Stop Anthropogenic Warming: Design Human Behavior

I followed COP15 pretty closely and, though I was hopeful, I didn’t really expect any major consensus among the G20. The differentials between the cooling western arc of history and that of the developing world in the East, coupled to the uneven distribution of natural energy resources across the geo’s, ensure that many conflicting interests will dominate the world chess board for some time. Carbon markets will likely build some dampening feedback into the global system by tying energy use & emission directly to the balance sheet but their successful adoption really depends on convincing Goldman Sachs et al that there’s tons of money to be had, not on getting the G20 to agree on a universal treaty.

The simple fact is that the scenarios show climate change accelerating more quickly than global markets. Given the inability of nations to set terms, as well as the fundamental folly of trying to manage such a huge globalized system as a top-down exercise in governance, it has become incumbent upon business and communities to drive the real behavioral change necessary to shift the economy of production and consumption to a more sustainable posture. The necessary bottom-up compliment to a systemic marketplace and/or governance scheme is the intentional re-engineering of human behavior. The tension between the global dialog of governance and the overlooked role of designers in social change is creating a new breed of sustainable systems engineers. The growing class of systems & social designers are building the next operational structures of civilization that will work to mitigate environmental & social destruction by engineering more efficient, sustainable, and holistic solutions to the diverse needs of our world.

As a note of criticism, while we arguably need rapid change, I feel that the environmental movement has erred in orienting it’s brand message around anthropogenic warming. The science may be sound but the position is not defensible against the psychological tactics of the opposition. The models simply aren’t good enough yet to prove beyond a doubt that humans are directly responsible for warming the planet. I believe intuitively that we are but no model or network of models is yet capable of effectively running that simulation. There are too many open holes that the masses will never understand. It’s just too big of a message; too scary. What we do know is that plastics are bad, energy should be conserved, pollution hurts living things, fossil fuels are dirty, and waste and over-consumption are a tax on the future. The environmental movement should focus on these known’s to continue the really applaudable work they’ve done to grow conservation efforts and bring awareness to the deep impact of our industrial economy, extending these efforts to encourage life-cycle analysis, triple-bottom-line accounting, and cradle-to-cradle planning while working directly with designers to intentionally engineer human behavior and ideology towards a more holistic and biomimetic relationship to the planetary ecology in which we live.

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