A Year of Family and Change

This personal leadership challenge began with what seemed like a daunting task.  That is becoming more sustainable by changing my family’s core behaviors (only that!).  I planned to do this through consent and gradual change versus “starting tomorrow we are no longer eating meat!”.  Later it took the form of “choice architecture” and that is where the success has been.

Choice architecture is setting up environments to reduce the barriers to better choices.  The most discussed example is the school cafeteria; whereas the placement of food choices has a significant impact on what children eat.  If snack food is put at the end of the line and healthy food in the front; students consume a lot more fruits and vegetables.  By the time they get to the snacks their trays are full. Choice architecture is discussed at length online, in TEDx talks, journal articles and the seminal book, Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein.

However, there is little if any about family dynamics and choice architecture.  How can you improve your habits or that of your family through these nudges? We had to blaze our own trail. In our family, the work to develop nudges became what defines this leadership challenge.  The impacts of small changes cannot be understated enough.

We started using nudges to reduce the amount of meat we ate. First, we needed consent of the family.  This came easily, there had already been enough in the media and school about health, meat and climate to drive interest in change. The next step was a few nudges and small behavior changes.

  • Prioritize meatless cookbooks in the kitchen. I often go to cookbooks when I’m preparing a meal.  I know where the others (with meat) are but this reminds me of my commitment to less meat. I therefore will exhaust the meatless ones first and through this technique many more meals are meatless.
  • Make a meatless day a week. We “joined” the Meatless Monday movement.  At first this seemed like a way to just reduce meat.  In truth it quickly builds confidence in finding and making tasty vegetarian meals.  It introduced me to many more vegetable and fruit options while helping also build confidence in the use of spices. Lastly, I liked that it’s less hassle and I don’t need to worry about meat contamination and cleaning a lot more rigorously.
  • Listen to the children.  They are quick to point out if we are including meat in a meal. This helps us consider the need for meat in a meal and keep a mental note how often this is happening.  As a result most of my days are meat free now. 
  • Build a community.  My church began a Climate Action Team and when asked for committee ideas I proposed a plant-rich diet team. It was no effort to say it. This was quickly accepted; a team formed quickly and the collaboration as impressed all of us. No one is stuck doing all the work – it is a few hours a month for anyone. Our goal is to increase plant vs. meat content in the memberships’ meals.  We learned that the congregation deeply supported this agenda and asked primarily for help in finding recipes.  So we started a blog of member tested recipes, plant rich potlucks / recipe swaps and more about the impact of plant-rich diets on individual health and COe reduction.
  • Apply the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) to test if the change is likely to work.  As yourself three questions. 
    • Do I believe this change will have impact?
    • Do I believe I will get support from the family and community?
    • Do I believe I have the capacity to make this change happen?

If you don’t like the answer to one of these. See if you can’t change the conditions. If that doesn’t work then you can exit out of this change quickly without a lot of effort wasted.

Reflection

I feel like the personal challenge has been a real success.  I have learned much more about the dynamics of my family and the way I set up my choices.  Behavior change usually is not easy yet the timing and environment were key factors.  In the future I would investigate those first.  This can be done through the Theory of Planned Behavior questions above. 

Meatless meals became the front and center of the challenge though there were other efforts. These were food waste and carbon footprint reduction.  As to food waste we are not only composting but ensuring our leftovers are eaten. In regards to footprint, it was already low except for my international work travel.  Some of those trips are not avoidable but many are and as a result I’m flying much less.

At the end of the challenge I feel much more confident in driving change in other spaces of my life.  This is especially true at work. Using the TPB questions as a guide to what may take root; I have successfully developed a new office at my work. We are now a staff of three creating the change we want to see in the international development space. 

Building a Community of Plant-Rich Eating

This journey started with bringing my family to a more sustainable lifestyle. The effort my family became most excited about was reducing meat in our meals. In only a few months we reduced meat consumption by more than 75%. Now its rare to have a meal that features meat as a main. When we eat meat it is often a garnish.

