To get climate action, promote:
- a vision, like Australia being a renewable energy superpower, and
- the progress made towards that vision, as encouragement.
Two theories of change support the common-sense significance of promoting a vision and progress.
- The stages of grief, and
- The determinants of change.
The theories lead to practical suggestions for climate campaigns.
Climate march banners
I started thinking about this after a climate demonstration in September 2019. Most of the banners pushed:
- what to stop, like “Stop Adani”,
- the dangers of climate inaction, like “Welcome to the Age of Fire”, or
- unspecified action, like “Climate Action Now”.
Climate action does need to happen on so many fronts, so perhaps that’s why the banners do not get specific. I didn’t see banners promoting solutions like:
- Australia can be a renewable energy superpower,
- Industrialise with our renewable energy & minerals,
- 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.
- More possible banner slogans.
Or perhaps people are not clear about solutions, about what needs to start.
Regardless, the banners suggest that many people are frightened by climate change and clear about what needs to stop. Unfortunately, when people put onto banners their fears, and what to stop, it’s not attractive. The climate action movement needs to be more attractive than that.
Theory: The stages of grief
When people face grief or change, like the changes needed to limit global warming, it’s normal for them to flip between the 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.
- Fantasy solutions: They can grasp onto fantasy solutions, like:
- we can reduce emissions with clean coal,
- don’t worry, the technology to fix this is coming, and
- arsonists caused these fires.
- Anger: They can react with anger, for example, attacking the messengers of the bad news about fossil fuels, by 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.
- Acceptance: They can accept well-established climate science and support climate action.
(The Stages of Grief: Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
It’s normal for people to flip between these states repeatedly. You don’t move through the states in a set sequence. 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 is one that reduces the chances the people get caught in the states of grief that inhibit climate action: denial, fantasy, anger, and depression, and so helps people come to accept the climate science. Another model of change offers ways of doing this.
Theory: The Determinants of change
You make change more likely when you foster each of the “determinants of change”:
- discontent with the current situation, e.g. looming dangers,
- a shared vision of the future,
- progress towards the vision,
- detailed plans for achieving the vision,
- the benefits of the vision,
- the costs of the change are low, reasonable, or inevitable.
(I’ve loosely based these “determinants of change” on an organisational development model of change: The Beckhard Harris Change Model.)
Discontent as a determinant of change
Change is more likely when people are discontent with the current situation. People do need to know about the dangers of climate change, so they can understand the need to reduce greenhouse gas levels.
Many people ignore the distant damage caused by climate change, like the melting of sea-ice in the Arctic. They become discontent only when they experience personal difficulties linked to climate change, like when Melbourne had water restrictions during the Millennium Drought of 1996-2010. People often need a shock to jolt them out of habitual destructive behaviour.
Initially, in 2010, this website only detailed the dangers of climate change and the scientific evidence for climate change. These dangers worried me, and I hoped they would motivate others to support climate action. However, that focus alone is inadequate.
Promoting climate dangers and what needs to stop, encourages grief, and increases the chance of people getting stuck in the states of grief that inhibit climate action. You are less likely to get people to support climate action when you focus on the dangers and overlook the other determinants of change.
Vision as a determinant
You make change more likely by promoting a vision that comes to be widely shared.
This site promotes the vision of Australia as a renewable energy exporting superpower. A crucial part of this vision is Australia processing our minerals using our renewable energy on a large-scale. That’s renewables industrialising Australia. The superpower vision appeals to a wide range of people, including people who value the economy, and those who value the environment.
Progress as a determinant
You can increase confidence in the vision by letting people know about the progress already achieved.
This site focusses on our progress towards Australia being a renewable energy superpower because this progress makes the vision believable and generates excitement.
Progress comes in various forms, including:
- things that have happened, like we already export large amounts of renewable energy when we export aluminium, particularly aluminium made in Tasmania using 96% renewable electricity.
- the announcement of commercial plans, like the planned giant solar farms proposed by Sun Cable, and
- the winning of support for the superpower vision, like now having some Labor and some Liberal politicians promoting parts of this vision.
Plans as a determinant
To get change, you need detailed plans for moving towards the vision. We have these plans from:
- companies like Sun Cable,
- governments, see state & territory governments have ambitious plans,
- government organisations like AEMO and the CSIRO, and
- non-government organizations like Beyond Zero Emissions.
Beyond Zero Emissions has a comprehensive set of plans for Australia moving to a zero-carbon economy. One standout plan, 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
To get change, you need people to see the benefits of the transition. The superpower vision offers many benefits like:
- new employment opportunities,
- a thriving and sustainable economy, and
- assisting other nations to decrease their emissions.
Here’s another benefit. Australia imports large quantities of petroleum products: $41 billion in 2014. So, Australia can make enormous savings by moving away from things like petrol and diesel transport.
Costs as a determinant
To get change, people need to regard the costs of the change as low, reasonable, or inevitable.
One example of how we can reduce the actual and perceived costs of climate action is to work for a just transition for fossil fuel workers who will lose those jobs. Beyond Zero Emissions has worked with the local community to develop a transition plan for the coal mining area of Collie in Western Australia. The Grattan Institute was also considering this, when they proposed developing a low-carbon steel industry which could employ displaced fossil fuel workers.
People need to know about the dangers of climate change to motivate them to support climate action, but you make change more likely when you promote each of the determinants of change. This reduces the chances of people being spooked by the dangers and caught in the unproductive stages of grief. Climate dangers get plenty of promotion, so this website highlights:
- an attractive vision: Australia as a renewable energy superpower, and
- our fantastic progress towards this vision,
People need things to stand for, rather than things to stand against. They need some optimism in this eternity of Abbot, Morrison & Trump. People want to join a team that’s kicking goals, not a team that’s full of merchants of doom.
Fears tend to produce restrictive solutions like stopping coal mines and cutting emissions. In contrast, when hopes balance the fears, the resulting solutions have a more constructive focus like building wind farms and new industries, developing electric-powered aeroplanes and cleaning our air to increase public health.
Vicious feedbacks and virtuous feedbacks
There are all too many vicious climate feedbacks, by which global heating leads to further global heating, but here we have a virtuous feedback that we can foster:
By promoting our progress we can achieve more progress.
Progress leading to progress may sound like a weak dynamic, but it has the potential to motivate people to act. We have the technology; what we need is the will to use it.
Using these models of change
Let’s briefly consider several climate campaigns in the light of these models of change, the “stages of grief” and “determinants of change”.
The “Stop Adani” campaign aims to stop the Adani coal mine, while the “Extinction Rebellion” and “Climate emergency” campaigns, via their names alone, promote climate dangers. The names of these campaigns mean that extra work is needed to build a positive vision for the campaigns.
Let’s consider the “Stop Adani Convoy”. This action occurred before the 2019 Federal election, when 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 opposition if they had also supported the superpower vision, promoting renewable energy projects in Queensland and the associated jobs. They could have drawn attention to:
- solar farms,
- wind farms,
- the existing electric vehicle charging network,
- the exporting of electric vehicle chargers by Tritium in Brisbane,
- the powering of electric aeroplanes by MagniX on the Gold coast,
- the Kidston solar farm and its proposed pumped hydro plant,
- the proposed electricity transmission line between Townsville & Mt Isa Link: Copper Link,
- the Sun Metals zinc refinery & their solar farm,
- a pig farm which uses waste to generate biogas and electricity,
- the Wivenhoe pumped hydro plant, and
- mines extracting minerals for batteries.
Updated 3 Dec 2020