Thinking Bigly - a guide to saving the world.
I take a look at the complexities around sustainability challenges and offer a combination of solutions, on both a personal and systemic levels. (If you are here from Thinking Bigly - thanks!) This is draft incomplete summary of the research sources, notes and ideas behind the project. If there is something you would like to add (eg letter templates) or comments message me as I will add them slowly as time allows.
Major sustainability ideas in Thinking Bigly are:
↠Support culture and behaviour change
↠Advocate for carbon pricing
↠Advocate for performance/efficiency standards
↠Think second order.
↠Discuss ideas with people who don’t think like you
And they spring along side ideas of (1) Cultural/Behaviour Change and (2) Second Order thinking. They are supported by evidence that cultural change can happen fast enough (eg abolition of slavery, pink becoming a girl’s colour) and that the problem is manageable as it is concentrated in (i) 7 countries (50% emmission) and (ii) cities (50% of people) and (iii) 5 broad areas which policy can impact (buildings, industry, transport, agriculture and energy).
-Major emphasis on consuming/buying less or differently
Look for win-win or close substitutes
-eating/cooking with friends vs take out
-video call vs long distance travel to meeting
-second-hand clothes or technology, extend use
-junk modelling for toys
-hand-made gifts, poems, mix-tapes
This list could be very long and is driven by a mix of personal and/or cultural change.
It’s typically what a frugally minded person would do overall. While individually the impacts are small, it adds signals.
Consider bending vs social norms
-wash clothes less (eg unless really smell)
-travel slower (walk, bike)
-always take food leftovers from restaurants
-ignore best before dates and use cooking skills
Again this list is very long but bends closer to re-shaping or re-imagining the cultural stories and myths we’ve told ourselves (this is where the stories of the colour pink or making slavery illegal or how we wear our clothes and all other type of “intersubjective myth” come from - it’s true as many humans believe it to be true).
-Significant purchases go for quality/sustainability (even if costs more short-term)
-green energy; fridge; washing machines, cookers
-boilers, heating, insulation
-technology, furniture, mattresses
Major decisions will impact over long cycles eg the washing machine or fridge - sustainable energy and use pay back is significant for these items.
Those signals are targeted at an individual level that collectively signals but equally, if not more important is what we can advocate on the systems or wider level.
Use your choices and conversation to support innovation
-consider innovation investments
-supporting friends ideas and job choices
-encourage innovation thinking and debate
-be wide and second-order in your choices
-encourage companies, leaders to innovate
As described below, innovation has to be a major part of the answer (even if we can’t or don’t want to change behaviours). This can be supporting innovation ideas (eg Drawdown) or policy.
↠Support pricing signals such as carbon pricing
While I hear arguments for non-market based ideas, my pragmatic view is that a market pricing signal such as a carbon price needs to be an important part of the answer. A pricing signal is not sufficient in itself it needs to be supported by innovations and performance standards and other supportive policies (eg urban design, labelling) but I don’t see any politically viable alternative at this point in time and even this policy has struggled due to its unequal impact (for those who support social justice) and its taxing nature (for those who dislike taxes).
↠Support performance standards
Performance standards or similar will need to be wide ranging over several sectors eg industry efficiency, building codes and transport. But they are necessary alongside innovation and pricing signals, they help solve a split incentive alignment problem.
Eg Building owners vs building renters. Owners/builders have to make the capital investment, but renters take the gains/losses of energy efficient buildings. A well-enforced building code is needed.
There are simple principles of good policy design that need to be thought through to avoid loop holes and second order unintended consequences. These are:
i) Long-term certainty so business can plan
ii) Continuous improvement built-in because the world constantly updates
iii) Focus on outcomes not individual tech as policy can’t predict individual winners
iv) Simplicity to prevent gaming
Finally I support the collision and mixing of ideas so that we collectively grow the pie, as well as split it more fairly, and focus on the most impactful matters:
↠Be second order thinker and use influence
There are many unintended consequences of first order thinking, both negative and positive.
Go beyond first order thinking to second order
-Education over divestment
-Cultural behaviour change over sell-by dates
Consider letter writing or petitions to spread ideas
Discuss ideas with friends, research and innovate
-talk to those who don’t think like you
-find second order win-win ideas
Background and resources:
There are different components of Sustainability: Climate, Green House Gases, Water, Biodiversity, Waste, Air pollution, Land Pollution, Energy, Food, Innovation. They are summed up imperfectly here within the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There are many components of the sustainability challenges although climate change and for instance plastic waste are two of the most high profile.
Many of the challenges intersect with one another and intersect with positive human development such as within education and equality. Some of these ideas are relatively newly accepted for humanity (eg equality) in the last 100 to 200 years.
