For our very first podcast, Rich and I thought it only fitting to welcome Mark Maslin to the discussion. Not only is he a longtime friend of 3 Sided Cube, but Professor of Climatology at UCL, AND a published author with 10 popular books under his belt! His latest being “How to Save Our Planet: The Facts” and the one he referred to most on the Igniting Change podcast. Pick up your copy here.
I could go on about Mark all day, but we have a podcast to get to! So without further ado, here are the highlights of the questions we posed to Mark, and his thought-provoking responses (you can listen to the entirety of our conversation below).
Let’s get right to it!
Why is there a disconnect between people’s intentions vs. their actions when it comes to sustainability?
Something that is often not taken into account when we pose this question, is that most people are very busy. Plain and simple! Most people out there are desperately trying to hold down a job or two, to get their kids to school on time, keep their families well fed and on top of all the other life admin.
The pace at which we keep in our day-to-day lives borders on frantic and all of that is just to get by, to survive.
So to turn around and say, “Look. I know you’ve got quite a bit on, but could you just stop and start to worry about the whole planet? C’mon, this is the greatest crisis facing humanity and all you’re worried about is whether or not your kid is eating all the peas on their plate?!?”
And that right there is what we really need to understand, how people think and live their lives in order to find a way of making their intentions so incredibly easy to achieve that the action happens without heaping on top of what everyone has going on. Of course, they want to do the right thing and have a greener lifestyle – so we need to facilitate that. Stop preaching and casting blame, but work out how we can support them to do the sustainable thing without even thinking about it?
A classic case of this happening is in Finland. As a country, it was decided that they were going to make the default for electricity renewable. So when someone signed up, they were automatically put on the green tariff. They had the option to opt-out, but most people realised the price was similar and the barrier to entry to get onto the “greener plan” was removed, so the majority were happy to stay in it.
That right there is what needs to be done across the board. We need to find these nudges and ways of supporting people so that they can do the right thing with minimal effort – but actually consciously do it.
Is the intention-action gap prevalent in other cultures or is it a Western problem?
The things that I have noticed about looking at people from around the world:
- We’re all incredibly similar
- Most people are relatively happy
Most people around the world live really similar lives. We are all busy trying to survive, get through life, do our best, lift our loved ones up higher than ourselves. Our aspirations are parallel. If you think about that, if you are looking at a community in Kenya, that we would see as living in extreme poverty, but they are happy. They’re singing and dancing and they’re happy. Not because they have 30 trainers or the latest gadgets, but because they are human.
People are starting to realise that those material things and the latest fashion aren’t making them happy. In a strange way, COVID made us realise what truly matters. Friends, family, being able to hug loved ones – is what made us happy. Not having the fanciest car or grandest home. It’s those normal, simple, irreplaceable human interactions that really matter.
Which is a great start in shedding the hyper-consumption that has been peddled as the desired “norm” for too long!
Is it possible for individuals to make enough of a difference and work towards helping climate change?
This question stems from a quote in Mark’s book, “How to Save Our Planet: The Facts” about how there are more Lego people in the world than ACTUAL people. The mind boggles at trying to figure out the sheer number of little plastic people that are out there in bigger quantities than humans! And that leads to the thought of one family having their Lego drawer, and another family and so on and so on until these plastic pieces are in the trillions because enough individuals pile on with the same consumption and the amount just becomes staggering.
The takeaway is that Rich needs to immediately stop growing his Lego collection!
But the real takeaway from that question is…it’s complicated! Of course, as individuals, we are incredibly powerful, but what is really needed is for all of us to realise this is going to take an enormous group effort. It’s not about the individual. It’s not about corporations. It’s not about the government. It’s about ALL of them. The solution is a tripartite one and a knock-on effect at that.
Collaboration is absolutely essential!
If the individual makes those changes in our lives that will make a difference. We can also signal to corporations, through those changes that have been made the kind of change we expect to see from them. By using our voices and vote we can signal to the government what we want to see from their policy’s. Right now it feels like a vicious cycle of the individual being blamed because they are still putting gas in their car, and in turn companies and the government are being blamed for not offering affordable alternatives to fossil fuels.
It’s about all three doing their bit in unison.
It’ll be a win/win/win scenario! We deal with climate change, which makes our lives healthier, and the economy stronger and therefore can really use decarbonising the economy to drive massive social change.
Top tips for people trying to live their best sustainable lives
1. Talk about it!
This is the greatest crisis facing humanity but we don’t want to talk about it. We’re happy to talk about whether the PM has John Lewis furniture in his flat, but we won’t talk about why we are destroying the planet for our own consumption. Talking about it is vital. Particularly as a lot of people are anxious about it. They are feeling climate anxiety and disempowered about not being able to do a damn thing themselves to save the planet because we feel inconsequential.
But talking about it means that a) other people are able to share the same thoughts and relate and b) that people can action the changes they have thought about making, those conversations made taking that step more seamless. Thinking about it is one thing, but how we operate as humans, once we tell someone we are going to do something, we are more likely to follow through and actually do it.
2. Move to a more plant-based diet
It’s important because it means you are moving away from meat, which has a much higher carbon footprint. It’s a win/win because not only is there less carbon footprint and deforestation with less animal consumption, but you are eating healthier so will inevitably feel better!
This doesn’t mean we should all go vegetarian overnight, but it’s all about movement. About the transition and the journey to get there. Cutting back to having meat once a week, or treating yourself to a night at your favourite steakhouse is all about that journey to having a healthier diet and also supports sustainability and a better climate.
3. Look at your energy at home
Assess what you can do to make your usage as sustainable as possible. Can you opt for a green tariff? It’s all about being a bit more aware of your energy usage at home. Switch things off and get into better habits with the energy you are expending in your own household.
How can technology play a role in helping us save our planet?
Technology isn’t the only solution. Sustainability, having a stable plant and looking after our planet is really important. We need to change how we consume and how we think about our daily lives and our impact on the planet. While technology is an incredibly important component to all of that. But societal change and actually getting people to really work within our natural boundaries is what needs to happen, and technology can help facilitate that happening! There are some wonderful examples of ways technology can support behaviour change for a sustainable life in our ‘Bridging the Gap’ consumer report, download that here.
Thanks to my awesome co-host and the inimitable Mark Maslin, our first podcast out the gate could not have gone any better. Catch the entire episode here: