Navigating Climate Change Together: All Aboard ARK2.0 - A Creative Platform to Enlist Broad-Based Support To Adapt to a New Climate Future
Every major event triggers increasingly urgent discussions around greenhouse gas reduction by scientists, researchers, and more progressive policymakers. The general public quickly forgets the disaster headlines, and they remain a world away from the climate action community’s research papers, professional conferences, and data-centric Powerpoints. We are failing to capture the committed attention of the average citizen – who we must enlist to adopt personal changes, as well as to advocate for policies needed to prepare for adaption and resiliency.
The frustrating reality is that our society lacks the “softer” psychological reasons and the political will to act. This is the stumbling block that must be solved. If we stand any hope of securing a sustainable future to avoid further dangerous warming, we need immediate lifestyle and social behavior changes. We need to enroll wider and fully committed support from communities, we must wire up a more efficient action network to accelerate the dramatic change required to avert the predicted scenarios ahead.
Our team is ready to build a web-based platform to make the climate response movement far more accessible and more easily deployed locally. Informed by the latest interdisciplinary work on pro-environmental behavior, we will employ a unique mix of storytelling, media learning, and action tools for personal change & community mobilization. Our tools will invite both individuals and organizations to belong to a network that is dedicated to optimizing a broad ecosystem of change makers. This action network will increase engagement, create easily-deployed local action toolkits, and keep the community energized by sharing best practices to prepare for our climate future. Our driving messaging is to avoid fixating on the intangible notion of “saving the planet” in the millennia to come. Instead, we’re ready to make this personal – what you do today is to protect your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Critical discussions around greenhouse gas reduction may be compelling to scientists, researchers, and policymakers, but we need to move beyond research papers, professional conferences, and data-centric Powerpoints if we are to capture the attention of the general public, and convey the urgency to act now. If we stand any hope of securing a sustainable future to avoid further dangerous global warming, we need immediate lifestyle and social behavior. Even if we were able to enroll wider support, we must wire up a much more efficient action network to accelerate the dramatic change required to avert the predicted, alarming scenarios ahead. The well-intentioned, but fragmented efforts from NGOS, government bureaus, community groups, and even MIT’s ClimateX peer-to-peer online community, need immediate and innovative support to better leverage new communication and networking technologies to reach the general public in more dynamic and sustainable ways. If we can do that, we will more rapidly catalyze knowledge sharing and capacity building required to adapt to the challenges now imminently facing us.
Even with information and technological advances, without recognizing critical “softer” psychological reasons that can impact political will to act, current efforts to solve climate change are likely to fail to reach critical targets. As Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) notes, stories are the only thing that can affect the way we mobilize as a species toward common action, "Sapiens rule the world, because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. We can create mass cooperation networks, in which thousands and millions of complete strangers work together towards common goals. And while plenty of species can organize themselves, we are the only ones that do so with language. The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively. This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes, stories in the form of words. Everything we have has been shared through and with words. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. “There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings."
Our storytelling-to-action platform aims to drastically reframe the issue of climate change through a universal, more emotionally accessible storytelling lens, which spurs and optimizes individual and organizational pro-environmental action through a dynamic network designed to promotes a social-cultural climate of communal resilience building. Key components of this digital platform include:
- storytelling (establish personal connection)
- knowledge sharing (personalized learning),
- and community engagement (localized action).
Compelling storytelling offers a way to connect with the climate action movement, we will offer a digital civics toolkit that helps engaged members promote pro-environmental behaviors into everyday life. By sharing best practices in behavior motivation, showcasing opportunities for change and resilience, and connecting disparate efforts, we firmly believe this platform will move the meter on our shared mission.
Our platform is being developed with an understanding that:
1) climate actions currently happening are numerous and fragmented;
2) individuals that would like to address climate change and adaptation are unsure of where to start, the information may be inaccessible, confusing, and overwhelming;
3) focusing on small behavioral steps may bring together individuals that might not act otherwise.
Our team is keenly aware that rational appeals and facts about climate change have not worked for a number of reasons. Individuals are reluctant to act because of the tendency to the report on climate change through catastrophe framings, which contributes to disengagement and “psychic numbing” where the problem seems inaccessible and distant. Short-term pragmatism, market solutions, and technological advances tend to be the foci of mitigation and adaptation efforts, missing the opportunity to engage at multiple levels. There is a missed opportunity to translate the known risks and solutions to climate at the level of individuals and organizations, and reach people at every basic level.
