While much has been accomplished in the arena of climate breakdown action, there is still much to be done. The world’s overall temperature has increased by about 1.4° Fahrenheit (0.8° Celsius) since 1880 and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, notes NASA. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975.
Does it matter?
The world is resilient, to be sure. But it’s sensitive to change. One to two degrees lower meant an Ice Age in the past.
A few degrees higher? We already know the sea is rising as Arctic ice is melting. We already know that species are dying. Flood, fire, drought, crop failure, livestock wipeout.
We know it all. We get how it works. Or, do we?
The truth is, many of us don’t.
But even if we do understand the issue and its effects, understanding doesn’t necessarily translate to caring about the issue. And even if we understand a lot, and even if we care a lot, sometimes we’re not really doing anything at all about it. The issue just feels too complex and, as one of our Poetic Earth Month donors put it, “way beyond us.”
Enter the classic messaging: alarm, guilt, accusation, shaming. This should fix the problem of a lack of understanding, a lack of connection and care, and a lack of action, yes?
But it doesn’t.
In fact, the classic messaging often makes matters worse. Why? People don’t like to feel dumb, or callous, or powerless. So they just go about their business. Or they ridicule. Or they get hostile. Or they get depressed. People are human, after all.
Taking cues from behavioral science and gaming, we suggest a highly-successful approach we’ve used in another arena. We call it “The Uceful Model.” (Forgive us, spelling enthusiasts!)
Here’s how it works.
• Don’t assume everyone already knows how climate breakdown and its reversal works. Then, get into discovery mode! Despite the gravity of the issue, discovery can be fun or satisfying
• Don’t primarily use scientific jargon to create understanding. Instead, use common language and memorable images. This brings people along, as it links new ideas to previous knowledge and works within people’s comfort zones—even as the understanding itself may begin to invite them beyond their comfort zones
create Connection that produces Care, which leads to the desire to engage
• Rely on stories, songs, poetry, art, and community experiences to move the heart on the issue of climate breakdown (this isn’t always a straight-on process; media that connects us to nature and each other can be helpful, even without a “climate change” message at its center)
• Expect to creatively facilitate difficult conversations, since a new form of connection and care can often come into conflict with previously-established forms of connection and care
enable consistent Engagement
• Point to simple action ideas, especially those that speak to the top 80 game changers in climate breakdown
• Some action ideas are, of course, more complex, but they can be separated into simpler parts. Separate them into easily-doable parts
• Learn about how to form new habits
• Redesign systems where possible
• Find ways to show the impact of the actions and how the actions link up to other people’s actions (see the social game approach of the trillion tree campaign, Ecosia, and EcoChallenge, for examples)
A sense of fullness—a feeling of healthy pride and accomplishment—is created when understanding, connection & care, and successful engagement work together. This sense of fullness, pride, and accomplishment can encourage an interest in revisiting the cycle to go to the “next level,” just like in gaming. And that’s the Uceful Model!
The Uceful Model works best when all three arenas are addressed: understanding, connection & care, and engagement. It doesn’t necessarily have to be used in a linear fashion (in fact, some research suggests it’s most powerful to start with Engagement). And, if any of the red flags arise along the way (ho-hum attitude, ridicule, hostility, giving up), this is a clue that one of the arenas probably needs further attention or needs to be put first in line. Experiment. There’s everything to gain.
“Pick Me” illustration is by LW Willingham