What is wrong with us?
FRED IRWIN – As a global group of nations we should be able to get our act together to reduce GHG emissions. Simply put, we need to modify our collective behaviour. We need to move away from high energy consumption, a habit which has become detrimental to all life on earth.
We all know the story by now: It started with the first Industrial Revolution. It was initially fired by coal and later by oil and natural gas. As we enter 2023, much of the global population understands that these are all different forms of ancient sunlight. They are not an infinite resource. To keep using them constitutes a threat to our own survival.
How does humanity become the solution rather than the problem? How do we find the most effective path toward reducing our total consumption of fossil fuels? What can we do “beyond sustainability”?
Hint: A strategy which works from the bottom up, i.e. via localization, is more promising than one which goes from the top down. Before getting into that though, let me make a detour back to the most significant job experience of my lifetime.
It was 50 years ago when I first heard the phrase You Really Oughta Wanna, and what you can accomplish if your life depended upon it!
It started in 1972 while I was living in Rochester NY. I moved there after being the Xerox Branch Manager in Ottawa, Canada during the FLQ crisis. I was promoted into a new position at Xerox Headquarters as the head of the newly created Systems Planning and Performance Office for the Xerox Service Division. It inherited 10,000 employees in the USA and in Canada, highly skilled staff, with some formally educated in Education Technology. However, they were mostly overwhelmed by senior management’s demand to do more, faster and cheaper. Three of the staff were already Xerox shareholder millionaires, well entrenched in what they were doing. As a corporation, Xerox was growing so quickly that it simply could not hire and train service techs fast enough to meet customer demand. It could not even train enough trainers.
From my sales and marketing background and my Branch Manager experience, it looked like one hell of a classy problem to try to fix. I was all in! We had piles of data to feed to field engineering, sales, marketing, and key operators to better relate to the customer. Following in the steps of the highly successful and world class Xerox PSS (Professional Selling Skills) for service, we learned customer management skills and effective listening. At Xerox, we knew then what we had to accomplish, as we do now with respect to the climate crisis emergency.
Does it sound familiar? We had all the resources, but we simply couldn’t get our act together.
This is where my understanding of effective behavior modification began. I learned what you can do if your life depends on it! We tuned in to the famous behaviorist B.F. Skinner. We passed out Robert F. Mayer’s 1970 book with the sub-title “You Really Oughta Wanna”. As a department we embraced my personal lifetime performance mantra, picked up from a lumberjack I met in a bar in St John’s Newfoundland long before joining Xerox.
In short we set out to change the expectations of senior management. We redefined and reinterpreted what we could do to change our service behaviour, not because our lives depended on it, but because of the rewards of doing things differently.
One prime example will have to suffice. Rather than try to teach new service techs how the machines actually worked, we taught them how to fix the equipment when it broke down. This was a switch to what is known as functional documentation. New-hire service techs no longer took a written exam about how the machines worked, but demonstrated their ability to fix actual machine malfunctions, as set up by service trainers. This simple behaviour modification reduced new-hire training from five weeks to three. It increased service performance, saving millions of dollars.
Think about it. When computers first arrived, the training manuals were a foot deep and few could repair them. Now the functional documentation is programmed into the computer and your newly purchased computer comes without a training manual.
Let’s switch to the climate crisis emergency, which in my life experience is a huge behaviour modification challenge. It demands that we drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, and this time precisely because everyone’s life does depend on it!
What would you do? How would you change your behaviour if indeed your life depended on it, so that You Really Oughta Wanna.
The climate is changing more rapidly now as GHG emissions keep on rising! We have to move beyond mere “sustainability”; it has been totally green-washed by big global corporations, big banks, and big oil. The United Nations and the IPCC are frustrated, their actions nullified by their own complicit behaviour. They propose sustainable development goals with no equivalent functional documentation, i.e. effective methodology, to move the world to work together to reduce the burning of all fossil fuels.
Indeed, because of the pandemic, the war in the Ukraine, and the dominant human selfish gene, often described as MONEY, the world is on track to burn more, not less, fossil fuel from now to 2050. Serious talk about shutting down the Alberta tar sands is now nothing more than a fantasy!
Soon it will be recognized that the unit of our survival during the long emergency of the climate crisis is our own local community. It’s our communities everywhere on the planet which can house the homeless; reduce the length of food supply chains, increasing food security; introduce permaculture regenerative farming practices, cutting the use of fossil fuels; set up the municipal command structures to deal with the realities of all emergencies; put municipal funding towards incentives for its own citizens to move to point-of -use renewable sources of energy; and, by all means, protect the community’s water supply.
Communities, including where I live in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada will need to learn very soon that the money earned by their own citizens is currently spent and invested mostly outside their own community, counterproductive to their own survival!