At the same time how that nutrition is replaced is important. We tried a number of meat substitutes (Impossible burgers, sausage patties and bacon) yet the nutritional value of these is often poor. The Impossible Burger has more sodium, fat and calories per weight than meat. So we quickly moved from that into how to enrich the unprocessed green plant component of our diet. This is has led to more than I could have imagined.

Starting about the same time our church decided it would start a Climate Action Team based on Project Draw-down. This is not a small step because it requires to be approved by the Board of Trustees and requires months of proof of concept first. The CAT has many sub-committees and I proposed a Plant-Rich Diet committee to help parishioners take to less meat in their diet.

In short order the team gained membership and accomplishments. We have ten regular members and the minister (also a vegetarian) was so impressed with our successes at conveying information and getting survey responses that she invited us to develop and lead an entire Sunday service on the topic. I gave one of the testimonials (see below) and we presented the wider church memberships’ position on meat consumption (see below).

Based on the survey findings we are now building a blog to share information about member tested vegetarian recipes and information about using diet to reduce GHG emissions and improve personal health. We are fortunate to have a deep bench of expertise on the team to include an emergency room physician, a public health scientist, an economist, a couple lawyers, engineers and a former head of education for a prominent natural history museum. Together we continue to meet twice a month and plan outreach while providing the church membership what they ask for to reduce meat in their diet. Stay tuned!!

Below you will find (1) Our first video to the congregation (2) The results of our congregation survey and (3) my testimonial during a service.

This is a video our group made to announce our intentions to the church and get a dialogue going.

Survey Results as Shared with the Congregation

My Testimonial at the Sunday Service (Oct 20th, 2019)

Hello everyone, Thanks for being here today. My name is Marc Tkach and I am a member of this church.

I will be speaking on increasing plants in my diet and to effectively drive home my points, I will love to share my story.

Almost a year ago, while pursuing a masters’ program in sustainability, I had to make a personal commitment for the program.

I committed myself and with absolutely no consultation…my family, to a more sustainable and ethical diet.  This seemed like a challenging but possibly a fun decision.

After a self-assessment I realized I ate meat every day…that had to change. So I started with a goal of one meatless day a week. I also committed to eating all the vegetables put on my plate.

My first test came a few days later. I had ordered fish skewers which contained my most hated vegetable, bell peppers. I stayed the course and in front of my family and mom choked down every bite of pepper. I looked up with watery eyes and no one noticed and no one cared.

I saw this meatless day as a way to push myself to be healthier.  My wife January was full of enthusiasm and jumped on it so fast I almost felt that she was the one that made the commitment. 

My sons, Quinn and Nolan, started to ask about vegetables in meal planning and shared they were glad to help make a healthier planet.

Pretty soon we had one meatless day and that built a confidence that vegetarian meals were tasty and easy to put together.  It wasn’t long before more and more meals in the week became meatless.

Now, I am still not a vegetarian and the plan is not really to be one but this commitment has changed my diet and relationship with food for the better.

Almost ten months later when I cook I first think to go meatless.  When I eat out I skim the vegetarian plates and if one works I order it.  I still eat meat but more as a garnish to the main dish.  I think more about the protein in the meal and now I have my favorites like chickpeas, beans, spinach and artichokes.

As for bell peppers, I still do not like them and do not eat them but have found so many more vegetables that I do like.

So, why is this working? Well many of the things I have touched on are examples of choice architecture. That is creating an environment around me where I can make small and easy decisions.  For example, through my masters’ program I made myself subject to peer pressure to follow through on my commitment, I enlisted my family to provide the nudges necessary to think about plant rich meal planning and I set an anchor or goal of one meatless day a week. None of these were difficult or daunting…they were all little changes. It’s these little changes you make today that can go such a long way.

Changing Family Behavior – Lessons to Date

Children Want to do Right in the World

Our two boys, now 8 & 10, are very interested in the world at large.  They still put a lot of weight in their parents’ opinions (when not in conflict with their own wants).  So, they easily took to the challenge of eating less meat.  It also at times gave them something to hold their parents to task when we were eating too much meat in their mind. 

