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Is the Climate Movement 
Entering A New Phase? 
Weekly Research Report for October 1, 2014 
Prepared by: 
Joe Brewer 
Cult...
Making History on Climate Action? 
Last week, the largest protest in history for climate change brought more than 300,000 ...
Every year there are more greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere than ever before. The 
only “slow down” in climate i...
critique of capitalism itself in the last decade with protest movements popping up around the 
world.5 
The work we do at ...
”Antidote Memes” — A Set of Ideas Needed to Heal the Climate Discourse 
Examples of this refreshing new approach include: ...
Some of these activities had been familiar to me for a while. What I saw, anecdotally, was a 
change in sharing behavior b...
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Is the Climate Movement Entering A New Phase?

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Last week, the largest protest in history for climate change brought more than 300,000 people together in New York City. This People’s Climate March was organized by 350.org and was accompanied by smaller engagements in more than 2000 cities around the world. A question I want to explore in this weekly report is whether or not this represents a turning point in the climate movement.

As many of you know, I have dedicated more than a decade to the study of cultural and psychological dimensions of global warming. This is one of the most difficult challenges humanity has ever had to confront—and many things stand against us, including the way that our brains are wired. A problem that is (1) nonlinear, (2) systemic, (3) distant in time, (4) impersonal, and (5) requiring fundamental changes in the way we organize our daily lives goes against every tendency of human psychology.

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Is the Climate Movement Entering A New Phase?

