Do you feel inspired to motivate people to do more for the planet? Or have you been trying for a while but feel frustrated by the lack of significant change? Check out those 10 ways we got it wrong and need to change our green narrative to empower people to make a difference.
1. Dissociation: Ecological actions are not about taking care of Nature but taking care of yourself because you are part of Nature, not a separate entity. Some species are already extinct, and we could be the next one. Nature includes other minerals, flora, and fauna that will survive us. Human beings are not a superior entity on a mission to save the planet but a natural species on a mission to fix the mess we created to ensure our survival. We are not saviours but individuals with an identity crisis that leads us to harm ourselves. Our current ecologic challenges reflect our issues with our self-knowledge and self-esteem as humans. Fixing our mess starts with embracing our biological identity and place in the ecosystem.
Whenever you dissociate yourself from Nature, you end up with flawed equations. Every time you must make a choice, you weigh up inaccurate visions of ecological interests against factual consumerist ones. Mentally, it dishonestly reduces the issue to "play the good green samaritans vs. more money in your pockets". In the real world, it creates irrational situations where we are willing to compromise on our well-being to protect the materialism which harms our welfare. The challenges are not just about direct damage to Nature but equally to ourselves, including feeding our bodies (manifestation of Nature) with polluted air, food from spoiled soil, and poisoned water. Once you remember and value who you are, you put yourself back on the side of Nature and fix the equation. Then the question becomes: how much do you prioritize yourself, your natural and human essences against economic considerations? It is time to make it personal.
2. Polarization: Born in the ’80s, I was told my generation would be the change. And four decades later, we keep falling into the same trap of inter-generational polarization. We still claim that only the youngest can trigger change or that the oldest must care about our society and the planet for their children. Sustainability is a humankind matter going beyond age, sex, race and any irrelevant divide. It is not too late for the oldest nor too early for the youngest to participate in the collective brainstorming and fix what we did wrong or start doing what is right. It is not a matter of duty or sacrifice but self-esteem. You do not have to care about sustainability only for the next generation but for yourself too (and even first) because we all deserve to live in a healthy environment and society. It is not selfish to have more consideration for yourself and trust that your spirit, mind, and body deserve to thrive in the best environment right now. You will be more engaged in contributing to society if you also include and help yourself.
3. Alarmism: Scientists have warned us about the climate crisis for decades. In our information era, we have countless news and data about the degradation of the environment. And people are increasingly connected to what happens worldwide, including through images. Yet, we are still falling behind our SGDs targets, and there are no significant changes in human behaviour. While being aware of the imminent threat, there is no radical transformation. The alarmist tone has been played for so long that it no longer triggers any sense of urgency. Instead, it creates indifference, fatigue, defiance in some people and mental health issues in others. It is even counterproductive because those who call it fearmongering are more willing to see how far they can keep pushing their damaging behaviour than change course now. Being alarmist can disengage people. It triggers negative feelings, and negativity closes opportunities by focusing on the same problems rather than the different solutions. The point is not to deny that the situation is worrying, but we need to nurture positive energies of hope rather than fear. We wrongly think that threats accelerate change when, in fact, a positive mindset does by nurturing people’s inner drivers, enthusiasm, and energy. Those are what keep people moving, trying, determined, and engaged. It is about instilling hope and faith in the potential of each one of us to go through our shared challenges with creativity, initiative, and self-confidence.
4. Technologisation: Our enthusiasm for technology and innovation mislead us to think that artificial intelligence and laboratories can solve the climate change emergency. While useful, they do not exempt us from our human responsibility to stop creating that mess from the beginning. We got it wrong if we build robots to clean our ocean but do not stop using plastics for good upstream. There is no point in replacing Nature with ersatz from laboratories if they spoil human bodies and the planet with more artificiality and chemicals. We still lose our way if we recycle without questioning our economic model. People are not consumers but purposeful human beings. Therefore, we should break that vicious cycle of pointless production for unfulfilling consumption characteristic of our consumer economy. Instead, we should welcome an Economy of Purpose where purposeful production helps people reach their unique potential. Little can change if humans do not tackle the roots of the problems and shift consciousness. Technology can support and scale up human intelligence, talents, creativity, wisdom, and engagement in our communities and society. But it must not try to replace them.
5. Guilt-tripping: Car and planes are technological revolutions that gave freedom to people and made the world closer. The problems are not those innovations but the lack of clean energy to fuel them. So demonizing the whole innovation rather than the dysfunctional element is gaslighting. It tells that human evolution and freedom are intrinsically threats to the planet. It also points the finger to the end-users who can use what the manufacturers release on the market. It means being complacent with the politicians with diverging private interests, the influential oil/energy lobbies, and the manufacturers that could put fossil fuel energy off the table at the conception phase. In addition to being a dangerous pollutant, oil is the reason behind many economic and geopolitical instability, wealth disparity and human misery worldwide. Contrary to popular misconceptions, people are not clinging to oil but their rights and freedom. But, those rights and freedom of the mass stay subject to the use of oil to maintain the interest of a minority. Instead of nurturing that easy defiance against people, it is time to question the endless tolerance for the fingerful culprits making profits over oil. Collective effort does not mean taking others' burdens.
