We humans have long focused on finding “fixes” and solutions to our problems, and the larger the problems the greater the need for the fix.
My work as a behavior change researcher, and facilitator, sees me interacting with various sectors of society and invariably the conversation tends towards technology, and the options for supplying energy. What is the “best” source of energy for our electricity needs? What technologies are going to rescue us from our greedy consumption of energy and other precious resources? How do we increase renewables, and provide ourselves with clean, clever and green energy supply options? What about biomimicry: innovating and fabricating technologies inspired by nature’s genius? Or nanotechnology, cold fusion, energy catalyzers, and the growing list of other breakthrough energy technologies? Are we on the verge of an imminent technological breakthrough that will rescue as and allow us to breathe a massive sigh of relief?
My work is focused on inspiring people to shifting the focus from those technological “fix” questions to the question of what we really need. Economic inequality demonstrates very vividly in our country that the minority (which I consider myself part of) is consuming way beyond what it needs, while the majority scrapes on by. And before you respond with the much-punted and simplistic fix called “limiting population growth”, let’s first think about consumption.
I’m not suggesting that we should all be walking around in life, guilt-laden and avoiding the pleasures of life in the hope that we will solve our environmental woes. Nor am I suggesting we should stop innovating, pushing the boundaries of knowledge, or exploring new technologies. What I am suggesting, however, is that we need to start seeing that climate change and environmental degradation are symptomatic of the commonly supported paradigms of economic growth, capitalism without heart, and the resulting economic and environmental injustices, and therefore human rights. After all, are human beings not an integral part of the environment? The answer to this question allows us to begin the exciting task of confronting the difficult questions of what we need versus what we desire: fixes and conveniences.
Essentially we are “wiping the brow to cure the underlying disease”. Dealing with challenges in the same way that caused the challenges to arise in the first place seems ludicrous. Consider that society’s solution to the problem of too much horse-manure in the streets was the introduction of the motor car!
Many of the fixes I mentioned above are grounded in what the Common Cause Handbook refers to as human values and goals – the things that drive our motivation and behaviour. Extrinsic values are centered on external approval or rewards, for example wealth, material success, concern about image, social power and prestige. Intrinsic values are inherently more rewarding to pursue, and include things like affiliation to friends and family, connection with nature, concern for others, social justice, and creativity. Not that we should be denying that we have the capacity to pursue both sets of values to some degree. Together, they are in fact what have allowed us to survive and thrive and have served our progression as a species. What I’m suggesting is that our search for fixes, pleasure-seeking or technological solutions denies – or distracts – us from another huge, and possibly more exciting aspect of our humanity that is grounded in our intrinsic values. I’m not going to satisfy your desire for the answer of how to do that, as that would be exactly the kind of fix we have been talking about!
So where do you stand with all of this? Choose something that really motivates you, stop and think about what is really important to you, and seek to fulfill that. Let me know if the answer you come up with is a fix, or something that inspires your creativity. I have a strong hunch that if your solution is best for you, and best for the planet, and for others, then it will be the latter.
Stephen Davis is a behavior change researcher at Project 90 by 2030.
Picture credit: Common Cause Handbook.