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Solutions to address climate change are there and can be massively scaled up today. It requires passion, resources and sense of urgency. We know that if we don't move fast we'll put seriously at risk the future of humanity. So why are we not engaging ourselves stronger and faster ?

This is probably due to several brain conditioning, some of them created throughout 2 million years of evolution (called cognitive biases), and reinforced through the last decades of generalized consumerism model.      

Brain's Cognitive biases 

Throughout human evolution, we have trained our brains to rapidly process information in order to maximize our chances to survive: find some food, a shelter for the night, ensure reproduction and avoid (or fight against) predators. This simple game has lead us to develop brain patterns which are still active nowadays. The most common ones (188!) are given in the "cognitive biases codex" illustrated hereunder :

Humans tend to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from making rational judgments. Here are probably the most active ones preventing us to engage harder and faster in the climate change battle: 

Hyperbolic discounting: we have the tendency to make choices which overvalue immediate pay-offs versus later pays offs. I other words : present is more important than the future.

Bystander effect: we tend to believe that someone else will deal with the crisis. It was true when a small group of homo sapiens were counting on the most trained hunters to fight a predator, it's still true nowadays and human believes the leaders should deal with climate change. 

Band wagon effect: we tend to not act as others are not acting. something should be wrong to differentiate from others

Normalcy bias: we tend to refuse to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before

Optimism bias:  we tend to be over-optimistic, underestimating greatly the probability of undesirable outcomes and overestimating favorable and pleasing outcomes. (also known as wishful thinking)

Plan continuation bias (or sunk cost fallacy): we tend to fail to recognize that the original plan of actions is no longer appropriate for a changing situation ..especially if we have invested a lot in the original plan (like developing fossil industry or intensive food production to avoid energy shortagre or food starvation)

and the list goes on and on, ... scientifically demonstrated biases, which limits our individual capacity to act for a "we don't know exactly when, causing exactly what,, and affecting exactly who?" threat generated by climate change

The bad news is that these patterns have been heavily used and reinforced by advertisers and opinion leaders in our economy under expension:

Modern Economy 

Since the industrial revolution and more specifically since post WWII, we've been flooded with messages promising our lives fulfillment by thanks to the acquisition of more "stuffs".

Immediate brains satisfaction are triggered by the act of buying a "stuff" with a pleasing sensation of being powerful. Buying "stuffs" help us to satisfy our basic needs such as food, protection, control .. or desire for reproduction

Throughout years, our believes have been reinforced with the fact that "more is better", .. for our own success and freedom, for our own ego satisfaction, for healthier and smarter kids, ... in one word: for our happiness in life. 

Is this means that we have to give up ? accept that the full speed moving train cannot be stopped before reaching the cliff ?

We believe it's not an option and we want to show that it is possible to engage by playing on various stimuli:

Positive stories 

"How we communicate about climate change influence how we respond" Dr M. Wilburn King, president and chairman Common foundation

By telling stories, we can change our believes. This has an effect on our thoughts, which further influence our behaviors and, at the end, have an impact on our actions.

Positive stories have more impact on our believes than negative ones, which can trigger a repulsive reaction due to stress it generate or just a"no move" attitude (like the spider in detecting a possible danger).

As an example, baby boomers grew up with the beliefs that more diary and meat based diets were good for their child's strength. Today, instead of painting blood in the front of butcheries or yelling that beef industry contribute to cause deaths directly and indirectly due to climate deregulation, one can tells young parents that a diet favoring more (organically grown) vegetables is overall healthier for their child and save lives. This positive framing increase the desire for change. It's another powerful cognitive bias.

Recognizing the power of small groups

Individuals can develop and maintain a stable relationship with about 150 other people (a phenomenon called "Dunbar's number"). Within a group below this size, people can build trust and rely on others actions to achieve collective long term goals. More over, by building communities around various group of interests (such as agricultural, fishing or tourism industries), by allowing individuals to express how climate change affect them personally (the power of "story telling" again) and letting the them to develop together their own practical and local solutions, we multiply engagement effect.

Actually, it's like using the cognitive biases effects and the story telling power for the good (... and not to buy more stuff as Tupperware has well understood in their business model).

This approach allows also to leverage on other cognitive biases :

Endowment effect: when we own something (even an idea) we tend to value it more

Band wagon effect (again): we tend to evaluate ourselves by looking at others, if others are taking step against climate change, we are more likely to do the same. This explain the success of some energy consumption comparison games from household to household in a community.

Hyperbolic discounting (again): if an immediate reward is reachable (like reduction of monthly energy bills in the just mentioned game) it has more value than a hypothetical few milli Celsius avoided on the global planet temperature increase.

At this point it is important to mention that larger communities such as cities, countries or group of countries have also an important role to play by setting medium and long terms strategical goals and the necessary the legal and socio-economic frames in place to align and coordinate stakeholders.

Lift up your self consciousness    

To overcome our fears to engage, we need to overcome our multiple cognitive biases in order to allow for rational thinking. We also need to adopt a "let it go" attitude, which can be difficult for us, as objects around us and money help us to feel more secure about the future. It puts us at risk, as it might requires to go against the tide, and to adapt our private and professional networks. Changes is uncertain and, by definition, difficult. We have to embrace the uncertain world and develop confidence in ourselves. Several philosophers or inspirational leaders are helping us here:

"If you embrace a crisis, it becomes an adventure, if you refuse an adventure, it becomes a crisis", Bertrand Piccard 

"Each one of us has to develop his or her own definition of success. And when we have these specific expectations of ourselves, we're more likely to live up to them.  Ultimately, it's not what you get, or even what you give. It's what you become". Mary Gates.

To help us to define what we want to become, we can lift up our consciousness: moving from animal state to rational state and ultimately to spiritual consciousness. 

Fabienne Verdier, artist
At this level, individuals feel part of and connected to the whole world, their unique individualities are open to more possibles. At this stage, "we are like a flower, we aim towards the plenitude of our presence to the world" (François Cheng, poet). In the Chinese tradition (Taoism) it's when human being is smoothly flowed by the "breath of life" ("Ch'i"), as a connection between sky and the earth.

As the philosopher and Kung Fu master Christoph Eberhard is reminding us, we can see this as the three steps progression of a martial art practitioner :

First when you fight, you are inhabited with your perceptions ("the one in front of you is bigger therefore more dangerous?") your fears ("shall I be hurt ?") and projections ("shall I look like a looser if I fail?"). You fight with your emotions, it's the animal state.

Then progressively, you take control of yourself and what is happening around you, you develop strategies, your mind is opening up and is "here and now", You are at the human state.

The ultimate step is to when you realize that you are part of a whole. The breath of life is circulating in you, your dancing in harmony with the other practitioner. It's the "Wu Wei" state in Chinese tradition. It's also related to the mystic state in some religions ("Thy will be done" in Christianism). For a painter or any artist, it's when you feel your soul is connected to the whole and that your body, crossed by energy, is expressing something bigger than you.   

To conclude this chapter, We believe that when we are conscious of our biases, understand and control our emotions (emotional intelligence), when we can develop rational thinking (intellectual intelligence) and feel connected to a whole bigger than our own individuality (spiritual intelligence) ... we are more open to engage ourselves, for a better world!


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