Tag Archives: social change

Questions for activists

I recently checked out the Thwink.org website again. Since David first wrote about their work, they have continued to develop their ideas. They have some good ones too. Sometimes I find the approach a bit too simplistically rationalist, but there’s no doubt they are thinking about social change, asking “why have we not achieved the changes we’ve been struggling for?”, and trying to come up with better methods.

Activists are usually busy people. The word itself is based on the root “action”. Gandhi, one of the world’s greatest non-violent activists, stressed the vital importance of action – even going so far as to argue that violent action is better than passivity. Yet Ghandi’s activism was never unthinking. It was based on serious efforts at self-understanding and self-control, and rooted in a deeply thought out theory of power, which lead logically to non-violent strategies for social change.
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To deal with climate change we need social change

Your Blog Action Day post from  well sharp.

Social and Governance Dimensions of Climate Change: Implications for Policy (Policy Research Working P aper 4939) Roberto Foa, The World Bank, May 2009

This paper presents empirical evidence about some of social factors likely to be important for societies to implement effective responses to the challenges of climate change, and discusses what this suggests for policy.

The bottom line: to deal with climate change we need social change – specifically, we need a world of gender equity, with a flourishing civil society, and broad cross-cutting social ties.

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Human identity and environmental challenges

Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity – Tom Crompton & Tim Kasser (WWF-UK, 2009)

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (definition by Albert Einstein)

This excellent report argues that much environmental  campaigning has been ineffective because it is focused on changing organisations and behaviours – and fails to engage with the critical role of human identity – how we understand ourselves as human beings.

There is a concise overview document (8 pages of body text) as well as the book-length full report – both available for download at the link above.  For those for whom even that is too long, some brief notes follow as a taster that will hopefully motivate you to go and read it yourself  🙂

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The social organisation of denial: Understanding why we fail to act on climate change, and what we can do about that.

Kari Marie Norgaard has written a useful research paper for – perhaps surprisingly – the World Bank. (Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change)

She investigates how denial, operating as a social process, is hindering our ability to take effective action on climate change despite growing concern and awareness of the risks. It is not a complete analysis – I would recommend that readers keep in mind the insights about social change, consumerism,  and values highlighted in the WWF ‘Weathercocks & Signposts’ report discussed here, and analysis of the dynamics of consumer capitalism such as those discussed here and here.

Norgaard’s report is forty-something pages of body text and tables. The following is my attempt at an Executive Summary.

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“If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad” – intrinsic values as drivers for social change and tools to escape consumerism

One of the debates that has regularly reared its head in the environmental movement is how best to achieve change to more environmentally friendly behaviour. Small specific steps often seem the most direct and effective way to achieve practical change now, and yet there is intuitively a disquieting gap between the scale of social change needed and such small, non-challenging steps as changing to more efficient light-bulbs.

About a year ago, WWF-UK came out with a report, titled Weathercocks & Signposts, that addresses this precisely question.

After examining a wide range of evidence, they conclude that we need a “radically different approach” to product-marketing style campaigns that begin with the assumption of the sovereignty of consumer choice. Instead, they say, “any adequate strategy for tackling environmental challenges will demand engagement with the values that underlie the decisions we make – and, indeed, with our sense of who we are” (p.5)

Marketing style campaigns usually seek to “go with what works”, which may well result in campaigns based on appeals to status and self-interest rather than environmental values. They may seem to be the most effective way of achieving change in the short-run.

“But the evidence presented in this report suggests that such approaches may actually serve to defer, or even undermine, prospects for the more far-reaching and systemic behavioural changes that are needed.” (p.5)

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Accelerating over the edge of the cliff

Climate & Capitalism have posted a  Sunday Herald story on a report due out tomorrow. The report is by the environmental advisors to the U.K governments and appears to pull no punches – a taste:

The economic system is broken, and attempts by governments to fix it by kick-starting growth and consumerism are “delusional” and “pathological”

UPDATE: The full report, a summary, and background papers are available here. The full report is quite sizeable, so you might want to start with the summary – it is good stuff. A few  quotes as a summary of  the summary follow:

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Economic policy and the possibility of a green change: Bad Samaritans – Take Two

David has reviewed Ha-Joon Chang’s book Bad Samaritans for well sharp already – his review is here –  I’d like to pick up on few more points the book raises, and explore how they can help us tackle the economic and environmental challenges we face.

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