Inspirational storytelling should be part of the way we communicate renewable energy and the environment.
Working in the renewable energy sector can be a frustrating ordeal!
Government support comes and goes; community support wavers; the media seems mostly incapable of presenting a rational argument. Many in the sector clearly see the global problem and are helping to deliver practical solutions. Sometimes it seems incredible that others in our community are being so short-sighted. Can they really all be that selfish and greedy? Why are people not just being rational?
The fault however is not with your audience. It is just that the messages we tell are not being heard. Humans are not wired in a way that easily hears that things need to change. In fact, most environmental communications are futile in their attempt to engage the whole community and there are some very good psychological reasons for this.
Despite the pretence, humans are not primarily rational. We are, first of all, emotional beings dependent on chemicals. Every decision we make is emotional even if it may happen to be rational in hindsight.
In my corporate advisory work, I work with organisations on innovation, leadership and environmental projects. I work with entrepreneurs, both in start-ups and corporates, helping them to build their business skills and to communicate more effectively. One of the secrets to their success is to be able to communicate a better future to attract investors, customers and employees. If you need an example, think of Steve Jobs and how he communicated the vision of Apple.
When coaching leadership, there are many examples of how successful leaders communicate and behave. Again, a key success factor is to attract followers towards a better future. Martin Luther King did not say “˜I have a bit of plan – let me explain’. He had a dream
Conversely, environmental communications have largely been saying “˜unless we change, bad things are going to happen’. It may be true, but it is hardly inspirational!
rotesting against bad things – complaining when people die or get poisoned – is powerful and has resulted in the wonderful clean environment we have today in Australia. This strategy works really well when the adverse consequences and their solutions are short term. It does not however succeed if the consequences are gradual and non-imminent. We can dodge a ball thrown at our head but, as a race, we feel no pressure to act to avoid far more serious non-imminent threats.
We need to bring some inspirational storytelling into the way we communicate renewable energy and the environment. Great changes happen through storytelling. They attract people towards an idea rather than scaring people into changing to avoid bad stuff. They build support for moving to a paradigm that better fits the world.
There is some excellent research on how paradigm shifts occur: how people change their fundamental world view. It is never away from a bad concept and it is only ever towards something better: something that makes more sense and feels right.
As part of a global project, I have assembled visions of a better world from 80 of the world’s leading environmental thinkers. There are 33 from Australia, 16 from Asia, 16 from Europe and 15 from the Americas. In Australia, they include Professor Ian Chubb, Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty, Paul Gilding and explorer Tim Jarvis. Internationally, there are visions from Christiana Figueres, Bill McKibben, Connie Hedegaard and Yvo de Boer.
There are views on technology, investments, communities, transport, priorities, how success is measured. There are pessimistic visions of the Great Climate Crisis. Many look back at the world in 2015 and shake their heads at how the world dithered – and caused so much needless suffering as a result. Back to the generation of “˜Time Thieves’ as one author puts it.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland wrote in her vision that in 2100, “˜Poverty is eradicated. Every child goes to school regardless of sex, race, religion or place of birth. Every woman enjoys equality with every man. Every household has access to energy. In 2100, the world is just.’
So rather than scaring people into action, we must instead attract people to build a better world for themselves and their grandchildren.
The human race can do extraordinary things when it needs to. With the right motivation, humans can win unwinnable wars, put men on the moon, build pyramids or create atomic bombs. However, the complex issue of climate change is one that our race is struggling to address. The solutions are not beyond us in any way. Technological solutions exist, scientific knowledge is plentiful, the world can afford the transition but still significant action eludes us. There are many rational arguments for clear paths forward. The complexity of climate change is now in the psychology of communication.
Changing the world begins with a dream for the future. To help this transition, we need to adjust the way we communicate and bring the wider community along with us towards a better future. Failure to do so will just prolong the frustrating ordeal.
John O’Brien is the Managing Director of Australian CleanTech and SinoCleanTech. He is also the founder of the global VISIONS 2100 Project that is seeking short visions of a better world from everyone that it can share globally.