Smart monkeys? Not smart enough

Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw – Unsplash

On the 25th of September Sir David Attenborough made his foray onto Instagram, hoping to inspire change in the way we are treating our planet. In the three weeks since his handle launched, with the bio A Life On Our Planet, the digital platform has amassed an incredible 5.8 million followers. This is evidence of public interest in the status of our planet.

In February, immediately after summer fires in Australia subsided, we at Glow collected telling data about citizens’ opinions on important topics around climate.  Then COVID created a global shockwave. Like most businesses, we had to adapt, respond and focus on staying afloat. The story the data told had to wait.

Time now to reflect

The global response to COVID creates a window of opportunity for reflection for the world. Is this our once in a lifetime opportunity for us to reset our values?  We must question the cost of economic growth, comparing it with the importance of social interactions, community value, and the impact of lockdown policies on mental health. We have been forced to stay local. It’s made us think about what the future of work and consumption looks like.

What do we want the post pandemic world to look like? According to estimates about reaching our new normal, we’ve got about 12 months before ‘new normal’ resets post COVID.

I’ve been speaking with our business advisors, meeting my network of research professionals, and exploring this problem.

What are we talking about? The impact of humans on our planet, and its effect on earth’s climate. As a smart set of monkeys, humans really haven’t been smart enough.  Attenborough has made countless wildlife documentaries, but around 10 years ago, his tone changed as he zeroed in on the impact of man on earth’s ecology and biodiversity. (If you haven’t seen ‘Extinction: the facts’, watch it – it’s moving.)

Biodiversity is the thin end of the wedge

Climate change is the biggest existential threat we’ve ever faced. It’s the slow, lagging effect of our exploits on the planet — and at current rates, it’ll devastate the only living planet that we know exists.

Humans are not just damaging humanity; we’re killing our ecosystems, as biodiversity levels plummet at a rate never seen before. We are entering the 6th mass extinction event. The last one, the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction (asteroid), was just 66 million years ago. In it, some 76% of all plants and animals were killed. Today, we’re facing the extinction of over 1,000,000 species, and the rate of extinction is around 100 times the natural rate. If this carries on at the current rate, unabated, we’ll see the first ever mass extinction caused by an animal — in around 300 years time.

What’s shocking is that, since the climate change agreements we started forging decades ago, the rate of impact we are having is accelerating. 300 years is possibly a drastic underestimation of how out of control the problem is.

The Climate Catalyst

In February 2020, Glow, in partnership with Havas, launched the inaugural Climate Catalyst. The study creates a framework for how we measure citizens’ sentiment for governmental response to climate change. The results are undeniable. Over 80% of the citizens of the 5 countries in our study stated unequivocally that not enough is being done to prioritise the issue by their governments. We interviewed over 5,000 people in this study, and the data shows a consistent narrative — we need to do more.

To be clear here, we’re not out to bash governments, we’re surfacing important opinions from the citizens that elect them. Historically, it’s been hard to get opinions surfaced as easily as they can be now – the issue we face now is cutting through the layers of resistance to change that start in our own homes and extend to the offices of power, stopping in every business on the way. When you start to pull the problem apart it’s hugely daunting – where do we start?

In October 2020, we asked 1,000 Australians how important climate change is as an issue to them. 81% stated it as an important issue to them. So, both pre- and post-COVID, this is an issue people care dearly about. Yet, still, it’s not a significant enough area of action for decision makers in government. We keep going around in circles on it.

Feeling helpless? How can we make an impact?

We started thinking about the issue in detail. Consumers responding to our February study around the world told us they feel helpless. There is nothing they feel they can do, beyond the impact they have in their own households.

The impact consumers feel they can have on climate includes their decisions around:

  • Their super / pension
  • Energy supplier(s)
  • Motor vehicles
  • Food brands and other consumer goods

In the same October 2020 study, we asked respondents to our survey:

  • If a business you use doesn’t pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030, will you remain a customer of that business?
  • How likely are you to buy from a company that has a plan to become carbon neutral?

We looked at this across Small, Medium and Corporate business sizes. On average:

  • 63% of consumers are more likely to purchase from businesses that have a plan to become more carbon neutral. This increases with business size.
  • 39% of consumers stated they’d be likely to change their choice of provider if they don’t have a carbon neutral pledge for 2030. This also increases with business size.

So, unsurprisingly, there is a greater weight of expectation for large businesses to act, and this is fair – they have a larger potential impact from both a positive and a negative perspective.

If you want to take a look then please follow this link to view the data from our October 2020 survey online for yourself.

So, what to do?

We need to start listening to and educating at every level if we want to get the balance right. This isn’t just about citizens, who feel helpless enough. We need to cut through every level of business, from small, local businesses to industrial powerhouses. We need to drive change through supply chains using consumer demand for transparency and ethics to force change.

We need to start to balance risk and reward in a way that factors in both good and poor practices to make a direct impact on financial performance of corporations. Several strong models have been presented in this regard. The Climate Leadership Council has an excellent carbon plan (for the USA), including a gradually rising carbon fee.

It has to start at home

I believe wholeheartedly in the power of data and opinion to move mountains, and it has to start at home. Australia needs to do more. We live in one of the world’s richest countries, but we currently ‘boast’ the worst carbon emissions of any western, developed economy. So, in a way, it’s no irony that it needs to start at home. Not only that, we have terrible recent form.

Around 75% of our energy comes from coal. We recently approved the building of a 10m tonne per annum coal mine in Queensland owned by Adani, which was a hugely unpopular decision. However, the government approved it, and now we have decades remaining for a legacy industry to flourish. And the list of these decisions around infrastructure, energy and industry goes on and on. We just aren’t learning – let alone listening.

The Australian bushfires of late 2019/20 killed over 500,000,000 animals, 34 people, and burned an area the size of Syria. The river beds of much of Australia are dry; the water ‘rights’ sold off to large farms and industry in deals that rarely make headlines. The artesian well is dry, and the cost is a high fuel load around most bush areas. These policies and practices persist despite the hard evidence and facts that some leaders still deny.

What can you do?

While we continue to explore, document and progress this narrative, we invite you to help us by sharing our research and our content. We will be unearthing facts and elaborating ideas to support the development of clear action plans that can make an impact. If you have data, resources or networks at your disposal that we can help us on our mission to get under the skin of candidate solutions to these issues – please get in touch. Glow can access over 60m people in 90+ countries for online research globally, and we invite others to use the platform to deliver research on climate change and its effects with our full support. In Australia we run a weekly study to identify the biggest challenges to climate and Corporate Social Responsibility. We invite you to ask your questions, and we can help you publish your data.

For participation via submission of questions, please email me at tim@glowfeed.com.

Follow along with Glow’s progress through my LinkedIn page or the Glow newsletter.