Psychology, disruptive innovation and climate

A blog on the psychology of communication in relation to climate change, including some thoughts on disruptive innovation, now available from my LinkedIn posts page below:



Global Environmental Perception Index Way Down

Aside from my passion for B2B online communications, technology and all things that can unexpectedly go bump in the night… I dedicate most of my spare time working to preserve the environment.  I was therefore perturbed to learn that at global level environmental perception is now on the way down, despite all warnings that things are actually getting worse.

Rather than pasting the full article I recently wrote I invite you to read it in its original format from the link above.  I hope you won’t mind but it really is bad practice to copy and paste content across sites…

Chinese middle class growth

Chinese middle class growth – opportunity or threat?

In recent days some truly amazing data has been published, showing the inexorable rise of the Chinese middle class.  According to the study, their upper middle class, the group with greater access to disposable wealth, will make up over 54% of all the urban households in China by 2022 – that’s less than 10 years from now.  We are talking households here, so, taking the current average of three persons each, this will mean almost 600 million people.  With their consumption forecast to increase by 22%, this is no mean feat.

I can see lots of companies salivating, thinking about opportunities to export and generate business away from the decrepit Western economies to the dynamic Asian ones.  Indeed, according to the same study about ⅓ of all high end consumer products currently made in the west (your Louis Vuitton bags and Burberry’s wear, for example) will be gobbled up by the Chinese upper class in ten years or so.

But there is a problem.  This astonishing growth has no precedent in history.  Our global resources are already stretched.  Oil production has reached its peak and is already declining.  At the same time CO2 emissions are increasing exponentially and way over predictions.  Food production can also barely keep up.  Chinese urban areas are not known for being the most sustainable places on the planet and the strain on our depleting resources will therefore be enormous.  Conceivably, while the buying power of the Chinese middle classes may increase substantially, other parts of the world, including our mature economies, may suffer.

It would be churlish of people in the west to tell other nations to stop growing.  But we should at least be aware that we are still living on a planet made up of finite resources and until such a time that cleaner and cheaper energy sources are discovered we should probably be a little more thoughtful and slightly less bombastic about these issues.  Re-thinking growth in general may be an option, as well as continuing to question the sustainability of our life styles.  It goes without saying that, once natural resources are depleted and the air around us becomes unbreathable, all of us – whether in the west, or in the east, rich or poor – will be affected in the same way.

Why I Am A Bjorn Lomborg Fan

I have to make a confession, which will probably alienate me from some of the most extremists green activists: I am a fan of Bjorn Lomborg.  Now, before you reach for your laptop, tablet or smartphone and start sending me nasty messages about it let me at least explain to you what I like about Mr Lomborg.

The excellent article in today’s Sunday Times illustrated some of Lomborg’s key tenets yet those who have not read his books fully may see him as some sort of crazy climate change denier. Actually he is passionate about the environment, but he is also pragmatic and openly honest about our options, cutting through so much of the hypocrisy at the heart of many recent political choices.

Let me analyse some of his most basic tenets.  First of all there is nothing we can do to arrest global warming.  Any scientist will tell you as much.  Even if today we were to stop driving, stopped heating our houses and stopped consuming, we would not immediately arrest global warming.  Quite aside from the natural causes behind CO2, the system is so complex that it’s like the proverbial super tanker.  You simply can’t turn the light off and be back to square one.  Is he saying that we should do nothing?  Of course not. Just that we must be realistic about our chances and that we need to know how to live with the changes ahead.

Secondly, we in the West are a bunch of hypocrites.  Yes.  In Europe especially we have reduced emissions by sweeping them under the carpet, exporting dirty manufacturing production to developing nations, where it is cheaper (exploiting labour in the process) and where rules and regulations are more lenient.  Just take a close look around your house.  I am certain, for example that 90% of the computer I am using to type this blog hasn’t come from Europe but has been made cheaply somewhere in Asia, returning to us after a circuitous route in which more CO2 was wasted to reach our local commercial outlets.   Yet smug European statistics show that we have reduced emissions.  Our tough climate regulations are designed to make us feel good, just like in the middle ages people used to wear horsehair shirts as penance, yet seldom shunning the opportunity to commit further ‘sins’.

Current green energy alternatives are hugely expensive and unreliable.  You don’t need to be an expert to know that even if you placed solar panels on each building and a wind turbine per person you wouldn’t be able to provide enough electricity as per current methods.  Yet again, and totally paradoxically, we create products and services that are even more energy intensive.  Some of the solutions, like biomass, can be damaging not only to the environment but to entire populations, starving people of much needed food crops and saving little or nothing in the process.

Has anyone so far said that there isn’t a problem and that climate change doesn’t exist?  Of course not.  But at the heart of it there is only crucial element.  We are attempting to change what appears to become inevitable, by doing much of the same, by not investing hugely in additional research on possible alternatives, by not saving energy as we should and above all by not putting in place the necessary infrastructure that will be required to enable us to face the inevitable environmental challenges ahead.  In short we need to behave differently.  We need to create harmonious production processes and models that are radically different from the existing ones.  What about, for example, if governments started to tax companies for not operating efficiently?  In a service economy like ours there is little need for people to commute to their offices daily.  If everyone stopped doing so (telecommuting instead) one day a week at least, CO2 savings could be huge.  The choice of similar options is limited only by our own imagination.  But  instead we want to go ahead doing pretty much the same things as now, thinking that by applying a little bit of green paint the problem will just go away.

That’s why I like Lomborg.  I may disagree with some of his assertions and options (fracking in particular), but at least he can see through our own hypocrisy and tell us things as they are.