To engage with this missed opportunity, our platform will employ the latest research on promoting pro-environmental behavior, which underscores the importance of relating and situating climate action in people’s everyday lives and communities. Recent work at the intersection of social networks, technology, and psychology find that personalized information has greater success in shifting attitudes and the success of reframing climate conversations to empower collective action through targeting beliefs and meanings to inspire pro-environmental engagement and legitimize climate change in terms of individual responsibility and vulnerability. Reframing the climate change story to one of values and ethics can promote a powerful shift.The use of technology can help inform behavior and provide feedback to persuade and motivate people effectively to overcome the “environmental literacy gap,” or individual lack of awareness of how behaviors contribute to climate change. Currently, there is much needed effort in developing a new name for climate change as the term’s connotation often invokes thoughts of vegans hugging trees.
Success of climate adaptation and mitigation requires uptake in all people’s everyday lives. To enroll their commitment, one must look to and leverage underlying networks and structures that influence knowledge sharing and community engagement, which can increase the potential success of environmental commitments . Populations confronted with atypical weather and increasing natural disasters will likely look for answers to secure their climate future. After disasters, people have pronounced emotional responses, increased perceived vulnerability, and heightened awareness of risks, increasing the likeliness to view climate change as important. Although these perceptions and understanding are short lived. It is incumbent upon climate adaptation stakeholders to leverage these points-of-need, and be ready to feed those hungry for guidance with better information and a roadmap for more enduring behavioral change.
Indeed, climate action must be made attractive to a large group of individuals to be effective. Research on pro-environmental behavior has recognized the critical potential of technology to shift individual and organizational action, but such efforts have fallen short by failing to embrace the psychological and cultural motivations required to promote action. Moreover, individuals that are engaged in conversations about the environment do not have a readily accessible way to put their concern into action.
Individuals and organizations get cues on actions from society at large. Environmental information needs to be accessible, attention grabbing, and delivered in a relatable package from trusted sources. Harnessing the power of networks will put the issue of climate change front and center where information is shared by trusted sources. We are ready to develop carefully crafted stories, accurate messaging, and use of digital social networks help shift behavior through appealing to altruistic values and moral obligations to overcome apprehension to change. Further, continued efforts to foster pro-environmental behaviors need repetitive feedback on the outcomes of actions, and these efforts need to be stronger than the campaigns against them.
Informed by the latest interdisciplinary work on pro-environmental behavior and cultural shifts, our team is designing a web-based platform that uses a rich mix of storytelling, media-rich e-learning, and action tools for personal change & community mobilization. More than an “information vending machine,” our site will invite people to belong to the movement, creating individual or organization profiles where work, interests, and current projects can be shared.
The user design will also be informed by the reality that people act to maximize rewards and minimize costs, which can be either economic, or social. People are also motivated by recognition for good actions and behaviors. Setting goals and receiving feedback can energize and increase relevant behaviors, and persistence toward a goal and even nominal rewards increase goal commitment. Accountability and pressure from peers further encourages engagement in pro-environmental behavior. This can be accomplished through competitions, social comparisons, and broadcasted commitments also increases the probability of behavior shifts.
Goal Setting, Projects, and Engagement: To build on pro-environmental behavior, the platform will include a goal setting/project feature. Individuals or organizations can share their current work, volunteer project, or individual project and select from a list of recommended goals or projects. The goal setting feature will provide real time feedback on individual actions to demonstrate the larger impact of their work and link them to others involved in similar projects. People love competitions. The goal setting/campaign/project feature will be displayed on their page with progress updates and they can earn levels in goal setting, such as pro-goal setter. This builds on the following best practices of pro-environmental behavior: 1) goal setting and real time feedback to encourage behavior and build retention and long-term commitment; 2) recognition of efforts and “good deeds”; 3) fosters a culture shift by encourage people to participate and display their work and tell their story; 4) it will gradually build pro-environmental behaviors and resilience into everyday lives with small steps; and 5) the network will increase the overall awareness of the link between behaviors and climate change.
Mapping Tool: Individuals are more likely to be involved in pro-environmental behavior within their own communities. Further, after large campaigns or demonstrations people are often left with an outlet for the next actions. To address these two needs, we include a mapping function where both individuals and organizations are able to create a project or event to display on a mapping tool. Individuals are then able to access current events within their communities. The display of projects and events motivates people to act through visibility of environmentally oriented actions and asks others to join in, encouraging direct contributions to the “good” in their communities.
