This week we give our hot take on how your brand could be leading the climate change charge.

Climate saviour: man or machine?

Here’s how our industry of creative thinkers could be doing more to problem solve climate-related issues.

Peter Bidenko

Creative

Learning Organisation

4 minute read

Climate change. It’s in the news a lot. But at risk of adding to the conversation overload, I wanted to talk about the topic from a slightly different angle. Not about what our leaders are or aren’t doing. Not about the inactivity and non-urgency that seems to surround it. But about the solution.

There are two. One is man. And one is machine.
In short
  • The progress of phasing out fossil fuels has slowed down since the International Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed 6 years ago.
  • A two-pronged solution to climate change might be the key to saving our planet.
  • After the success of double vaxx incentives, we should be hopping towards more carrot-led solutions.
Man
The problem with man can be summed up in one simple phrase: “old habits die hard”. Whether you’ve failed a diet or struggled to give up an addiction, you’ll know that we are all programmed to repeat the same things over and over again. Change is, in fact, quite hard.

So, after 250 years of industrialisation, it’s unsurprising that we’re seemingly addicted to coal and fossil fuels – from an individual, societal and governmental point of view.

I had the good fortune of stumbling across an Elon Musk talk from 2015.1

Addressing an audience at the Paris Climate Action talks, he makes a case for a carbon tax to combat the 65 gigatons of carbon spewing into the atmosphere every year. He then draws on the analogy of garbage collection. If we don’t pay for our rubbish to be picked up, it clutters up the streets and buries us in refuse. The same can be said for carbon dumpers. Just because we can’t always see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The carrot-and-stick approach
Incentives are wonderful things. Think about the acceleration of Covid vaccination rates in NSW and Victoria once we learnt that we would lose privileges without it. Whereas in Queensland, where both vaxxed and unvaxxed had the same freedom of movement, the numbers remained lower because there was no incentive.

Incentives or disincentives motivate us to act or not act. After all, we’re a carrot-led society.

Elon’s talk is now six years old. But have the incentives turned in favour of sustainable energy? Well, we’re still talking about carbon tax, and global emissions are yet to peak.2

So, if humans aren’t the whole solution, what is?
Machine
I came across a YouTube clip from Dr Karl a while ago and was dumbfounded by a new angle he raised.3

The talk outlines how technology could significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Backed by a Scientific American article from January 2019, one Swiss company, Clime Works, claims that if you build 25 million of their machines, you can pull one year’s worth of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. So why don’t we hear more about climate-changing technology?

“You think 25 million is a big number?” Dr Karl asks, “it’s equal to about four months’ worth of car production. If everyone went without a new car for four months, we could have 25 million of these machines”.

But unfortunately for us, necessity is the mother of invention. So, here’s the human problem again, because climate change is not immediate, not an in-your-face reality, it’s not a necessity… yet.
A race we can win
The climate crisis is coming at us like a freight train. Any one of the super-cell storms developing with increased frequency and ferocity is a forewarning. Any one of the national bush fire disasters happening worldwide is the rumbling of that train hurtling toward us. But we’re still not listening. Not enough anyway.

So, what can we do individually? Get interested. Read. We can do things like put solar panels on our roof, drive an electric car, install storable batteries to go off the fossil fuel grid, plant a few trees… or even ten thousand. If it’s worthwhile saving the planet, humanity and everything we’ve known all our lives, it’s worthwhile having a go. As Gandhi so beautifully put it, “we must be the change we want to see in the world”.

And as an industry? We’re all intelligent people. We take problems every day and turn them into briefs and communications that motivate people. Why not focus on finding a problem and then solving it through worthwhile and honest communication about saving our planet? The least we can do is start a well-curated conversation.

Think of Leo Burnett’s Earth Hour – then go way bigger. Let’s put our brains together and solve the biggest problem facing us: our existence. Because the rest of it won't mean much without that.  

on brewing better beer
In a world-brewing-first, the craft beer brand Young Henrys is using algae to capture CO2 produced during its beer fermentation process. Like something from the Simpsons, the Aussie cult classic brewery uses a radioactive-looking algae that looks like it belongs in Springfield’s Nuclear Plant, and not in a Newtown pub.
Is clicktivism cancelled?
Last week a viral trend saw pet pictures plaster our Instagram Stories. Another classic example of empty clicktivism and good intentions falling short... or was it?

Upon reflecting on the ‘pet pic debacle’ (trees not planted, brand a scam) I was left with the following questions: sure, we may have been operating under the false pretense that our fur babies were also somehow saving the planet, but – did we really believe it anyway? Haven’t we been through enough ‘fake news’ drama to know when something seems fishy? Surely we know by now how real change happens.

Taking matters into our own hands, we surveyed our 52 Mondays following to find that, interestingly, the majority of respondents were not among the nearly 4 million who interacted with the viral sticker. But for those who did, the trend was met with overwhelming scepticism anyway. Without a credible source or compelling history, ‘Plant a Tree Co.’ failed to inspire the majority of respondents to help dig them out of their social grave via crowdfunding. In fact, our respondents had very little faith overall in the ability for brands to deliver on environmental promises, suggesting the best way to create action would simply be to pop to Bunnings and plant the damn tree themselves.

What this suggests to me, is that the era of clicktivism is over. We’re all too savvy and too burnt by past disappointments to trust the fleeting rush to pledge your name (or pet) to a cause. We know the real solution is tangible action, and we’re willing to go out there and make it. Even if we do occasionally pick up the rose-coloured glasses for an evening or two of adorableness.

References
  1. Elon Musk, Elon Musk's unbelievably simple 12-minute killer break down on Climate change, (2015) YouTube
  2. Hannah Ritchie, CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, (2020) Our World in Data
  3. Dr Karl, Australia's Science Channel: Dr Karl, do you believe in climate change?, (2020) YouTube

Written by Peter Bidenko, Edited by Alice Heraud & Tash Velkova, 52 Words by Alice Heraud, Freeform by Jess Nord, Key Visual by Chelsea Abbott.

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