Sparking hope to solve the climate crisis

How can we build hope in solving climate change? Focus on solutions.
Published in Social Sciences
Sparking hope to solve the climate crisis

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Climate change is the thief that keeps on taking. It took our climate stability, the one that gave us 15,000 years of seasonal agriculture and our resulting civilization. Ocean warming is taking our coral reefs, and the marine life and local economies they sustain. Droughts are stealing our food security. Forest fires are hijacking our sense of safety. Rising sea levels are robbing coastal communities of their future.

Climate change is even trying to steal our hope. Last year, Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communications found that Americans are losing faith that we can solve this problem. The study found that the number of Americans expressing anxiety about global warming is increasing, while the number of those expressing hope we can address it is decreasing. 

Researchers already know climate change is taking a toll on mental health. A widely-read 2017 study found that, “Worry about actual or potential impacts of climate change can lead to stress that can build over time and eventually lead to stress-related problems, such as substance abuse, anxiety disorders and depression.”    

Hope is not a strategy, my business professor once said. But without it, strategies are doomed. Hopeless people are less likely to act. And addressing climate change requires action.

So, what can we do?

One thing is clear: we can start talking about solutions. As noted climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe recently told us, “Talking about the real solutions — positive, beneficial, do-able solutions — is so important; because that is what gives us hope.”

Rare, the organization I lead, has always been solutions-oriented. It’s one of our core values – we call it having a Mindset of Solutionology. To tackle climate change, we have already started to identify and spotlight climate solutions in ways real people can appreciate.

This year, Rare’s newly created Center for Behavior & the Environment teamed up with some of the leading environmental organization on Earth—the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, the UN Development Program and even National Geographic, and together we launched a global contest called Solution Search to shine a light on some of the most promising ways people are changing their behavior to become part of the solution.

We are thrilled that Solution Search netted over 200 entries from 46 countries. Each one is not just an idea; each one is a viable, promising way to motivate people to take climate action. Each one is a reason for hope.

Of course, once you begin to identify solutions, the challenge becomes how to get everyone else to adopt them. On March 19, we’re catalyzing the conversation about how to do just that. In partnership with National Geographic, Rare is hosting BE.Hivean interactive, one-day summit to explore climate solutions through the lens of human behavior. We’re bringing together climate experts, behavioral and social scientists, social entrepreneurs, artists, storytellers and explorers, each of whom brings their own insights about how best to motivate the adoption of climate-friendly behaviors. The summit will also feature the Solution Search finalists, whose inspirational work gives us a glimpse of what is possible. 

Those in attendance will hear from experts like Cass Sunstein, a Harvard professor and author of Nudge, a practical introduction to simple ways of influencing human decision-making. They’ll hear from Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, a Rhodes Scholar and member of the Project Drawdown team who “brings humanity and heart to the challenge of climate change.” And they’ll hear from Rob Wilson, an entrepreneur who is brewing beer with surplus bread to help reduce food waste.  

We know from our own lives that individual behavior change is possible. And we’ve seen in recent history how we can shift human behavior over time. Consider the rise of seatbelt usage over the last decade, the fall of teen pregnancy rates, or the decline of cigarette smoking. Hope lies in the human potential for personal and social transformation.  

The challenge before us is to change ourselves faster than our climate. Let’s get to it. 

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