Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Climate Change and Consumption

Full room to start with!!! Lots of people interested in the topic. That got me excited. This one was less interactive though, a bit more like a serious university lecture but it gave me a lot of insight into what some young people think.

Full room indicated that there is an increasing recognition in the public that we consume a little bit too much. Although, it could be that the panel on Prosperity without growth influenced more people to attend this particular workshop to find out more on the topic. The information provided wasn’t anything too different to what I have already had in my mind: We consume too much, we need much less than that and marketing creates a lot of our “needs”. So let’s go to the activity. In groups, we were asked to write a list of all the things we had consumed from the moment we got up that day. The popular items I can remember were water, car, fuel, food, air, clothing, shampoo, heat, soap, make-up, transport.

Then we were asked to circle the ones we considered essential to our survival, those without which we cannot live. Most groups circled water, air, food. And then we had to give a name to the rest of items we didn’t circle, or analyze what role they play in our lives. There seemed to be a general feeling that these other things not only were luxuries but that we do not need any of them. Even someone was arguing that we don’t need transport. Maybe there was not enough time to understand more of the context from which each person was talking, so maybe this conclusion is not accurate: I felt a bit of extremism. Like a general vibe saying that we should only use what is essential to our survival. Although I have firmly held that thought before, I now believe that there is usefulness to our species in having what we have, even when that has led to being very close to what it seems like self-destruction.

To produce and have all the things we consume, lots of relationships were established. All those things have been part of our journey to discover who we are and what we could do. I don’t believe that as human beings we are on earth just to survive, and behind all things we seem to be doing wrong, and the systems we’ve created that are finally making evident they are obsolete, the things we consume and produce to keep a system that is taking us where we’re heading, there is the realization that what we have is not what we intended to create. How would we know where we want to go if not because we now know where we don’t want to go?? So yes, we do have lots of things we don’t need to survive, but survive is not our final goal. And yes, there are many things we don’t need for any reason, but combined with all what is happening around the world, they are taking humanity to a different direction. I actually feel like I want to say “Thank you”…otherwise when would have we considered to take a different direction if not because we see where our current models are taking us?

There was a discussion about money. I felt like there is still a mental block about it. There was a subtle association to communism and socialism amongst some when the topic was brought up. I heard comments about how people’s work and capacities can only be valued by using money, and someone was declared “too idealistic” because he believes that the identification of self and stuff is disappearing. Having said that, most of the “blocking” comments came from the same individual and provoked an adverse reaction from the majority, particularly the “too idealistic” one. That was actually a sign of hope to me. Between the young there seems to be more openness to new ideas and adversity to old ones.

And last observation was: These guys seemed to want an instruction, they know there is a relationship between the state of the environment and consumption, amongst other things, but they don’t know what to do about it, they may have ideas, they have a stand on the topic, they want to do something but they don’t know what, they don’t know how and they’d like some support to start something…anything. They’re looking for inspiration; they look like they’re a bit scared to risk too much…someone has to tell them that they must start, whatever it is, just start. Not many, if anyone at all, have done what they are looking for, it is up to them, up to us to do it, we are the ones we’re looking for and the support we are looking goes beyond the need of mentoring.

Designing Sustainable Transport in Queensland.

It took me a while to decide whether I would attend this workshop or one on Advanced Theories of Change, but finally, I realized that the stage the NEH’s project is at, deserves more time invested in learning experiences closer to action than to theory.

The workshop was organized by the Department of Transport and Main Roads, which has an area working on sustainable transport for Brisbane called Travel Smart. It wasn’t so much about a lecture and activities for us to understand the concepts that were given to us. Instead, they wanted us to give them ideas about what to do to encourage citizens to use public transport. They would give us some info about what they do, and the findings of one of their market research for us to let them know what we would do if we were them. I liked the approach. It felt close to some sort of co-creation.

The experience made me remember that I have so many preconceived ideas that I cling to. In their market research, they interviewed about 4000 people in Brisbane to find out what sort of drivers and their reasons to drive there are around. They found 7 categories. Some don’t drive, others love tuning and showing their cars, others have to drive…I had a very narrow and judgmental idea that people drive their car pretty much because they can. But there are different reasons, and more than that, there are different reasons why people don’t use “greener” means of transportation.