The real challenge is replacing meat with meals that are plant-rich, meaning more greens and less carbohydrates. This is really challenging when eating out. In American restaurants, the kids menus are often chicken nuggets, pizza, a hamburger or a cheese quesadilla.  The boys almost always opt for the quesadilla but this doesn’t fit our goal.  As a result we find ourselves eating out less than we were before.  There are a lot of secondary advantages, lower food costs, learning new recipes and spending more time together talking and preparing meals.

Routine is King

Large changes to family behaviors take a lot of planning and effort.  It really works when the family is in its normal day to day routines of school and work.  Yet things can fall apart easily when there is a disruption.  For example we took a 2 ½ week family vacation to the United Kingdom this year.  We drove most of that in a large motor-home (see my future post of the amount of Xanax one needs to drive a 9 meter manual transmission vehicle on small UK roads while switching sides of the road).  All the changes and reliance on Tesco/Waitrose and pubs/restaurants throws routine out the window. Its also not enjoyable to use your down time to plan meals, etc.  In these cases it was worth some planning up front so minimize impact, accept that changes will backslide and re-commit when routine is re-established.

One thing leads to another and another

Change begets change.  First you are looking for more vegetarian recipes and before you know it you are wondering if those avocados came from a Mexican drug cartel (btw they did), how much fuel is being wasted moving your cleaning products and is your dish soap safe for the environment?  I tended to try and tackles these as they popped up…big mistake. This only leads to impulsive and often unsatisfying solutions.  Its better to add them to a list and schedule them in order so that you can take your time to understand the problem and weigh options.

There are few silver bullets

Continuing lesson 3, the market is usually a step ahead of you.  These are often well meaning people who see a niche to fill.  I jumped on two solutions quickly with disastrous results.  The first was a company that is reducing the carbon impact of transporting cleaning solutions (usually 99% water – what a waste!) and the disposal of the 8 billion plastic bottles thrown out every year. I love the idea…I love the work they have put into their solutions (basically you buy an acrylic “forever” bottle from them and then tabs that dissolve to make cleaning solution using your tap water, costs are 30% lower than store bought solution).  A lot of science apparently goes into ensuring consistency in product with varying water sources.  Well the solution can really clean but the “forever” bottles didn’t last a month. Do I need to go to plastic bottles?

Three acrylic bottles – left to right – bottle 1 – crack forming at seam, bottles 2&3 – tops completely sheared off

In another knee-jerk solution, I replaced our washing liquids (laundry and dish detergents) with tabs that lack of the normal complement of chemicals found in such solutions.  January, my wife, immediately pointed out how these were not working…not cleaning while leaving streaks and something I can only describe as sticky goo in the washing machine.  Ok – so more research is needed.

Everything is a system

This is not a passive activity…there are few shortcuts.  This is real change and needs time, buy in from your stakeholders and patience…lots of patience.

Is Sustainable Development Out of Reach?

This blog post is to illustrate the ongoing challenge of reducing carbon economies in the developing world.

I was momentarily dumbstruck last week during a two-day internal work conference.  We were discussing the most current thinking in economic development.  The presenter was Ricardo Hausmann,  an economics professor and director of the Center for International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School.  Previously he was the Venezuelan Minister of Planning and the Chief Economist at the Inter-American Development Bank.  I was ready to learn from the man that has developed the underpinning of our whole model.  His lectures were fascinating but something was missing…something huge.

Before we get to that, let’s recap Dr. Hausmann’s hypothesis of international development.  Basically, development occurs through improvements in technology.  Technology is three parts: (1) Tools (2) Manuals/Codes/Standards known as codified knowledge and the last (3) is Know-how or tacit knowledge.  That’s the ability to perform a task that doesn’t require understanding, much like how you know how to walk but couldn’t teach another by writing instructions.  Its this third component, know-how, that is so hard to come by in emerging markets and we call that a binding constraint to growth.  Collective know-how or the know-how to run systems, which is much more effective, is even harder to develop and there are some reasons for that.

