Tony Wragg told Banbury & Bicester Labour Party’s ‘Curry Night’ diners about his involvement with Carbon Conversations, an organisation which uses group training to discuss and disseminate the best ideas to help individuals to tackle climate change by reducing their ‘carbon footprint’.
Tony explained that because climate change is a massive problem which can only be solved with personal and social change as well through technology and legislation, the problem needs a 3 dimensional solution: Personal/social, Government/legislation, Technology/industry.
He believes that the Social and Personal dimensions can only be addressed through talking. Talking is the key medium of human exchange and of change. We need to change our lives to reduce our carbon footprint.
What is a Carbon Footprint?
Our carbon footprint means the amount of CO2 emissions which are attributable to an individual as a consequence of all the materials and services that they’ve obtained, used, enjoyed and disposed of. It’s measured in tonnes per person.
The scale of the problem varies greatly from country to country:
- US 20 tonnes per person
- UK 15 tonnes per person
- India 1.5 tonnes per person
- Tanzania 0.3 tonnes per person
The world average is 4.0 tonnes per person, but the sustainable level is only 2.5 tonnes per person
It is a big problem for two reasons.
- Because the task is so great. In the UK, to meet the 2008 Climate Change Act criteria (an 80% reduction by 2050) would get us down from an average of 15 tonnes to 3 tonnes, pretty close to what is required, but it is still a massive change.
- Its very size makes it emotionally challenging. It’s scary – we face big changes if we want to do something, but we are almost always frightened of change. And it makes us feel sad – because we might lose some aspects of our way of life which we think are really important to us. We need to grieve.
It is also potentially shaming – because we have taken more than our share in the past.
- generationally – particularly our generation
- from a class perspective – a process which is going the wrong way at the moment
- from a geopolitical perspective – of the North versus the South
An Emotional Issue
So part of what makes it such a big problem is that it challenges our sense of self in the world and involves big emotions. In the cognitive, rational Enlightenment way of seeing things emotion is the enemy of reason. However, the latest neurological research sees the emotions not as the enemy of reason but it’s very bedrock. It shows that without emotions we make very poor decisions. But also that when our emotions are too strong they shut us down. We avoid them. We disavow them. And we deny them. Tony challenged us to examine how we change – or fail to change.
The Failure of the Information Deficit Model
In this way of thinking people only do harmful things, or fail to do good things, because they are missing some information. Because they don’t know any better. All you need to do is to explain to them what the facts are, and they will alter their behaviour in their own self-interest.
It does not work in the long term. So how do we get people to change?
We need to address things on a values basis. To do this we need to engage with folk emotionally rather than just cognitively. But we need to do it without provoking emotions that are too powerful to handle – like the shame of owning a large car.
(For Tony, his shame is owning 8 bicycles – and thinking he needs another one!)
The 2 key ingredients to doing this well are:
- working in a group with people with whom you do, or could, share values.
- telling stories. Stories help us all to see that massive emotions like fear, loneliness and anger can be contained, processed and overcome.
There are 6 ‘Conversations,’ and each 2 hour session focuses a different aspect of changing the carbon footprint of members of the group by examining why we bother about having a low carbon future —
- Carbon Footprint (total 15 tonnes)
- Energy in the home and at work (contributes about 3 tonnes)
- Travel and transport (contributes about 3.5 tonnes)
- Food and water (contributes about 3 tonnes)
- Consumption and waste (stuff) (contributes about 3.5 tonnes)
- A meal together celebrates members’ successes and offers support for future changes.
(Infrastructure/services-based emissions by the government on our behalf total 2.5 tons)
Connecting With Values,
Tony emphasised that a key element of each conversation is connecting with values, so that participants can identify what makes a good life for them. But as well as telling stories and having a lot of fun, lots of work is done. An enormous amount of practical information is exchanged.
Members are encouraged to think about setting a personal target for their own footprint over three to six year period. This is really important. Both the setting of achievable goals and setting a realistic timeframe. People with a very high carbon footprint are encouraged to think about halving it. Those whose footprint is already low are asked to think about getting theirs down to 4 tonnes.
Jane and Tony know a lot of people who live a very good life with a 4 ton footprint. Why not see if you could do the same – if you want to join a Carbon Conversation, get in touch with Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org