Sharing: Organizations and individuals will be able to share current involvements on a home page. Current environment oriented projects are across community-based, national, and global efforts that overlap. These fragmented efforts will benefit from knowledge sharing across similar projects and topics. The homepage of users, the mapping tool, and sharing feature will use keywords to link to people and organizations with similar interests. We will design a guided page design, so individuals or organizations are able to map out their interests and display current and ongoing projects keywords and interests will connect entities and individuals that share similar interests.
Phase II: We will have engagement nodes and a source of revenue. Instead of a Ted-like platform where someone speaks to an audience, this is more about engagement and “un-workshops” to put the efforts back into the community and build on best practices.
People will increasingly be moved to act. Our digital civics toolkit build from behavioral research and harnesses technology to direct motivations for change, increases knowledge about climate change, and fosters pro-environmental action.
Who will take these actions?
This platform will tap into the majority of people in that US that believe in climate change, but may not have the tools and information to act, or may perceive action as overwhelming or difficult, or have not had a cultural signal to act. Approximately, 33 percent of Americans are disengaged, doubtful, or dismissive of climate change, leaving 67 percent of Americans varying from cautious, concerned, to alarmed about climate change. Of those at least interested in the climate conversation, only the alarmed (14 percent) make a concerted effort to incorporate changes into their lives and or vie for policy changes (Leiserowitz, 2010). It is projected that a shift of the cautious and concerned, 54 percent of the population are open to a shift in culture and behavior for adaptation and mitigation efforts (Stokenes, 2015). This represents a large portion of the American public that are likely willing to act with the correct signals and targeted information that fosters a shift in social norms and amplifies supportive frames by creating “simple actions, new stories, and better signals” (Stoknes, 2015). Our platform will use a targeted approach to foster a culture shift and bring people into the conversation and action on climate by incorporating actions into routines.
At the same time, there is ample evidence of a wave of change in United States from the vegetarian movement to increased bicycle use (Biermann, 2014). Forbes lists 200 of the largest environmental and animal oriented organizations in the US, these organizations have fragmented and overlapping efforts that include community groups and potential volunteers. Increasing the capacity of these organizations through sharing best practices, opportunities, and knowledge with our digital toolkit will help leapfrog best practices and increase organizational learning.
The core participants on this project plan to build a team for the next round of funding generation and will continue to refine, research, and support the platform and organization from building the prototype to the point of going live with the project.
Where will these actions be taken?
These actions are taken individual by individual or an organization, as it is a decentralized recruiting platform, where individuals and organizations can add innovation and share information. We are deeply committed to building a strong community where all people can thrive and contribute. Issues will be elevated that matter to the future of the region, and produce massive community engagements that will lead initiatives based on acts that would invite thousands of communities across the US and internationally to become part of the solution.
Modeling a concept of days of connection we can take leaders from 10 organizations and individuals from local neighborhoods and bring them together around the idea of story and connection to initiate change. If we can get leaders from an initial number of small organizations to reach out to expand to more organizations and create an ever expanding circle of connection through human contact. We can also get neighborhood representatives (like a crime watch group). We can create neighborhoods of connection and expand this nationally and globally through stories, social networks and action.
Through the creation of a platform to form coalitions of organizations and individuals on engagement of stories, action steps and inquiries, we can foster a community of innovative thinking about solutions and resiliency for climate change globally, nationally, regionally, and hyper-locally.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
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What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
We plan to build on individual efforts to reduce in CO2 emissions and promote lifestyle changes and ensure retention in participation in the website. Our platform invites people to change for more than a day, a week, or a month. We plan to foster continued engagement and move toward evolutionarily stable behaviors to reduce greenhouse emissions. Through the power of story and continued actions, people will be promoted to change their habits by participating in a platform that fosters retention, change, and action by building pro-environmental behavior into everyday lives.
Our platform can make a big change by creating long-term action. For instance, households with annual incomes of more than 50,000 USD consume 40 to 70 percent more energy per household than households that make less than 30, 000 USD (Makokoff et al., 2007). Targeting these individuals would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Further, 33 percent of Americans are disengaged, doubtful, or dismissive of climate change, but this leaves 67 percent of Americans varying from cautious, concerned, to alarmed about climate change. Of those at least interested in the climate conversation, only the alarmed (14 percent) make a concerted effort to incorporate changes into their lives and or vie for policy changes (Leiserowitz, 2010). Thus, 54 percent of the population are open to a shift in culture and behavior for adaptation and mitigation efforts (Stokenes, 2015). Research shows this people population wants to shift, and building efforts into their everyday life: “People want to reduce emissions if they understand the causes of climate change, if they perceive substantial risks from climate change if average surface temperatures increase” (O’Connor, 2002). Our platform builds information and action into everyday lives using research as a base.