First, developed societies specialize. Each individual is a small cog in a larger system.  On the other hand in less developed countries people are large, redundant cogs and have many of the same skills – building shelters, growing crops, hunting and gathering, keeping order, etc.  This lack of specialization hinders the development and maturation of systems.  If you want to increase know-how you have to increase the diversity of production in that society.

So following that, the road to a country’s development is a function of two variables.  These are the complexity of what they can produce (e.g. a bale of wheat vs. a motor), based on know-how, and the connectedness between industries in that country. If industries are closely tied, then know-how can easily jump and increase development. Below are two product space maps.  They illustrate the connectedness of industries in Peru vs South Korea. You can see that Korea has many more products they produce and those networks of products are closely knitted.


Note: The Product Space methodology provides a map of all traded goods displaying relative proximity or similarity between products. The colors on the map represent the Leamer classification which categorizes products according to labor, capital and other resource intensiveness. The black squares indicate products in which the country has a revealed comparative advantage. (https://vox.lacea.org/?q=income_Asia_LA)


The issue is that developing counties do not have collective know-how and/or the industries to allow this knowledge to jump.  In this case, everyone is stuck where they are.  That means the goal of development is to import know-how, build local capacity, increase connectedness and help a country move through a common track (typically, agriculture to garments to electronics then machinery and finally chemicals).

Wait!! This is the latest thinking!?  If we are going to promote models to increase this pathway, we are pushing for an exponential increase in carbon emissions. Sustainable development has been in the conversation since the 1987 Bruntland Report but noticeably absent at this conference.

Why is that? We know both economic development and climate change are wicked problems…is this confluence of the two (i.e. sustainable development)…too great to overcome?  Is sustainable development the domain of optimists and the serious professionals work on what works…?

The challenge could just be too great. The University of Cape Town’s African Climate and Development Initiative illustrates this reality.  Their Mitigation and Action Plan Scenarios (MAPS) Project is a multi-year study of a developing country’s economy and then models what actions need to be taken to reduce carbon levels below the 2C and 1.5C contribution.  It’s not pretty. Even in the most austere schemes it is unreasonable for any country studied to get under 2 degrees.  In addition, developing countries cry foul when asked to restrain themselves while the developed countries never did the same.

Yet in Sonja Klinsky’s Paper, “Social-psychology, Equity and Climate Change Negotiations”, she argues that it isn’t so polarized between the north and south.  The concepts of fairness are flexible. She states,” Progress can be made when parties, despite different views, perceive each other as being members of the same moral community.” She concludes that the levers of change must be built on trust and arguments of equity customized between mitigation, adaptation and loss.

So what to do?  Economic development is accomplished through carbon intensive industries. Developing countries now cannot adequately make their growth sustainable, and if they could there is an unfairness that they carry the carbon reduction burden when their for-bearers didn’t.  Perhaps the answer is back to the know-how.  Dr. Hausmann promotes importing know-how, but I only heard the business-as-usual kind.  Its time to flip that and focus policy on importing the sustainable know-how emerging in recently developed economies (see Taiwan) and make an argument for that as the binding constraint to sustainable development.

Swapping Meat for Plants

If you haven’t read the last post you should know my family is changing its ways. In the first of our four steps to become a more sustainable family, we have agreed to eat less meat. This first effort may be the greatest leap.  Its wouldn’t be that hard to supplant the meat dishes in our diet with more carbohydrate rich foods like pasta, bread and pizza.  My kids, 7 and 9-year-old boys, would love that.  Yet, our goals are to introduce a lot more vegetables as mains. 

