Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dan Miller on the Psychology of Climate Change and the Business of Change

In 2009, Dan Miller, managing director of the Rhoda Group, delivered a presentation called A Really Inconvenient Truth at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, California.

Miller discussed the four scenarios of action vs. inaction in the face of climate change. He came to the obvious conclusion that we must do all that we can to resist the perils of runaway climate change.

However, climate change still does not have the critical mass of support it needs to bring about major changes in the short term. We need to know why so many do not seem to understand the urgency climate change, we need to understand human psychology.

The psychology of climate change explores some interesting ways that humans identify threat. Miller explained that humans have a tendency to react to six kinds of threats, namely threats which are:

1. Visible
2. Have a precedent
3. Are confirmed in the media
4. Have a simple causality
5. Are caused by another
6. Have a direct personal consequence

The problem is that climate change (eg, CO2) is not visible, nor do we have a precedent in recorded history. The media has only confused people about climate change due in part to the fact that the causality is anything but simple. Further climate change is not caused by another, it is caused by us and we cannot see the direct personal consequences.

Growing levels of GHGs in the atmosphere increase the number of hurricanes, draughts, floods, wildfires and pandemics. Climate change will also lead to dramatic coastal flooding due to rising sea levels.

Despite the seriousness of the situation we face, Miller states, "there is a lot we can do and there is a lot we have to do." People can do little things like drive a fuel efficient vehicle, eat less beef and increase energy efficiency. People can also share the urgency of climate change with others and communicate with their elected officials about the need for legislation.

Miller indicates that to avoid runaway climate change, our political leaders need to enact the following legislation:

-Cap-and-trade or CO2 tax
-Mandatory energy efficiency standards
-Ban on new coal fired power plants
-Phase out of existing coal fired plants
-Eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels
-Give subsidies and incentives for clean energy
-Massively increase energy/climate research spending

Miller also says that we need strategies to manage extreme weather which is unavoidable even in the most optimistic scenario. Despite its unpopularity, we need to support global family planning to manage population growth.

In addition to their personal lives, individuals can exhibit greater environmental awareness in the work they do. They can encourage their partners, employers and colleagues to act with a greater awareness of their footprint.

Towards the end of his presentation, Miller suggests that the business community has a role to play in navigating the way forward to manage climate change.

Miller points out the risks associated with optimized inventory systems. He indicates that just in time inventory management will unravel in an economy ravaged by climate change. Miller suggests that rather than optimizing, businesses should be robust enabling them to adapt quickly to the loss of a supplier or distribution chain.

Miller states that even with consorted collective efforts to reduce our production of GHGs and prepare for the effects of climate change, geo-engineering (the ability to artificially control the climate) will likely prove necessary.

Although climate change is unstoppable, if we wait too long to reign it in we will not be able to prevent far more catastrophic impacts.

To see the full lecture on Fora.tv click here.

© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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