Four broad frameworks which each provide a useful lens on the challenges are:
-The Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)
-The Human Development Index
-The Peace Index
-The Happiness Index
A discussion on these broad indices of human development are beyond this article. But, do go to the relevant indices. (Other sources: Consider reading Amaryta Sen’s Development as Freedom and for a lay overview of human history, Harari’s Sapiens.)
Climate Change: Framing the challenge
I’m going to focus this next part on the challenges of climate change bearing in mind that other challenges intersect with climate change.
Out of this, it’s worth noting that the challenges go across mostly 5 sectors and and a large part of what humanity is involved in.
It’s not only energy production and direct use. Electricity use is about 25% of the challenge. That leaves 75% in other areas.
….Supposedly: 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions: why don't we take the fight there instead?
This statistic is correct, but misleading without context. It derives from the fact that 100 fossil fuel producers originate 71% of carbon emissions. It includes the use of the fossil fuels produced.
That means the person using a fossil fuel car or train and the manufacturer powering their factories (to make stuff for you to buy, or fertilizer for your food to eat) the emissions they produce are accounted as part of this 71%. While the fuel is produced by the oil and gas companies, the residual person responsible for the emissions is typically the end consumer.
Halting these 100 companies would be banning the production of fossil fuel. (This is equivalent to a type of infinite carbon tax). This may work in the very long term, it is not a good transition plan if we want humanity to survive today (or the next 50 years)....
Many of the remaining areas will need to be solved by new innovation as well as a change in current practice.
While on an individual level our impact is small, in aggregate the “Demand” or the consumer side of the challenge is 60% to 70% of the pie. Supply side is 30% of the problem.
This is tricky for multiple reasons. A critical difficulty for human economic development is that “economic growth” has been a major factor in supporting people out of poverty but that many challenges ask humans to consume less (much less in wealthy nations) as well as innovate more.
Several solutions to asking people to consume less (eg carbon taxes, use less coal) fall unequally across rich / poor people and rich / poor nations.
Other solutions rely on innovation we haven’t invented yet.
Most of the solutions on reducing the demand side require behavioural change that humans have found difficult to do.
Certain solutions require second order (or higher) changes that go counter to other desired aims (for instance, food best before dates save a certain amount of lives from food poisoning (maybe a few hundred in the UK) but have increased food waste (in the hundreds of millions of tonnes, eg 720 million eggs wasted a year in the UK).
….because we find behavioural change hard (but not impossible), I continue to view carbon tax with re-distributive elements (for political justice eg back to poorer people and perhaps into innovation) as useful on systemic basis. A carbon tax enables both business behaviour change as well as personal….
Household Sustainability Decisions
At the level of the household, we can look at these items:
-Babies & Nappies
Disposable nappies have a larger effect on waste pollution, re-usable nappies have a bigger impact on water use. Energy use is in the same bucket depending on temp. Of washing and how drying is achieved. But the largest impact is having a moderate family size.
-Food & Cooking
Efficient cooking in less developed countries can be an important impact, as well as minimising waste in the food supply chain. In rich countries, it is to be less wasteful on food and moderate ruminant animal use, and to consume a normal amount of calories. This would have a double impact on health.
In rich countries, we need to consume much less in clothing. And probably wash clothes well. But the value in clothing is in its social signalling not in its utility.
Use less. Behaviour change can be hard.
-Warmth and cooling
Air dry. Use efficient washing machines. Wash less. Consider the implications that its remains still typically a woman’s chore.
Single use plastic is often used at least twice (as a bin liner), so from an energy point of view paper bags need to be used 5 to 10x to break even. Cotton bags in the range of 50 to 100x. Shop less, consider what you place in the bag. Tha landfill/waste aspects of plastic bag are worse than paper which degrades/recycles.
-Work and retirement
Every single item is intersectional with
(i) cultural / behaviour change or norm
(ii) the need for less ie reduce/reuse/recycle
And in many cases (iii) a need for innovation to replace the current carbon intensive use
And in many cases would be supported by iv) innovation in urban design (eg mobility, waste use) and v) performance standards (building codes, vehicle standards) and vi) carbon pricing.
[This is in draft as I will slowly elaborate on some of these choices]
A round up of household choices for sustainability (Australia govt sponsored) is found here:
A book looking at this is here: Household Sustainability: Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life
Letter Writing - power of letters
I think there is surprising strength in a well written hand crafted letter sent to people in positions of power.
These can be linked to consumer choices eg to CEOs of companies and products you buy and admire; or to politicians and policy makers; or to investment managers of your savings.
Typically CEOs do not receive many personal letters. A large number of well crafted letters can cause them to stop and think about why eg. a commitment to a more carbon neutral business model in the future would make sense.
[At some point draft letters and points could be shared here]
Advocating at the level of politicians and policy makers is also helpful. Awareness is there (school strike, XR, divestment) but policy is not yet there.