The plan to achieve a more flexitarian diet:

  1. Bring the family in on decision making and solutions (especially our boys)
  2. Personally learn to like vegetables
  3. Find reliable recipes

Step 1: Convincing the Boys

I broached the topic one afternoon with the boys. The sell was easy because they still normally believe me. I had some help from the Rainforest Alliance’s primer on climate change. Its designed for children without scaring them to death. We learned a little bit about the global carbon cycle, the changing temperature and precipitation, the causes of these changes and what we can do to stop it.

After this discussion, a podcast and a video, they both made clear they could help. The younger one, Nolan, suggest we could eat meat two or three times a week.  The older one, Quinn, thought it would be better to just eat vegetables for one lunch a week.  Hmm…we are not on the same page…but a savior arrives…ground up crickets.

Out of curiosity of insect protein, I had purchased a few bags of cricket chips (Chirps).  I thought they might be gross…I was certain the boys would recoil…but the boys agreed to give them a try. 

That brown powder pile is…well…crickets.

It was an instant match and as they grabbed the bag out of my hand, Quinn noticed the back.  A diagram of the comparative impact of cows and crickets on the environment. They kind of got it. They both agreed I can choose how much meat we eat every week but not too many vegetables please (at least two meat free days a week).  This may be a win.

Step 2: Learn to like Vegetables

The next step is hard too because I don’t like many vegetables, its even hard to admit this. Even good friends just think I’m unsophisticated. The list includes but is not limited to bell peppers, beets, bean sprouts, raw onions, kale, swiss chard, bok choy, spring onions, radishes and most things in a “spring mix”. Bell peppers are by far the worst.

So I have started with the hope that my palate is maturing. Actually, I have learned through this great article on how to stop hating foods that a mature palate just means I smell less (flavor is a mix of smell, taste and texture). As a kid I was more sensitive to flavors and chemicals but as I get older those senses have dulled and things aren’t as repulsive. I did pick up mushrooms recently!

So I’m just doing it.  I’m just eating them.  I’m making simple salads for lunch.  I force eat all the vegetables on my plate. Recently, I had to eat a whole skewer of bell peppers because that was what was served. I did it…it was awful…no one noticed. It was a silent victory.

Step 3: Learn what to eat

The meal planning needs to both be rich in green plants and reduce our food waste. These have to be dishes the boys will eat… We need to be able to prepare just enough to ensure that left over food and ingredients are consumed before they expire. Wish us luck 🙂

Look out for updates on part 1 of the challenge!

Personal Challenge: Creating a More Sustainable Household

“This isn’t working for me and you need to move out … and let’s be honest … it’s not me, it’s just you.” You can imagine if the Earth could end its relationship with mankind over our treatment of it, it would. Fortunately for us, Earth doesn’t have this luxury, but what is unhealthy for the Earth is also unhealthy for us and our families. We are the ones who must fix the damage. Yet in October, the world’s scientists warned us that our current ambitions are not going to cut it. A passing grade would be a draw-down of carbon use by 2030; that means using a lot less than we use now. Keep in mind millions of people are beginning to reach in the middle class and rapidly increasing their use of fossil fuels too!

So if that sounds impossible right now, we must also consider the psychological barriers to taking action. A World Bank report on Climate Change Behavior explains that people only take seriously the problems they think they can address. Generally, the magnitude of climate change is so great that they give up once they get the picture. They don’t see how they can make a difference.  Yet the report also says that people will engage very difficult problems if they are part of a community of action. Collaborating in groups is a way to overcome the obstacle of action.

In this challenge series, I will enlist my family, as my group, into action with me. We will take four actions. The first is to drastically reduce our family’s meat consumption by shifting to a plant-rich diet, the second is to reduce our food waste through better planning, the third is to reduce our carbon footprint and fourth is to evaluate and reduce impulsive spending or over-consumption.

I chose these four for different reasons but ones based on effectiveness for household-based action.

