Theory of Change
4 minute read
Why you are the solution to climate change
To avoid climate catastrophe we need urgent and widespread action across our political and economic systems.
This shouldn’t be too contentious.
After all, it seems inconceivable that we could limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius without radical change to the priorities of these systems.
So let’s call this our objective, and try to work back from here to find a way to make it happen.
. . .
First of all — why hasn’t this happened already?
Our business and political leaders have known about climate change for decades. This is not a new issue and the need for change is not a new narrative, yet again and again they have failed to act with anything like the required urgency. These are intelligent people; they have reached the top of competitive professions. Surely they can understand the severity of the threat, and surely they have enough of a conscience to want to do something about it.
So what’s stopping them?
The simple answer is that our political and economic systems are both structured around short-term gains. Businesses need sales and politicians need votes. Without these things, companies go out of business and political parties go out of power.
“What do we need to do to sell our stuff?”
“What do we need to do to get elected?”
These questions drive our society. They dictate the products we see on our shelves and the policies we hear from our politicians — and they are short-term. They reward results today, not tomorrow.
When it comes to solving long-term, expensive, cross-border problems — like climate change — our systems are fundamentally flawed. It’s not what they’re designed to do; it’s not in their short-term interest.
Expecting our systems to tackle climate change on their own, is like expecting a child to choose a carrot over a cake because it’s better for their health in the long run. They are too short-sighted. They will choose the thing that’s in their short-term interest, and in the short-term, it’s not in our systems’ interest to take urgent action on the climate crisis — otherwise they would have.
. . .
How can we change that?
Just imagine if that wasn’t the case. Imagine if it was in the short-term interest of these systems to prioritise climate change. In fact, imagine if they needed to fight climate change to survive.
Imagine how quickly everything would change.
Well in order to change their priorities we need to look at what’s important to them. What dictates their priorities. And there is one thing that is more important to these systems than anything else. One thing that defines what they do and why they do it. One thing without which they cannot survive.
And that one thing, is us.
We decide if a company sells its products or a politician gets elected.
We are the buyers and we are the voters. Our actions, our opinions, our problems — these are the things that matter to them. They dictate what our products look like, what they’re made out of, and how they function. They dictate political policy and they dictate the distribution of public finances.
What we buy, how we get around, what we eat, how we vote — these things have an important direct impact on the climate, but more importantly, they drive the decisions made by the people in charge of our systems.
What we do, dictates what they do. They follow, they don’t lead.
We saw an example recently with plastic straws in England. People became more aware of plastic pollution and started rejecting plastic straws. We didn’t want them in our homes or in our bars and restaurants. As a result, businesses started finding sustainable alternatives, and then in May 2019, politicians banned them altogether.
People led, and business and politics followed.
This is ‘bottom-up’ action and it is an unstoppable force for change. In fact, it changes the world every day. And when we use it, with purpose and in numbers, and together with the top-down pressure that activists continue to apply so tirelessly and so powerfully around the world — that is when we have a truly effective force for change.
Individual action is not some add-on to system change, it is the cause of it.
To think that we can change the priorities of these systems, without using the market forces and voter opinion that drive them, is naïve in the extreme. It’s trying to steer the ship without touching the wheel.
The solution to climate change is not renewable energy or clean technology or new business practices or sustainable products or climate-focused politicians. It’s the demand for all these things.
That is what changes the priorities of businesses and politicians. That is the engine of change, and that is in each of our hands.
. . .
But how can we use this position of power to drive change?
We can’t just hope that people around the world will reach this conclusion one at a time and independently make the right changes in their lives over a few short years. After all, it’s a daunting issue, and taking these actions alone can be frustrating. You don’t know exactly what to do, you don’t know what anyone else is doing, you don’t know the impact you’re having — you feel pretty powerless.
In order for enough people, to take enough action, with enough urgency, we need to be connected. We need to know that we’re not taking these actions alone. We need to know we’re taking them with other people, that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.
It’s only when we’re connected that we can learn from each other and take strength from each other. Our actions inspire action in others — more than we know — and when we’re connected, we can influence and inspire so many more people than when we’re alone.
It’s only when we’re connected that our actions can gain momentum, can snowball, into an unstoppable movement of change.
It’s then that we can show our food producers that we want low-carbon food. We can show our energy companies that we want clean electricity. We can show our manufacturers that we want sustainable products. And we can show our politicians that we want transformational action on climate change.
When this happens, change happens. And it happens quickly. No more arguments, no more hoping. It happens quickly because it aligns with the short-term outlook of our systems. It becomes in their interest to fight climate change. They have to fight climate change to survive.
. . .
We need only 3 things to change the world:
1. to know that we can make a difference,
2. to know how we can make a difference, and
3. to know we’re making a difference with others.
With these three things, we can create a future where people are in the driving seat of climate action. A future in which our collective determination, compassion and resilience stand as inspiration for all those to come. A testament to what people can achieve when they are united and when they are determined.
This is not a problem of our making, but the solution to the problem can only come from us. Whether we are each brave enough to accept this and strong enough to act on it, will determine the future of life on earth.
This is our theory of change. Snowball exists only to help make this change a reality.