rather than frightening them into doing things to avoid climate disaster, and
  • reduces the generation of climate fears, loss, grief, and grief states like the denial of climate dangers.

Lobbying your politicians

Unfortunately, few people urge climate action by promoting vision, progress, and benefits. Just listen to past ABC television Q&A shows, e.g., the answers to one question about halfway through the show on 4/3/2021.

When any of you readers meet influential people, like politicians, you could ask them whether they could see themselves promoting the superpower vision in a similar way to the argument outlined on the home page.


Support for the progress amplifying cycle

Solution focussed therapy

Promoting vision, progress, and benefits is like the approach of one school of therapeutic practice, solution-focussed therapy, which works at:

  • goal clarification and envisioning a future,
  • finding where things have worked well, and
  • recognising what’s working to improve self-esteem and increase forward movement.

(Positive Psychology: Solutions focussed therapy techniques)

Huntley

This approach is also consistent with conclusions drawn by Dr Rebecca Huntley. Huntley has researched how people respond to climate change and the language to use when promoting climate action. One of the lessons she has drawn from her research is to be “solutions-focused and positive”.

(Climate change splits the public into six groups. Understanding them is key to future action: ABC Radio: Big Ideas: Rebecca Huntley: 29 Jan 2020)

Systems theory

The progress amplifying cycle is an “amplifying feedback loop” or “positive feedback”, a fundamental concept in systems theory. See more on feedback on my page about the dangerous, heat-amplifying feedbacks of climate change.

Also see “The Second Cybernetics: Deviation Amplifying Mutual Causal Processes” (Maruyama: 1968)

The “progress amplifying cycle” emerged from systems theory, grief counselling and organisational development. It should be relevant beyond just environmental activism and political lobbying to fields including teaching, personal counselling and family therapy.


Negative campaigns names

Extinction Rebellion flotilla on the Yarra River Melbourne 12 Dec 2020
Extinction Rebellion flotilla on the Yarra River in Melbourne: 12 Dec 2020

Let’s briefly consider several climate campaigns in the light of the models of change discussed above.

Some campaigns with names focusing on what to stop or on fears are:

  • Stop Adani,
  • Extinction rebellion, and
  • Climate emergency.

Names like this make it hard to build a positive vision for the campaigns.

Also, a negative name tends to produce a negative campaign. Let’s consider the “Stop Adani Convoy”. Before the 2019 Federal election, a convoy of cars drove north through the eastern states and into Queensland, aiming to reduce support for the proposed Adani coal mine. The convoy met a lot of opposition. Perhaps the convoy would have met less resistance if they had also supported the superpower vision, promoting renewable energy projects in Queensland and the associated jobs. They could have drawn attention to progress like:

  • solar and wind farms,
  • the electric vehicle charging network,
  • the exporting of electric vehicle chargers by Tritium in Brisbane,
  • mines extracting minerals for batteries.
  • the Wivenhoe pumped hydro plant, and
  • “Beautiful one day, electric the next”

Related pages


Updated 24 March 2020