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Family planning programs in South Korea, Taiwan and China confirmed a social change model that can be adapted to climate change



Voluntary Family Planning programs in South Korea and Taiwan, initiated from the mid 1960s by local authorities with the assistance of the international community, effectively stopped population growth in those two "countries."  China brought about the same results with an involuntary program.  However all three of these programs followed a similar model of social change that goes from Awareness to Interest to Trial and Evaluation (generally repeated many times), on to Adoption, Confirmation and Advocacy.  One lesson we learned from these experiments is that the families undergoing the change did not need to know about the larger issue, "The Population Crisis," in order to change their behavior.  In the voluntary model they needed only to know that they could have a happy and prosperous small family if they had few children, regardless of gender, and if they spaced them well. Cash incentives and free or low cost family planning services and social pressure reduced population growth without people necessarily knowing about the population crisis.  In China they did not need a rationale, but went straight to Adoption by command, skipping Awareness, Interest, Trial and Evaluation.  It is contended that this same overall system can be used now to bring about the necessary changes in behavior to lead both democracies and dictatorships to a low carbon future. 

Is this proposal for a practice or a project?


What actions do you propose?

In democracies it is contended that it will not be necessary, and may be counterproductive, to insist on Awareness of the "Climate Crisis" in order for people to take action that is sufficient to solve the problem.  Instead, by focusing on how much money a family can save by "going green," and by applying small incentives for families to take steps, it is contended that we can get people quickly past the Awareness and Interest steps and onto Trial and Evaluation.  Once they have tried a number of actions to save money (changing light bulbs, adding insulation and weatherstripping, installing solar panels, recycling, buying a hybrid car) and have seen that they are effective, they become Adopters.  Then they get Confirmation of their decisions and actions by their peers and by leaders who give them rewards and accolades, and they become Advocates, encouraging others to set foot on the path.

In dictatorships it is feasible to go straight to Adoption by command, as they will be doing in China as they move away from coal fired power plants and fossil fuel powered automobiles and on to renewable technology.  In those societies Confirmation comes with public awards and recognition, with public praise, "gold stars," and prestigious ranks and designations.

We must move from the idea that "Everyone needs to know about the climate crisis" to the far simpler body of knowledge, that "Your family can be more prosperous if you 'go green'"  Knowing that, how can society accelerate the steps a family (or business) must take? Just as learning about the population crisis was not a necessary precursor to action for anyone except government officials and university professors in Korea and Taiwan, so knowing details about the climate crisis, and fearing the consequences, is "nice to know" but not "need to know" in order for individual families and businesses to take action.

So here are some steps for us to consider in transforming societies:

Shift away from messages about the "climate crisis" (which often freeze people in fear) and move to aspirational messaging about "saving money by going green;"

Create pervasive and robust financial incentive programs that are like the rebates families receive for installing solar panels or buying hybrid and electric cars, applied to every facet of saving energy from getting an energy audit to installing insulation and reflective window film;

Create similar financial incentive programs for industry and businesses both large and small that help them decide to save money by taking energy and water saving steps;

Certainly teach school children at every level about the climate crisis, but put more time into discussing solutions, and the money we can all save in the process, than defining, and brooding over, the crisis;

Start public awareness campaigns that are based on themes like "Go green and save money," or "Shifting to solar makes good dollars and sense," or "How much money are you burning up every day?";

Work with business organizations to create similar messages for industry so that business owners and stock holders are motivated to increase profits by taking "green steps," with slogans like "Go green and pocket more green," or "Give our families a clean and green future," or "Who said it's not be easy being green?" or "We are going green, how about you?" 

In countries that are signatories to the Paris Climate Accord, a great deal of the pledged investment for climate change action at the national level can be assigned to this program, to be administered by the government or by non-profit organizations dispersing government largesse.  In the US, states, cities and local authorities can administer such programs directly, justifying them by showing how they can save public money through these investments in a low energy future.

The key to this entire approach is to get away from the fear-mongering that has characterized climate change projects and reframe the arguments to focus on saving money and improving environmental and personal health, societal well-being and providing a clean and green future for our children.  

An overarching statement can be, "Whether the climate is changing or not, and whether people are to blame or not, our kids deserve a clean and green future, let's give it to them."

Here is a partial list of actions that could be supported by cash payments, discounts, tax incentives, awards, recognition and appreciation.  These actions can be reinforced at the family or community level.  The impact could be enormous.

Note: Top ten gets you almost to zero energy

Get an energy audit and then take action such as:

Weather-stripping and caulking windows & doors

Adding insulation to the attic

Installing reflective window film

Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs

Installing a programmable thermostat

Installing a solar hot water system

Installing solar (PV) panels on your roof

Shifting to wind energy for rest of energy needs

Getting a 100% electric or plug-in hybrid car

Ways to save even more water, energy and money

Ride a bike instead of riding in car

Switch off lights when leaving a room

Turn off appliances when not used

Start composting

Plant a garden

Switch to electric lawnmower

Put water barrels at corners of house

Get a clothesline and start using it

Buy energy star appliances

Carpool if possible for kids to events & adults to work

Use public transportation instead of driving

Take shorter showers

Turn down the water heater to 120º or less

Clean or replace home air filters

Plant trees to get to net energy use below zero

Take a “Staycation” instead of a vacation

Take family bike rides

Start a walking school bus if possible

Recycle everything possible

Shift from bottled water to filtered

Eat less red meat or switch to chicken

Join the Green Team at school

Join environmental groups in your community

Cancel junk mail

Defrost older fridge and freezer (and buy Energystar)

