Behaviour change

Behaviour change, Sustainability

Vast, majestic and ever changing

In October 2016, my partner and I spent several wonderful days hiking in three of Southern Utah’s parks. Each offered a special geological wonderland to explore. Layers of sedimentary rock were formed over millions of years when today’s inland desert region was under water. About 13 million years ago, the sea bed was uplifted to form a series of plateaux broken by fault lines. Over the centuries, water and wind have sculpted exposed rock layers of varying hardness and mineral content into fantastic formations in rich shades of red, purple, yellow and white.

Bryce Canyon features giant rock amphitheatres lined by mazes of pinnacles nicknamed “hoodoos.” True to native Paiute legend, they look like weird creatures which have been turned to stone, standing as sentinels over the passage of time. Along the trails snaking from the rim down to the floor, we saw trees and shrubs adapted to harsh conditions, anchored on exposed sandstone hillsides or thrusting upward toward the light between steep rock walls. We marveled at how some trees become eerily twisted when they die slowly in portions as their roots are exposed. On the Peekaboo Trail, we randomly asked a passing couple to take our photo and discovered they were from Auckland. Facing the maze of spires, I understood why Ebenezer Bryce, the Mormon pioneer for whom the park was named, referred to the landscape as “a hell of a place to lose a cow.” We lingered in a cold wind to watch the sunset from the rim. A nearby chipmunk appeared to do the same, perched at the very tip of a tree root jutting out over the chasm. …

Behaviour change, Climate change

Waging collaboration on climate change: Finding effective narratives

© Dave Bredeson |

(Updated in November 2018) On 22 April 2016, 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement, setting a world record for the number of first-day signatures to an international agreement.  The agreement will enter into force once 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions ratify it.  The photo of US Secretary of State John Kerry signing the agreement with his granddaughter on his lap was a compelling reminder that this agreement is about protecting future generations.

Building on the scientific consensus that humans have been the dominant cause of the warming observed since the mid-20th century, we now have a diplomatic consensus that countries should limit temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius – and strive for below 1.5 degrees – above pre-industrial levels. What is needed now is a social consensus about how quickly decarbonisation should occur in each country and at what acceptable cost.  Speed matters.  Keeping the 1.5-degree goal within reach requires limiting cumulative emissions of long-lived gases below a threshold which we will pass by about 2030-2052 under business as usual.  The 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement will only take us to roughly 3 degrees and there are no legal penalties if countries fall short.  Making more reductions more quickly buys us more time for new solutions to emerge and mature. …

Behaviour change, Climate change

The gift of the present: Making climate karma count

Beach scene for web ed 1
Why climate karma counts

Over the holidays, a gracious lady from Tonga shared with me the story of Tu’i Malila, the “Little King.”  This Madagascar radiated tortoise was presented as a gift to the King of Tonga by Captain Cook in 1777 and he lived until the age of 188, dying in the mid-1960s.  This tortoise had bridged the human eras of sea exploration and space exploration.  I wondered if Captain Cook had any inkling how long his gift would endure and how much the world would change over that time.

I’ve been reflecting on how the choices we make each day about climate change represent our gift – or our burden – to future generations.  They don’t have a say in what they will inherit from us, they can’t vote for today’s visionary leaders and they can’t remind us to change our habits.  The collective impact of what we emit now will extend well beyond the typical climate change modelling threshold of 2100, which lies within the lifetime of today’s children.

Behaviour change, Climate change

Willingness to change: The “elephant in the room” for climate mitigation

By Mara Ellis | © Xtremesafari | Dreamstime Stock Photo

I read an inspiring story recently about Dr Donald Berwick, former CEO of the US Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).  His research showed that hospitals were repeatedly making avoidable mistakes that were costing patients’ lives. Although he only had a tiny staff and limited resources, he decided that things needed to change. At a convention of US hospital administrators in 2004, he set out a challenge: saving 100,000 lives in the next 18 months.  He spoke to the heart of why change was needed, identified six clear, manageable interventions and launched a campaign to enrol hospitals in making the necessary changes.  He knew it would be hard for hospitals to admit they were routinely making mistakes and change standard practices, but he made it easy for hospitals to join and provided mentoring, information sharing and feedback.  Eighteen months later, they had prevented an estimated 122,300 avoidable deaths (Heath and Heath 2010).

How does this story relate to climate change?  Collectively our society is repeatedly taking avoidable actions which are changing the climate and causing harm.  Like the hospitals at the beginning of the story, we have practical solutions with valuable benefits at our fingertips but we aren’t using them seriously yet.   Fundamentally, the challenge of climate change is a challenge of people change.  In government departments, businesses and households, our lack of willingness to change is the figurative “elephant in the room.”

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