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7 Reasons Why Climate Change & URGENT ACTION NOW Are Incompatible (Part 1/2)

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

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[This article lists seven reasons why the calls for “emergency” are wrong in the context of climate change.

I believe that something that complex and long-term needs a lighthouse approach, not an ambulance approach, otherwise people will burn out]

In the Tower of Babel of climate targets, reports, updates, summits, releases, frameworks, tools, models, metrics, checklists, and how-tos …

Establishing a solid position and sticking with it amongst colleagues, family, friends and foes can be hard.

Not only is the street-level bazaar loud and hard to navigate – who can make sense of all those models – but the view at the top of the tower isn’t much clearer.


Because at the top, general level, we have two conflicting tendencies on what is meaningful action on climate change.

1) The URGENT ACTION NOW tendency

2) Our evolutionary background

They’re at loggerheads. Today, in part one, we’ll explore the first tendency…

1) The URGENT ACTION NOW tendency

If you are after an URGENT change, and your project is binary (yes/no) and easy to understand, if there’re two clear opposites – baddies vs goodies, then the urgency can work, and bring the desired outcome fast. Because your clear, easy-to-understand message and friends vs foes polarity bring in allies who’ll support you against clearly defined enemies.

And in a personalized battle, you can win.

Julian Lee demonstrated this at the 2018 Envir. Education Conference. He used the examples of gay marriage – then a big topic in Australia, and Hong Kong protests against the Chinese rule. Both are clear and easy to understand – you know what gay marriage is and you can explain it to someone in four sentences.

Both are binary (yes/no) – you’re either for or against gay marriage (or Hong Kong’s independence).

Both have clear and distinct opposites – the goodies (people who are for gay marriage, for free Hong Kong), and baddies (against gay marriage and free Hong Kong).

In these situations, calling for URGENT ACTION NOW makes sense and often brings results.

Urgency is useful:

· in binary situations (yes/no) with clear opposites

· where the issue is easy to understand and explain (in few sentences)

· where people can pick sides fast (baddies / goodies) and don’t need much extra information

· where the outcome is clear (free Hong Kong)

· where there isn’t a lot of misinformation that could confuse people

· where the problem is personalized

Other examples: Gandhi’s (nonviolent) fight for sovereign India, Martin Luther King Jr.

But if you are after URGENT change, and your project ISN’T binary (yes/no) and easy to understand, if there AREN’T clear two sides – baddies vs goodies, and if the outcome is vague, then the urgency, I’m convinced, can’t work, and won’t bring the desired outcome.

Why not? For seven reasons.

First, because there is not ONE desired, concrete outcome. There are few de-personalized and vague outcomes, e.g. global temperature not rising beyond 1.5C by 2050, or meeting the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Or “liveable planet for all.”

Nice, but that’s not going to move many people all at once, because “it is hard to drum-up the emotions to fight such a bloodless battle, which in any case leaves your enemy invisible,” as Robert Greene says (referring to a different issue).

Achieving some global target in 7, 27, 77 years … pristine environment … live like the indigenous people … no flying, driving, eating meat … halving consumption … fixing the problem technologically, e.g. through vacuuming CO2 from the air… What is it, exactly – one thing, three things, everything? What does it functionally mean to a suburban family? Who decides – the UN, my Government, me personally? Who’s accountable?

It’s the Tower of Babel

Second, climate change is the antithesis of a binary (yes/no) problem.

It’s the most complex and non-linear issue we’ve EVER faced, cutting through all layers of society-economy-environment, horizontally and vertically – all at the same time.

Third, it’s impossible to explain quickly (in four sentences), unlike easy-to-understand issues, e.g. gay marriage.

Fourth, following on the previous points, people can’t pick sides easily and fast - there are no two clear and distinct opposites (baddies vs goodies) on the climate change front.

For example, you might be plant-based, ride a bicycle and travel by train, but outside of your personal impact, you’re not in a position to change much. You can frown at your friend who’s a frequent flyer, steak eater and jeep driver, releasing tonnes of planet-warming emissions.

Who is right?

Your friend might offset the emissions. S/he might financially support an environmental organization. S/he might be in a position at work to buy large volumes of renewable energy or locally-made products, even though on the face of it, you both look like Trump vs Sanders.

Fifth, people need a lot of information to understand climate change and environmental issues. Not in an emergency situation, e.g. oil spill, but in general. Even simple things like the greenhouse gas effect are still confused with ozone layer depletion.

Sixth, there has been a lot of misinformation perpetuated by the fossil cartels, oily politicians, and various deniers (e.g. Tony Abbott, Craig Kelly, the Lavoisier group in Australia; lobbyists and scientists paid by the fossil cartels globally). Outright denialism is hard to pull off these days, you’re more likely to hear the job-preservation tune.

Finally, unlike gay marriage or Hong Kong protests, where people fight for their personal cause, for their identity (gays wanting to get married, Hong Kongers wanting their country), we in the West, in general, haven’t had that level of intensity, personalization and connection to environmental issues and climate change.

But that is changing.

The more frequent and intense droughts, floods, fires, and water shortages in California, Australia, and Germany (not only in the Philippines and Bangladesh), the sooner the general public will make connections between their

(a) personal and objective circumstance,

(b) the human-caused climate change turbocharging these events, and (c) other variables, such as who they vote, how they travel, what they eat, etc.

The more in-the-face and under-our-feet these impacts get at the personal, functional level TODAY, the more urgently will people act.

Of course, provided they can make that a-b-c link to start with.

Increasingly, they are making that link.

Bring on the disasters!

We’ve looked at the foreground of this issue. Next time, we’ll look at the background - something even more troubling….


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