For one of the activities, each group of 4 to 5 participants was given one of the market segments to analyze and come up with an idea to persuade/convince these people to use more public transport. My group had the “all convenience” type of drivers, who were mostly business and working people based around the CBD. These guys drive basically because the public transport is not convenient and not efficient for them. Buses are often late, some leave in areas with little to no access to transport, or frequencies are not enough. My group came up with two ideas. One was to develop an application that would tell citizens which, not only would help them plan their journey, but that would also tell them whether the service is actually on time or not. The idea emerged from the repeated inconvenience of being at a bus stop waiting, a time board that tells you the bus is picking you up, and no bus is on the scene. These business people don’t have the 10 or 15 minutes extra that buses and trains sometimes take. So knowing not just when the bus is meant to arrive but when is actually arriving, would help them make the decision as to whether walk to the station or not. But this is for those who have close access to public transport.

For those who don’t, we thought that a car sharing scheme would be the most convenient option. A website where people would say where they need to go and by what time they need to be at their destination, and for drivers to say where they usually drive to. It was also said that instead of the government trying to control the website, they would just build it and let the public to establish the specific rules of how they would use each other’s services. And that, maybe, if carpooling results cheaper and more convenient than driving a private car, and results in a good opportunity for unemployed drivers, there would be a possibility that some would decide in the future to become dedicated drivers, giving passengers more confidence and reliance in the service.

But then, after all groups shared their ideas, I realized that we were all trying to make public transport and other alternatives more convenient to citizens and thought that, maybe, complementing that with making the driving experience completely inconvenient would be much more effective. How could we do that? I remember then David from Creative Communities who more or less says that when we give drivers hundreds of signs of how not to drive, we treat them like idiots, as if they don’t have the capacity to assess what is dangerous and what isn’t. If we paint lines on the floor for cyclists to use, drivers tend to be closer to the line, but if there are no lines drivers tend to reduce the speed and pass carefully. Of course it is risky for both the driver and the rider, so it is not a measure to be implemented alone, but I believe that for a culture like ours, not having signs or lines to tell us what to do, would certainly make the driving experience absolutely unbearable. It was just an example to give the idea. What would make the driving experience absolutely uncomfortable??

Also, I believe that it is not just about convenience. To me, the bigger concept should be improving the experience. Yes, it’s good if the bus is on time, but it is so annoying to find a grumpy driver, as it is for the driver to find certain types of passengers. What sort of approach can improve social relationships in a bus trip?? Quite a few months ago, after doing my workshop about The Art of Place Making, I thought about having someone in the bus telling you the story of the suburb or street you were in. I know a lot of people prefer to read or do something else, but something along those lines could help passengers to have a better day, which would result in more empathic relationships with strangers…wouldn’t it?? Ideas and thoughts welcome...I'm not an expert about twitter but I think it's worth giving it a go to this conversation there. 

Power Shift 2011 Report


We arrived in Australia on Saturday the 8th of October, after semi-recovering from the huge trip, my husband got an email saying that we had got free tickets to this event. So we decided to register and go. Up to that point, I had been completely disconnected from the climate change debate, my motivation to attend was about starting to reconnect not much with the topic as with the city. The event is organized by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and it was directed to young people so I was interested in finding out what they are thinking, what their world is looking like, how open they really are to new ideas and things like that. We felt more like we could be members of the panel or lectures, rather than attendees…lots of very young people…but it was interesting and fun.

I had thought about sharing the experience through these posts, and then my husband suggested that we should create a report, so since we attended different workshops, I invited him to share his experience to complement mine. Here we are.

This was an event mostly about getting young people to act about climate change, providing us with different sets of skills and offering an interesting group of speakers, from school leaders to businessmen and politicians. More about what Powershift is can be found here.

Thanks to the Aboriginal people who welcomed us to the land…it always brings me tears to listen to the love with which they refer to people, earth, the land and nature, forgive us for all the disruption we’ve caused and embrace the possibility of peace and oneness of the two so different cultures.

This post will be updated with the links to access the reports on the specific workshops. Please accept my apologies if that means every time I make changes you'll be notified.