6. Anti-Capitalism: Capitalism is one of the reasons we are in this situation, but since it is part of the problem, it is also part of the solution. As controversial as it is, going against this ideology is like swimming against the tide. It takes extra time and energy, has little support, and does not make significant progress. It is more effective to go with the flow while influencing its direction. Money is a thousand-year-old neutral instrument, but what gives its damaging or beneficial character is how we use it. We can all use our spending power to make positive changes, no matter how much we have. Few pounds are enough to nurture the polluting and human rights harming fast fashion industry. Since the demand fuels the offer, more conscious demands will allow the rise of more conscious offers. Brands only take the power we give them when we put their products before our values, health and environment. It is about our choices. To boycott harmful brands and starve the system fueling the 1% is within everyone’s power. Our human potential does not equal our spending power since the former is incomparably bigger.
7. Expertism: The rise of sustainability has put Science and Academics at the forefront of public institutions. Yet, in the corporate world, many different profiles, from engineers to entrepreneurs, are switching toward careers in sustainability. That is because it is a shared concern and business. It inspires every human being beyond job title and professional/educational background. Even if they have a sustainability department, companies should not prevent other employees and departments from doing their extra bit for the community, society and ecology. On a bigger scale, having a climate emergency should not stop us from looking for solutions beyond those pushed by academics, scientists, and technologists. It is a top-down but also bottom-up effort, and free initiatives from the mass should be encouraged. Countries are falling behind the SDGs targets, and companies often fail to implement ESG goals when they are decided by the top or external consultants and forced upon people. There is resistance from those who saw their opinions and participation in the collective intelligence excluded. Sustainability is a co-creative work. Listening to, including and valuing insights from employees and citizens is fundamental and nurturing their self-confidence in their contribution is critical for better engagement.
8. Spiritual exclusion: No matter how hard we try to fix our external world, change must happen first in people's inner world. Humans have a body, a mind, but also a spirit. Therefore, we are also spiritual beings. The word spiritual belongs to each of us, not any belief system. The spirit ignites the mind, and the mind activates the body. One way the spirit drives the mind is with a purpose. Reconnecting people to a purpose nurtures and supports their mental health. Then, their mind can positively shape how they see, understand, and build the external world. As a life coach, I see the current climate emergency as a consequence of our relationships with ourselves and others. When we know ourselves and our purpose, we care about ourselves and the environment allowing us to evolve, thrive, and reach our potential. We also have healthier relationships with others and the world we live in. From this personal development perspective, the focus is on the deepest human roots of the issues. Tackling them can shift mindset, energize, and strengthen actions contributing toward our shared challenges and creating a sustainable world.
9. Over-control: The overflow of information about climate change did not lead to an increase in initiatives monitored by the UNDP and other public institutions. But maybe we have wrongly assumed that information in some topics will trigger some behaviour in the same themes. What if that information, processed by different minds, lived experiences and circumstances, did not end up in the black hole of forgetfulness but led to unexpected actions? The Sustainable Development Goals do not consider plenty of other challenges on the planet. Many people would relate and focus on issues closer to home. In that context of climate emergency, the UNDP agenda is one agenda, not THE agenda for everyone. To deviate from it does not necessarily mean that people do not care. Individuals may take action but from different perspectives. Other important fights are currently taking place. Across the globe, we are witnessing movements in the power relationship between citizens on one side and politics, media, and businesses on the other side. People need to free their power to create the change they want to see. We saw an increase in social initiatives, which might not fall on the UNDP radar, yet, we all know that social justice and climate change are linked. Providing guidance is as important as valuing people’s initiatives. We can meet in the middle.
10. Disempowerment: The previous narratives lead to the same results: the disengagement of billions of people. Since others tell us how to think and what to do, it disables our own understanding, ideas, and intuition, and we wait for solutions coming from others. The problem is that if we all think and act the same way, we end up with similar solutions and deadlocks, like now. Yet, since we are all different, we can all bring alternative solutions to the table. They will not compete but complete each other. It only takes people to know, value and trust their potential. Personal development and human empowerment will be critical to reaching our shared goals. We must invite people to reconnect with their unique identity and potential. We must ease people's inner peace and strength so they can overcome challenges slowing their potential. And we must support people in trusting their talents and creativity, so they can use their potential to co-create in our community, society, and planet. The deadline goes beyond 2030, there is no finishing line. It is not about making efforts until the next global crisis but preventing what leads to crisis. Personal development is global and sustainable development.