No. 1 Eat Less Meat. This is the second most effective activity a family can undertake and the fourth most effective activity humanity can use to reduce GHG emissions. A change to a vegetarian diet can reduce business-as-usual emissions by 63%. Project Draw-down, the most substantially researched list of activities to reduce GHG, states:

If 50 percent of the world’s population restricts their diet to a healthy 2,500 calories per day and reduces meat consumption overall, we estimate at least 26.7 gigatons of emissions could be avoided from dietary change alone. If avoided deforestation from land use change is included, an additional 39.3 gigatons of emissions could be avoided, making healthy, plant-rich diets one of the most impactful solutions at a total of 66 gigatons reduced.

No. 2 Reduce Food Waste. This is the first most effective activity a family can undertake and third for humanity overall. The amount of energy, water, fertilizer and labor wasted on unused food has a significant GHG impact. Its a problem in both low and high-income countries. In low-income countries, this usually comes from spoilage in the supply chain and food left in the field. In high-income countries, it’s more intentional. It’s food rejected due to its appearance and supply chain nodes/consumers that buy too much (see how AI can help in Shobha’s blog). Project Drawdown states:

After taking into account the adoption of plant-rich diets, if 50 percent of food waste is reduced by 2050, avoided emissions could be equal to 26.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Reducing waste also avoids the deforestation for additional farmland, preventing 44.4 gigatons of additional emissions. We used forecasts of regional waste estimated from farm to household. This data shows that up to 35 percent of food in high-income economies is thrown out by consumers; in low-income economies, however, relatively little is wasted at the household level.

No. 3 Establish the Family Carbon Footprint. Why do this at all? Well, first Americans like to go big and I’m interested to understand how we compare to other families elsewhere. This study indicates that US households create five times more emissions than the world’s average. Secondly, it is to learn if there are any surprises or things I can do that I haven’t yet considered. Lastly, it will help us set goals to meet reductions. The calculator I’ve chosen is the UC Berkeley Calculator endorsed by the State of California. I have chosen this over federally available and NGO provided calculators because of its ease of use, academic grounding, and resulting recommendations.

No. 4 Identify Impulse Buying and Over-consumption. In my work, I spend between 25 and 30% of my time in developing countries. Over the last 12 years, this experience has truly underscored the differences between needs and wants. Often on arriving home after a long trip I am overwhelmed by the aggressive advertising and everyone’s seeming confusion of needs and wants. Yet even with this knowledge and awareness I still struggle. This country has mastered the art of convenience which frees me to do so much more…however it’s not balanced and an audit of my spending I believe will guide me to better-consuming habits.

So this is the plan! Check back often for updates and lessons learned along the way!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly….

Three Recommendations to Improve Climate Change Communication in America

It’s a difficult time to discuss climate change in the US. The president doesn’t accept it as a threat to our economy or environment. Only 15 percent of his Republican party believe it is happening and that figure has not change in 20 years.  As a result, the United States has pulled out of the Paris Agreement and rolled back a number of executive orders and rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Given all the political problems the US faces, it’s hard to imagine climate has  any space. Yet, two-thirds of Americans believe the climate is changing and 45% believe that immediate action is necessary. There is a demand for mainstreaming an action strategy in America.

I was optimistic when the top rated Public Affairs show – Meet the Press – dedicated their full hour to the “Climate Crisis” (December 30th, 2018). Garnering an average viewership of 3.47 million people per episode, this hour may be the most significant broadcast in the US on the subject to date.  

So given the importance of this opportunity; let’s evaluate how they did. After watching the episode three times, there is much to note.  Here is the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  • This wasn’t a climate debate. The host, Chuck Todd, said the science is conclusive. No time will be given to climate deniers. This is a paradigm shift in the public conversation!
  • Their polling data emphasizes that a majority of Americans believe climate change is manmade and that a lack of regulatory action will be more harmful to the economy than doing nothing. Recent years have seen the call to action grow louder.