What are other key benefits?
This platform will support action, communication, education, participation and awareness. We will gradually build our platform to engage in US efforts and extend globally. There are many possibilities to build in best practices to the platform. In a similar way google maps allows you to zoom into any neighborhood in the world, this platform will allow you to zoom in on a hyper-local level and pinpoint projects that are happening neighborhood by neighborhood. Potentially individual projects that neighborhoods are doing to combat climate chance. For example, a youth group from Mumbai, India who works locally on water resource issues could influence local projects in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge.
A hyper-local kick starter for environmental change where either people or money or some form of cooperative where individuals receive benefits from work inputs. For example, a local mechanic who has expertise in electric engines and retrofitting gas engines with electric ones, one could drive down costs through sheer numbers and make these options, ideas, stories attenable. Local expertise that can make a difference in individual neighborhoods.
A “Radio Garden” of sorts, where you can zoom into a neighborhood to find innovation and action where you least expect it. “Radio Garden” sprouts live radio stations from around the world. You can zoom in anywhere on the planet and listen in to local stories, music and news accounts. We plan to create a similar network for climate change, action and initiatives. It is a network overlaid by a map for people to participate, locate the stories within communities, and invite people to engage. This will foster a sense of community, promote action, and spur innovation through knowledge sharing to get at the heart of creating action.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
We build on the need for communication, education, participation and awareness through the formulation of a platform. We will work with FableVision’s team of animators and artists has a wide range of styles and creative approaches to building the platform.
In phase one we will build a prototype of the platform. The projected costs are approximately 35 thousand dollars. The platform will then be workshopped with multiple focus groups and 60-day trials for feedback to ensure usability and accessibility to the multiple groups, demographics, and organizations we aim to target.
In phase two, we plan to leverage funds accessed through MIT Co-lab with our affiliated organizations for matching support. One of our early tasks for digital interactive design will be to define the approach to prototyping and user testing by creating a guided, click-through prototype as a valuable tool that tests the appeal of the look and feel, but also vets the user experience.
In phase two we will fundraise for the additional platform costs which will range from 150k to 300k. The robust prototype will serve as a base for fundraising to build the final product, complete final testing of the platform by user, and hire network engineers to run the platform. We will develop a plan to slowly scale up and build in network platform capacities.
In phase three we plan to further develop the physical component of a traveling resilience accelerator. Similar to other platforms, this will become self-sustaining.
Near term impact (1-15) would be to bring as many people nationally and then globally into the networks to share ideas, make environmental and resilience building commitments, and plan community engagement. We plan to support this project through outside funding, eventually leading to a self-sustaining platform. We plan to fund raise for the initial portion of the platform.
With a targeted message that builds on positive environmental actions that people can incorporate into their everyday lives, we feel that this platform will expand and continue well into the future. The next stage in collective action on climate is through individuals and community engagement that, with consistent visible efforts, will help shift greenhouse gas emissions and build overall resilience. Moreover, current practices and efforts in progress will share knowledge and best practices. This platform can continue for years to come.
About the author(s)
Jennifer Bender is a Professor and Research Fellow at the School for the Environment. Dr. Bender develops curriculum for a marine aquaculture program and the Innovation Clinic. She is a Boston-based environmental scientist involved in bridging gaps between scientists, policy makers, and stakeholders with issues relating to coastal zones. She is the executive director of the Marine Studies Consortium. She is a consultant to organizations including the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Stellwagen Alive, Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, Fablevision and writes for Edible Vineyard.
Paul Reynolds is the CEO of FableVision and oversees the educational media & interactive development groups. FableVision creates & shares positive storytelling media & tech to move the world to a better place. Reynolds oversees the non-profit Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning & Creativity, which partners with researchers and educational groups to produce innovative edtech tools, & evaluation tools. Paul also is a force behind International Dot Day, which celebrates creativity and courage in his brother Peter's book The Dot. Paul teaches media production at Boston College and is published author.
Nichole Wissman-Weber- is a doctoral student in the College of Management and a National Science Foundation IGERT Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB). She studies the process of urban climate adaptation. Nichole is part of a of an interdisciplinary researchers at (UMB) who are currently involved a series of climate adaptation research projects for Climate Ready Boston. Nichole holds a MA in Sociology and is trained in transdisciplinary research and qualitative and quantitative methods. She has lectured on business and the environment and has published on socially oriented business models. She has worked in applied policy and research, environmental youth education programs, and environmental restoration efforts internationally.
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