There are a few things I’ve learned from my career as a market researcher, when it comes to understanding human behaviour and what triggers changes in this behaviour. At a time when our conduct on this planet needs to change dramatically if we are to salvage whatever pieces may remain, my decades of observation of consumer behaviour stand true to this day: the main driver of behaviour change is not a “get up and go” mentality. It is not even determination, and it certainly isn’t hope or positivity. What changes our behaviour is a fundamental awakening inside of us, to the need to change in the first place. We are a purpose-driven species and will only execute a new behaviour if we really believe in it, and if we believe that we have something to gain from it. Only if we fundamentally believe that something has changed, will we recognise that we need to change as well, in response. Once this awakening happens, action is easy. It is rapid and cataclysmic. We can literally move mountains.
This is why as an author and activist I have not focused on “climate action”, and have sometimes been perceived as a resigned doomist that seems to have an obsessive fetish for the Apocalypse. But this is not because I don’t believe in, or do not want to see “action”. It is because I fundamentally believe that we are not ready yet, because we are not awake. Without an awakening, any climate mitigation action will fail. Everything I write, everything I say, has been and will always be about what is needed before even action begins: a long overdue, rude wake up call. We are simply stuck at the awakening phase, unable to wake up in a house that is burning all around us. Bombarding consumers with climate action messages hasn’t worked, and will not work. They are all too asleep, too sedated by the meaningless pursuits our system has addicted them to so that they can keep on feeding The CO2 Machine. The real action needed first is an intervention, a rehab, a complete reconsideration of the value and meaning of our existence, as well as a realisation by the addicts themselves that they are facing their own existential threat. As much as it sounds impossible to bring about this fundamental change in awareness, without it we will sleepwalk ourselves into “solutions” and “actions” that never go the distance that they need to go. The house is already burning down. But some of the furniture could still be salvaged.
Those politicians at the climate change conferences who vote year after year to reduce emissions are only doing it because it is the “accepted” thing to do these days, part of the pantomime choreography they’ve all been given to follow. I’ve had private conversations with some of them, and it appears that many are not even convinced climate change is that urgent. If there is no awakening, there is no urgency. If there is no urgency, there is no action.
Similarly, many of the scientists have not woken up to the importance of their role not only in providing data, but in putting their careers on the line, if needed, to paint the picture in its true colours: devoid of numbers and carefully crafted jargon that no one cares about. Being a scientist myself, I know that charts and figures function as nothing else but lullabies for an already asleep humanity. We need scientists that embrace emotion, this misunderstood hormonal response that science has shunned for centuries. Only emotion can paint the true extent, true implications of climate change. Because its numbers are infinite. And its jargon flies like a comet across time and space, as opposed to scientific terminology that falls to the ground and vanishes into dust.
So, I will continue to focus on the negative. I will continue to try and awaken us to the darkness, before we can even take any last minute mitigating action. Because only if we awaken to the dark nightmare of our failed system in its totality, only then will we truly believe that our civilisation is the monstrosity that it has become. Only then will we consciously decide that we don’t want to be in this place any more. That we want a better place – not because it is nice to have, but because it is an issue of life and death. Until then, all of our delusions, consumeristic distractions and avoidance of pain will continue to keep us from taking any action at all. Just like the climate science data, the damage to our ability to wake up is greater than previously thought. Our sleep is much deeper than previously known. Our gap with reality is far greater than we had assumed. And our ability to move in the right direction ever so much weaker than previously expected.
It is time to wake up, and enter the nightmare. Are you brave enough?
George is an author, researcher, podcaster, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, join his mailing list, or enjoy his books