Wash clothes in cold water

Use shades and blinds to regulate room temperature

Wear a sweater if too cool, don’t just turn up the heat

Turn off computer/printer when not in use

Grownups see if it is feasible to work from home

Use recycled paper for home office

Print double sided

Get a foot pedal for kitchen sink (if kids can reach it too)

Put flow restrictors on faucets

Drive at speed limit to save gas (don’t speed)

No “jack rabbit starts” and no sitting and idling in car

Take excess weight and roof rack from the car

Do car maintenance and check tires often

Buy local produce or raise your own

Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program

Buy US made or locally made products

Buy food and other products with less packaging

Don’t accept throwaway bags, bring reusable bags

Contact elected officials about voting for sustainability

Write letter to the editor about sustainability

Put bottle filled with pebbles and water in toilet tank

Get a blanket for the water heater to retain heat

Install radiant barrier in the attic

Get a reflective roof when it is time to replace the roof

Check attic ridge vents, make sure they are open

Cook at home more and eat out less (esp. fast food)

Learn to love leftovers (40% of food is wasted in USA)

Don’t use pesticides or herbicides unnecessarily

Volunteer to clean up streams and ponds

Don’t toss toxic stuff like batteries or paint in the trash

But these actions need to be taken primarily because they will save money for the family and the society, not because families are afraid of abrupt climate change.

Who will take these actions?

Individuals, families, businesses large and small, schools, non-profits, hospitals, scout troops, service clubs and other organizations and entities can all be recruited into the campaign to save money by consuming goods and services wisely and by shifting to renewable energy.

The campaign needs to be launched by government at the national level and constantly reinforced with great story-telling through the media, including YouTube, TV, and other channels, so that everyone can see how the transformation to save money and go green is "sweeping the world."

Where will these actions be taken?

These actions can be undertaken by every country and state in the US that is a signatory to the Paris Climate Accord, as a method for engineering the social change that has been promised, without having to spread fear of a dystopian future.  Once a few countries have tested this approach others can assess the results and join the "March to Green."

Start with highly motivated and highly respected countries, with a history of positive social change through government incentives and actions.  I list a few below, but they need to self-select for this project.  If this approach using positive incentives to save money and to reduce carbon output and save water succeeds, send people from the successful countries out to evangelize this positive approach in countries where the people and governments are less highly motivated.  

In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.


Country 2


Country 3


Country 4

South Korea

Country 5

Saudi Arabia


What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

These actions can create a positive competitive atmosphere that reduces carbon emissions to zero for selected countries within a few decades.  It has the potential to "go viral" between families, and within and between communities, as people compete with each other to see who can save the most money and thereby emit the least carbon.

(note: It would be great to have a partner to help with these calculations for society in general or for selected countries, like the ones listed above.  Any volunteers?)

What are other key benefits?

Climate goals are not overt in this model.  The goal is to "save money for families and communities."  Or to "Save green by going green."

It is contended that these goals will create desirable outcomes for the environment, the economy and society as a "side benefit" of saving money for families, businesses and governments.

By not stressing climate goals we reduce stress on citizens and governments and businesses, whose motivations are very different from the overall societal motivation to "solve the climate crisis."  But solving the climate crisis is an artifact of these energy, water and money saving steps.


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

This program is not reliant on increasing expenditures, but is reliant on shifting expenditures and redesigning incentives that already exist or are planned so that they focus on the outcomes desired by families -- to save money and to have  healthy and prosperous children, or by businesses -- to make money and have  contented stockholders and business owners.  Everyone can receive recognition and praise and be proud of their accomplishments under this system.  The costs will certainly be met in energy savings for the society writ large and for every sub-unit of the nation-state.


In 1-15 years dozens of countries can shift over to Positive Incentives for Green Actions.

15 -50 years the entire World shifts to zero carbon through positive incentives, and we begin to see the damage that our neglect and slow start has wrought.

50-100 years we need to shift focus to adaptation to the damage that was done from the beginning of the industrial revolution until the point where the entire World has shifted to zero carbon, which will have been achieved through positive incentives under this approach.  This 50 year period of readjustment will include providing incentives for relocation of displaced populations, methods for stabilizing World population and systems for feeding the billions who will lose their homes and livelihoods thanks to rising sea levels, desertification and weather disruptions.  These latent effects are "baked into the cake" already and will occur even if we get our collective carbon footprint to zero.

About the author(s)

Dave Finnigan, USA, served as Information, Education and Communication consultant to the National Family Planning Programs of South Korea, Taiwan (and the Philippines) from 1967-1976.  This proposal is a result of experience in the two successful programs.  They did not stress "The Population Crisis," but focused everyone on "How to have a happy and successful family."  Since those programs were introduced 50 years ago, Family size fell in both South Korea and Taiwan from around 5 or 6 children per couple to around 1.6, well below replacement level; and per capita income grew from under $1,000 per year to over $35,000.

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