The Bad

  • The underlying motivator used was fear of the future. We are running from a fiery hell-scape rather than towards a better future. Although fear has been a successful vehicle for Trump politics; climate change doesn’t create as visceral an image as murderers and drug dealers climbing over our borders.  Check out the Be a ChangeMaker blog which explains that this approach isn’t going anywhere.
  • The guests focused on blaming conservatives for federal inaction. The only politician on the show ,one of 40 pro-climate action Republicans, took the ire for the other 85% of his party. I believe we all understand the uselessness of this strategy, by attacking conservatives they become more defensive and less wiling to consider climate action.

The Ugly

The climate scientist, Dr. Kate Marvel, is a brilliant communicator to describe climate change causes, but fell far short in answering “what should be our response?”  I cringed at watching her try to answer straight forward questions:

Host: How do you explain the urgency to Americans?

Dr. Marvel: Oh my gosh!… I wish I knew!…I wish I had a good answer…scientists want to show more data and more graphs like there is a magic equation…there isn’t…its about their [deniers] values and the deep stories of how people see themselves (see Recommendation 1). 

Host: It feels so overwhelming!

Dr. Marvel:  That’s the thing…it is overwhelming!…It should feel overwhelming because it is overwhelming! (see Recommendation 2).

Host: What’s the one thing we can all do right now, everyone wants this one thing they can do?

Dr. Marvel:  We know exactly what is causing this…its us…it’s the Green House Gas emissions with are putting in the atmosphere…(see Recommendation 3).

Host: So its these guys! (the Republicans).

Wow! No one was left with a clear answer to these questions! At the end of the show the message was that the adults are trying to figure this out so put your head between your knees and hope we can crash-land this plane without too many causalities.

I really commend Meet the Press for dedicating this hour.  Personally I believe it should be discussed every day, everywhere.  This might be a start in that direction.  However we need to improve our strategies and here are three recommendations to become more effective communicators.

1.Framing for Conservatives

Appreciate that this is a highly politicized issue.  Conservatives will protect the tribe when threatened.  Let’s stop blaming them and instead reach them.

Social psychologists Matthew Baldwin and Joris Lammers have written that conservatives are motivated by comparing the past to the present versus comparing the present to the future.  However, liberals are agnostic to the presentation.  This is not only in words but also pictures:

(Baldwin & Lammers, 2016)

Conservatives were much more likely to consider the past to present comparison, a motivation to take on pro-environmental behaviors.  Using this insight, Americans will appreciate that conservatives use the past vs. present model in much of their speech.  We have seen this in the  immigration issue or the Make America Great Again slogan, it’s an effective frame.

2. Framing Against Hopelessness

Let’s not follow Dr. Marvel’s model and express how overwhelming climate change is; one can construe it’s hopelessly hard to understand.  Just leave it to people like her to solve the problem!  Let’s get out of this trap of our own making.

The World Bank’s report on Climate Change Behavior explains that when a problem is deemed too complicated and too overwhelming it is ignored.  People address those problems they can solve…if they cannot solve it, it isn’t a problem, it is just reality. The saving grace, according to the World Bank,  is that by working in groups we can motivate people past this hurdle.  Find your group, it can be your family, a group of friends, co-workers or a local NGO. 

3. Be Prepared to Answer

Have actions at the ready. A great place to start is the NGO, Project Drawdown (Drawdown in the condition where we are actively reducing our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions). This is the most comprehensive list of Greenhouse Gas reduction actions available. I like that a TedTalk given by their VP Chad Frischmann emphasized that we should focus our discussion on GHG reduction as that is the actual problem; climate change is the symptom.

If you want a short list of actions you can use these:

  • Immediately: Significantly reduce meat consumption, if you eat meat. Look into flexitarianism where one eats a plant rich diet and meat occasionally.
  • Immediately: Planned your meals so you are not throwing out food.
  • Near Term: Consider buying habits that local source food and reduce impulse purchasing.
  • Near Term: Consider how you might use public transportation, carpooling or a bike.
  • Long Term: Research cars, large appliances and house sealing (e.g. windows) when its time to replace those items.

Let’s fight the temptation to throw up our hands and hope somebody in charge can handle this problem.  This belong to all of us.