Dear Sustainability Practitioners: Fear Won’t Sell, But Hope Might

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By Sam Irvine (C21/PA6)

Published 5.20.16

Original publication on upstreamideas.org

If you were to just turn on your TV, you would think that the debate around climate change hasn’t changed much since the early 2000’s.  You would see a reoccurring conflict between contending forces, and for all the talking and debate the needle never moves. While not unimportant, I am asking you to ignore the immobility of the popular dialogue and not let it dissuade you from the most powerful motivator that we all have- the desire to see the world improved through our efforts.  And through those efforts maybe grant hope to a movement struggling to find a positive narrative.

FearWontell

While it is true that we are on track to a four degree centigrade climate future, the rainforest is being clear-cut, and mass extinction is occurring on a massive scale, this knowledge loses its shock value after the first time it is heard.  If said too often these ideas become just noise because they are so large and daunting. When empathetic people hear these ideas they think, ‘what can I possibly do? I am just one person’ and quickly go about their daily lives.

It also doesn’t help when the headlines of big broadcast news use non-expert public figures like Donald Trump perpetuating a culture of denial, just because it was cold for a week in New York. But don’t feel demoralized and don’t resort to scare tactics to enact change just because immediate responses and changes are not apparent in human behavior.  Have hope because there are plenty of examples of progress outside the daily drudgery of sensationalized media that show progress towards sustainability, although finding them may take some digging. Consider the media frenzy around Tesla’s Power Wall, and the fact that U.S Solar Installation rates have increased every year since 2000.

Annual U.S solar installation is exponential.

What the science tells us is that Climate Change is very real and often very scary but by preaching only worst case scenarios climate activists are attempting to use fear to gather supporters around their cause. At best fear is a short-term motivator, and more often a long-term paralytic. Fear stunts progress by repressing people who under better conditions could be capable of great innovation.

And what’s in the recipe for great innovation? One part is effective leadership.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 11.07.48 AM

On your quest towards sustainability ask yourself what kind of leader do you want to be? Would you be better off as a drill sergeant barking orders at the world? Attempting to scare it to stand up, walk straight and for gods sake recycle.  Or could your path be more rewarding, and your work more effective as a leader who says ‘follow me,’ and sets an example of scalable positive change?

Humans and especially Americans don’t respond well to being told what not to do, but on occasion we do respond to a positive message.  When presented with a choice between fear and discipline on one side and hope and inspiration in the other hand, opt for the softer approach. Ideas incubated in hope and inspiration adhere to our underlying cultural narratives and last far longer than any regime or tyranny, and by opting to be a leader of example you may just make change happen regardless of whether the news notices.

Sam Irvine (C21/PA6)

Sam Irvine MBA/MPA (C21, PA6) is the Presidio Graduate School Student Blogger. His other works and writings can be found on his blog covering policy, economics and culture at upstreamideas.org

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