Jeremy Rifkin on "the empathic civilization"

One of the most frequent concerns about environmental sustainability – going green – is that people will only act to maximise self-interest. There’s a body of evidence that this is not the case (links below) and Jeremy Rifkin, in this short 10 minute video, summarises some of our collaborative drivers.

The talk covers human behaviours that can deliver a real sustainable advantage to companies acting on climate change.

For some more background see Just who collaborates in the real world? and Carbon neutral companies seeing the advantages.

Big box retail green?


Walmart is consistently mentioned for it’s green sustainability initiatives. From being the first company to work with the Carbon Disclosure Project establishing an emissions strategy for its entire supply chain – over 100,000 companies – to recently with sustainable fish supplies in Brazil and ‘traceability’ for food products.

Traceability will see it bar code agricultural items. This lets customers quickly find out where food has come from, how it’s been produced and is a gateway for transparency. If we know the background for food, it’s easier to stop deforestation and other impacts of food production.

Walmart’s Héctor Núñez says: Due to all the challenges in cattle raising related to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, meat is the first item in this program.  

And why take such environmental steps? Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund summed it up speaking about the supply chain initiatives: Walmart’s bold move will help companies identify steps to slash pollution and costs. Importantly, they also point out, its: good for business and good for customers!

Image: Ambalaj sustainable packaging

Liar, liar, we’re not on fire?

Just launched is this excellent summary of Climate Change from the Australian Academy of Science. It should answer everyone’s doubts or opposition to taking action. Of course it won’t,

So why do we have such difficulty in learning what we most need to know to mitigate our most destructive behaviours? Dorothy Rowe, Australian psychologist and emeritus associate of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, explains that we make decisions, about what to do, from the different interpretations each of us make.

As this New Scientist article about her recent book puts it:

we cannot see “reality” directly. All we can ever know are the guesses or interpretations our mind creates about what is going on. To create these guesses, we can only draw on basic human neuroanatomy and on our past experience. …

As a result, for global issues like climate change, no matter how much evidence we accumulate our truths will always be approximations. That is lying to ourselves about uncertainty – particularly present in issues like climate change – gives us certainty! Something we desire.

What to do? Climate Change Leadership explores motivation and we shouldn’t forget there’s significant advantages and profits to be had for countries and businesses that act.

Climate change leadership

Climate change needs political leadership. It’s an obvious requirement but a recent survey from the University of Queensland reveals some startling gaps. Out of 300 Australian federal, state and local government political leaders, 70% agreed with the statement that the planet is warming because of human activity producing greenhouse gases.

However, 17% are uncertain if they agreed or not. It raises the question of what awareness is necessary for these leaders to be informed? The survey finds that politicians say scientists are the most influential people when it comes to framing their views. Yet, less than 40% of the politicians agree with the IPCC scientists on global temperature – that a limit of 2 degrees or less of warming is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.

It’s a global gap. For example in Sweden politicians scored 70% answering questions on climate change. But it’s more than a knowledge gap. We must hear discordant voices, multifarious human beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours says Mike Hulme investigating climate change disagreements.

In other words knowledge is necessary but not sufficient. Understanding how people interpret this information is important.

As Centre for Research on Environmental Decisions puts it climate change solutions are workable, cost-effective technologies which permit society to improve living standards… Yet scientific, engineering, and organizational solutions are not enough. Societies must be motivated and empowered to adopt the needed changes.

Picture: Centre for Research on Environmental Decisions, The Psychology of Climate Change Communication.

Spills, sizes, solar and solutions

If you’ve watched the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the headlines – Biggest in History – you may also have wondered what it means. Just how big is big?

One comparison that resonates is, at its peak, it was the size of the US State of Kansas. This is approximately the same size as the State of Victoria in Australia, just under half the size of European France and twice South Korea‘s land mass.

It’s also spawned a few comparisons. What if BP had spilled solar panels instead of oil calculates it would be enough clean energy to power the USA, Central and South America for 25 years. The oil, as opposed to solar, is enough energy for less than one day’s power demand. The BP spilled solar panels post also calculates costs.

Clearly solar power, on its own, is not the full, comprehensive, alternative to oil. The Rocky Mountains Institute in 2007 looked at how to Win the Oil Endgame. It documents how USA (and by extension world) oil dependancy can be ended – profitably, securely and equitably – within decades. It demonstrates viable effective alternatives to oil.

Picture: BP Oil clean-up