  1. 1. Is the Climate Movement Entering A New Phase? Weekly Research Report for October 1, 2014 Prepared by: Joe Brewer Culture Designer Change Strategist for Humanity T 206.914.8927 joe@culture2inc.com http://www.changestrategistforhumanity.com
  2. 2. Making History on Climate Action? Last week, the largest protest in history for climate change brought more than 300,000 people together in New York City. This People’s Climate March1 was organized by 350.org and was accompanied by smaller engagements in more than 2000 cities around the world. A question I want to explore in this weekly report is whether or not this represents a turning point in the climate movement. As many of you know, I have dedicated more than a decade to the study of cultural and psychological dimensions of global warming. This is one of the most difficult challenges humanity has ever had to confront—and many things stand against us, including the way that our brains are wired. A problem that is (1) nonlinear, (2) systemic, (3) distant in time, (4) impersonal, and (5) requiring fundamental changes in the way we organize our daily lives goes against every tendency of human psychology. In his new book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, George Marshal spends more than 200 pages explaining how our psychological makeup as human beings creates many barriers that need to be overcome.2 His sobering assessment makes the case for better stories. Stories that involve human agency. Stories that create empowerment and hope. Stories that express concrete actions that can be taken to progress toward our larger goals. Stories that address the very same issues found by analyzing the poverty discourse.3 And yet, here we are in 2014. 1 http://peoplesclimate.org/ 2 I published a review of Don’t Even Think About It here: http://www.changestrategistforhumanity.com/a-great-book-on-the-psychology-of-global-warming/ 3 http://therulesblog.org/the-narrative-project-judge-it-for-yourself/ Is the Climate Movement Entering A New Phase? Weekly Research Report for October 1, 2014
  3. 3. Every year there are more greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere than ever before. The only “slow down” in climate impacts this century was caused by a collapse in the financial sector, which reduced economic productivity as millions of people lost their jobs or brought in less income to make consumer purchases. Even as this slowdown reduced the rate of acceleration for emissions in some countries, it did not reduce the total globally. A change in large-scale social behavior is clearly still needed. Protest marches may show solidarity and raise awareness. What is needed now is deep structural change in the way we run our societies and measure progress. An Evolutionary Perspective on the Discourse We can look at the changing conversational landscape through the lens of cultural evolution see how it progressed over time. What started out as a mid-20th Century malaise of apocalyptic sentiment (fear of total annihilation from nuclear weapons) evolved into a burgeoning ecological crisis. In the 1960’s it was air and water pollution that set rivers on fire and released hormone-like chemicals into the wild. Endangered species and land preserved in National Parks both reflected a disconnect between Man and Nature as the first wave of environmental protections were put in place, mostly in the West. The general perspective of constructing knowledge as complex systems led to the ecological view many of us take for granted today. With the rise of near-Earth satellites came a discovery that the ozone layer—a vital “planetary boundary” all surface life depends upon, including us—had been damaged by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) through industrial activities.4 This was the first widely recognized environmental harm that came from globalization in the industrial age. It also paved the way for broader discussions about planetary climate change. Unfortunately, global warming was framed as an environmental issue in these early days. It fell into a larger discourse where economic concerns about jobs and prosperity were pitted against what were perceived to be costly actions to protect nature. This dialectic continued to hold until the system science of sustainability gained a foothold near the turn of the century. In parallel with this expanding awareness that all things are connected in a systemic view of human-nature interdependence, a growing social movement against corporate control of the global economy had taken root. This “anti-globalization” movement could be seen in Berlin and Paris in the 1980’s, as a push to bring down the Iron Curtain by the early 90’s, and as a deep structural 4 The theory of planetary boundaries describes how the Earth maintains its capacity to support human life. An overview of this important body of work can be found at http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-programmes/planetary-boundaries.html Is the Climate Movement Entering A New Phase? Weekly Research Report for October 1, 2014
  4. 4. critique of capitalism itself in the last decade with protest movements popping up around the world.5 The work we do at The Rules is one of many efforts fitting into this broad critique of “business as usual”—a paradigm shift in the making for a new way to design economic and political systems. Thus it is appropriate that Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything,6 was released as part of the People’s Climate March to advance a direct attack on the economic DNA of late 20th Century capitalism. These broad strokes paint a picture of an evolving landscape. Climate change is no longer framed simply as an environmental issue. It is now seen as a social justice issue, an economic issue, a system dynamics issue, and, more profoundly, a defining-what-it-means-to-be-human issue. Are We Entering A New Stage of Cultural Evolution? Two years ago, a partner and I conducted a broad study of the memes for global warming.7 We found that the psychological drivers prompting people to speak out and take action (both for and against global warming) made it a toxic conversation. It was apocalyptic, hopeless, focused on argument and ideological battles, and alienating to the mainstream public. We recommended a set of cultural antidotes—“counter memes” designed to make solutions more visible and increase the adoption of ideas that transition civilization toward planetary thriving. They are listed on the next page, each reflecting a belief that replaces a toxic one that already exists. A few weeks ago, I finally began to see inklings that this advice was getting taken up by climate activists. The decades-long focus on telling stories of dystopia among environmentalists is well known. It was such a relief to see hopeful stories begin to spread, just as the People’s Climate March was preparing to unleash itself onto the world stage. 5 A brief history of the anti-globalization movement can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-globalization_movement 6 http://thischangeseverything.org/ 7 http://www.climatememe.org Is the Climate Movement Entering A New Phase? Weekly Research Report for October 1, 2014
  5. 5. ”Antidote Memes” — A Set of Ideas Needed to Heal the Climate Discourse Examples of this refreshing new approach include: ✦ The Center for Planetary Culture’s online wiki that archives the technological, cultural, and spiritual solutions to the ecological crisis;8 ✦ The Beautiful Solutions section9 of Naomi Klein’s website for her new book; ✦ The growing network of socially responsible businesses gathered under the banner of annual Sustainable Brands conferences;10 ✦ And a broad approach known as social entrepreneurship that is rapidly going mainstream today. In the last two weeks I watched my Facebook feed as stories about the Rockefeller family divesting from fossil fuels;11 a global investment network called Ceres bringing their $24 Trillion in assets to lobby for the end of subsidies for oil and coal;12 and economic analyses showed how solar energy is cheaper than traditional energy sources, even when costly subsidies prop up the petroleum industry.13 8 http://planetaryculture.com/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page 9 https://solutions.thischangeseverything.org/ 10 http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news 11 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/22/rockefeller-heirs-divest-fossil-fuels-climate-change 12http://www.ceres.org/issues/clean-trillion/realizing-the-clean-trillion-progress-and-challenges/world-can-save-71- trillion-by-shifting-from-fossil-fuels-to-clean-energy 13 http://ecowatch.com/2014/09/23/solar-wind-renewables-outshine-fossil-fuels/ Is the Climate Movement Entering A New Phase? Weekly Research Report for October 1, 2014
  6. 6. Some of these activities had been familiar to me for a while. What I saw, anecdotally, was a change in sharing behavior by climate activists. My environmental friends were spreading solutions! These hopeful stories were prominent and it felt great to see. What Can We Do to Help? The climate movement has changed continuously in the last several decades. It is now part of a much larger critique of corporate capitalism that has gained ground, even among some business leaders and investor networks. What we can do to help is tell more stories of progress that encourage others to step up their game. A few ideas to consider: 1. Link the ecological crisis to core assumptions about economic growth, the myopic framing of wealth as finance and money, and how the game that was rigged to hoard money is also threatening our collective future. 2. Offer alternatives to “business as usual” that have proven successful. Examples include the use of alternative currencies, meteoric rise of social enterprise, broad success of cooperatively owned businesses, and the accountability found in public banks. 3. Tell stories about human progress, specifically with regard to ecological restoration. There are now tens of thousands of farmer’s markets, community gardens, high performance buildings, recycling programs, and more. Highlight how these activities are already changing the rules. We can do more than just show how the current rules are wrong (which we still need to do). By offering alternative rules for managing our economic and political systems, we will bring more people into the new economic paradigms that are burgeoning all around us. It does seem that we are witnessing the birth of a new phase for the climate movement. Whether it dies stillborn or grows to maturity will depend on how we nurture it along. Spreading the “good news” in a thousand stories of real-world solutions will reframe the debate and carry all of humanity forward. In Solidarity, Joe Is the Climate Movement Entering A New Phase? Weekly Research Report for October 1, 2014

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