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  • Writer's pictureDoug Hull

Changing Minds

Humans are wired to fear change. We have evolved in a way that makes us associate change with danger. To our ancestors trying to eat a new berry or mushroom meant possible death by poison. Moving to a new cave might mean death by grizzly bear, or venomous snake. And on planet earth in the 21st century the threat of change is around every corner, generating fear and stress for all of us. If we focus on climate change in particular, how exactly do we transform our fear mindset into something more positive?

While we know for a fact that renewable energy technologies work, and are cost effective, it is going to be a massive undertaking to transition away from fossil fuels and onto this new tech. Not only will "Big Fossil" and the politicians they sponsor resist the change as much as possible, but many others from traditional car mechanics to gas installers will need to update their skills for the new world we will be living in. It is going to be disruptive, and couple that with the speed at which the changes need to happen and you can understand why many people think it is not achievable.

One way to rationalise the impending changes is to look at them through the lens of corporate change management practices. Psychologists Don Kelley and Daryl Conner developed an 'Emotional Cycle of Change' model in the 1970s, and today this still forms the backbone of many corporate change management strategies. It charts various stages of the lifecycle of changes all the way from uninformed optimism in the early stages, through the 'valley of despair' and into informed optimism and finally (all going well) success. While this is clearly designed with workplace changes in mind (like mergers, rebranding etc), it could really be applied to any change affecting individual people... including the changes we are facing related to the environment.

If we apply this model to climate change, then I think many of us will recognise the first stage, and possibly have been through it already. 'Uninformed Optimism' (also known as the 'Honeymoon Period') is where we are convinced we can readily stop the flow of greenhouse gases, and technology will help us to reduce the existing CO2 levels in the atmosphere. We're not sure exactly how the technology works, but anything is possible - the human spirit will triumph! We will survive! Many are in this stage, and our politicians will have you believe that the future is bright, even if some of them are banking on unproven technology that barely exists... like Carbon Capture and Storage technology.

Over time we tend to drift into 'Informed Pessimism', and into despair. I have been spending a lot of time here of late. As we become more informed we start to realise the magnitude of the task ahead and inevitably feel depressed. How are we ever going to make all these changes when the world seems hell bent on self destruction, and many of our leaders come across as being self-serving egotists. And do enough people really care about the planet to make a difference? It often feels like people are focussed on frivolous things, and have lost sight of what is important. On the day Will Smith slapped Chris Rock the antarctic recorded its highest ever seasonal temperatures, but no prizes for guessing which story made headlines.

But then after the despair comes a glint of hope, and optimism starts to return. A success story here, some positive reinforcement there. Small wins. Steps in the right direction that lead you to think that maybe, just maybe we can pull this off. These gather momentum until suddenly there is mass optimism. This keeps going and growing until eventually the changes become inherent in our world and suddenly we are living in an environment we never thought was possible. Maybe I'm dreaming but I hope this is how it ends up going over the next few years and decades.

A key part of each stage in the journey is being informed. Informed pessimism followed by informed optimism. One cannot progress without being informed. So perhaps the key takeaway here is this: without information there is no road through to optimism. I have recently been working with an amazing team of people on a Seth Godin inspired project called The Carbon Almanac. It is a foundational source of truth about climate change and a collaborative creation which covers the topic widely and deeply. It is out in June 2022 and is already an Amazon bestseller. It has also spawned a community of like-minded climate change warriors producing podcasts, driving marketing initiatives, and pretty much doing whatever they can to help spread the word. Check it out ... and stay informed!

Until next time!


aka The Regeneralist

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