Climate Change in 2040. Hope is not a strategy. Or is it?

September 10, 2019

In August, I was fortunate enough to attend the Byron Bay Writers Festival, where I sat in on talk by filmmaker Damon Gameau. He’s the guy you might recognise from the Netflix documentary That Sugar Film, and he’s just produced a new doco on climate change as we head towards 2040. It was pretty amazing actually. It shook me up, woke me up, and got me thinking about the issue in a brand new way. And not for the reasons you might expect.

My first real engagement with the idea of climate change was around a decade ago. I was doing a piece of research for the Rudd Government when the idea of the CPRS was first floated. We interviewed a bunch of the country’s largest companies (read: biggest polluters), about their thoughts on the scheme and what it might mean for their business and shareholders. Being 2008, the sentiment you can imagine was hardly enthusiastic. I got the sense they hoped the problem might go away. 

Back at the office we would chuckle - half seriously, but with a slight sense of nervousness - that hope was not in fact a strategy for tackling climate change. Hope that it’s all a myth, that Gore was wrong, or that it’s for the next generation to solve. But after seeing Damon’s rousing and inspiring talk, it got me thinking that perhaps hope is a strategy. Not hope in a dismissive sense, but as a mechanism for empowering change. ‘The Regeneration’ Gameau calls it. A future where the loom of climate change no longer hangs over us, but one where the planet’s healthier and more alive than ever. Let me explain...

When I initially circled the ‘Climate Change’ talk on the festival programme, I was a little hesitant. It was a Friday afternoon and I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of being beaten over the head with a stick - told I wasn’t doing enough, caring enough - that I was flying too much, relying too heavily on single use plastic. That we’re standing by whilst continent-sized piles of trash bob about the ocean. Oh yeah, and that the fish will be gone by 2050. 

Not only did Gameau talk so very passionately and enthusiastically about the topic, but he presented a raft of ingenious solutions to the problem – from industrial scale deep sea kelp farms, to crop rotation and the education of women. I left feeling unexpectedly upbeat and with a strange sense of urgency to share his message.

Source: MadMan Films

And it wasn’t by accident that I left feeling that way. There’s a reason that Damon worked so hard to rouse that feeling of optimism and agency in the audience. It’s the neuroscience of how our emotions interact with the creative, solution-solving side of our brains. He goes on to say, that negative emotions like fear, guilt and shame (touted about by popular media in relation to the topic), shut down the complex reasoning, creative parts of the brain. The parts that help us think about familiar problems in a new ways, look in unexpected places for inspiration, solution-solve. The very skills and abilities that we need to use if we’re going to figure out how to reduce our load on the planet.

On the other hand, positive emotions like hope, optimism and excitement, work the opposite way. They unlock the creative parts of the brain. The stretchy, ‘Myth Busters’ side that turns problems on their heads, that invented the telephone, and found a way to recycle Coke cans. Not only that, but these emotions also have a way of enticing, engaging and inspiring people to change.

So, what’s this got to do with marketing & branding, and why is it important?

Because emotion and engagement are at the heart of behaviour change. And that’s the business we’re all ultimately in.To me, it seems the days of guilt-marketing are on the way out. The Cancer Council  has been championing this old way of thinking (and with questionable success), since they put the no smoking signs on planes. The health and fitness industry was arguably built on self-shame. The charity space on the other hand, seems to be turning a corner - from shining a light on suffering, so showing what community support makes possible. From making people feel too hopeless to help, to encouraging us to feel good about doing good. To want to do more of it.  

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty pumped. About the possibility of a world without climate change, about making a difference, and about how we can use positive, inspiring and empowering marketing messaging, to drive meaningful change.