I’m not thinking a rote template, but a well-thought out letter. (If you write one, I will write one…)
The three major policies would centre around:
-Carbon pricing / tax (pricing signals)
-Support for innovation
And these would run alongside a raft of other complementary areas such as food supply/waste, transport infrastructure, power infrastructure, urban design, building materials and industry etc.
Carbon tax ideas are here: https://www.thendobetter.com/investing/carbon-tax
A list of innovation and technology ideas can be seen from Project Drawdown:
A collection of policy ideas can be found here:
Here’s a list of links to raft of ideas, arguments and counter-arguments about what we should be thinking about and doing. These formed source material behind Thinking Bigly.
BP to explain how business chimes with Paris climate deal
Pressure from investors forces UK oil and gas firm to be more transparent on climate change
David Wallace-Wells on climate: ‘People should be scared – I'm scared’
The journalist and author has claimed climate change will soon render the world uninhabitable, leading his supporters to say he’s telling the terrifying truth and critics to brand him a reckless alarmist. Why is he so worried?
Investing Prophet Jeremy Grantham Takes Aim at Climate Change
The veteran money manager will devote $1 billion to helping the world escape catastrophe.
How to stop the climate crisis: six lessons from the campaign that saved the ozone
Thirty years ago, all 197 countries got together to ban the gases damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. Now we need to unite to combat an even greater threat. What can we learn from 1989?
The case for “conditional optimism” on climate change - Vox
The case for "conditional optimism" on climate change
Limiting the damage requires rapid, radical change — but such changes have happened before.
2020 Vision: why you should see the fossil fuel peak coming - Carbon Tracker Initiative
2020 Vision: why you should see the fossil fuel peak coming - Carbon Tracker Initiative
The peak in fossil fuel demand will have a dramatic impact on financial markets in the…
How to Shift Public Attitudes and Win the Global Climate Battle - Yale E360
The world is making progress in decarbonizing economies, but not nearly fast enough, says the former U.S. chief climate negotiator. Here he spells out what forces must come together to marshal the public and political will needed to tackle climate change.
Climate change policy can be overwhelming. Here’s a guide to the policies that work.
A new book from veteran energy analyst Hal Harvey simplifies decarbonization.
The Tiny Swiss Company That Thinks It Can Help Stop Climate Change
Two European entrepreneurs want to remove carbon from the air at prices cheap enough to matter.
Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits - Stockholm Resilience Centre
An international centre that advances transdisciplinary research for governance of social-ecological systems.
Significant Major cross-discipline EAT-Lancet Commission paper on Sustainable Food
Major cross-discipline EAT-Lancet Commission on Sustainable Food has published its findings (Jan 2019).
The case for funding a Green New Deal through government debt
Humanity will not come to an end if we double debt to GDP ratios, but it could come to an end if we fail to combat climate change.
The US debate on climate change is heating up
Two different plans to attack the problem could be combined in a workable compromise
Nature Climate Change, The price of fast fashion
The fashion industry has changed rapidly in recent years with the increased prevalence of fast fashion, impacting the environment. Efforts to green this polluting industry require action from businesses and consumers.
New Zealand looking at non-financial capitals, more than GDP
The NZ PM talking about the problems with GDP and suggesting NZ should look at a broader set of indicators and changing the way it should make decisions, including a well-being budget in 2019
The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics | World Resources Institute
Growth of the multi-trillion-dollar apparel industry has been fed by "fast fashion," which makes clothing cheaply and quickly with a low price-tag. Six graphics show how this trend and others can add to water stress, pollution and other environmental impacts.
Faking It on Climate Change | by Bjørn Lomborg
Because honest and deep emissions cuts are staggeringly hard to make, achieving carbon neutrality anytime soon is an empty ambition for almost everywhere. But countries continue to make big promises and massage their emissions numbers to give a false sense of progress on combating global warming.
Steady investments in a changing climate - GOV.UK
Steady investments in a changing climate
Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency speech at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
A new app to map and monitor the world's freshwater supply
In partnership with United Nations Environment, Joint Research Centre and Google, new tools for monitoring global freshwater resources are freely available.
Natural disasters over France a 35 years assessment
Using an exhaustive administrative database, we assess the impact of extreme weather events over French cities between 1982 and 2017.
The World’s First Data Visualization of Product Carbon Footprints
By generating carbon-intensity data for each product, CoClear was able to identify industry trends, as well as track product performance improvements along value chains.
Resistance in the Anthropocene. – David Mattin – Medium
Resistance in the Anthropocene.
Should we turn to civil disobedience to avert looming ecological disaster?
Don't know how to save the planet? This is what you can do
Should we become vegetarians? Is it OK to fly? The author of There Is No Planet B, A Handbook for the Make or Break Years, answers the big question
Climate Change Is Not a “National Emergency”
A Democratic president shouldn’t try to do the same end run around democracy that Trump is attempting.
Life after climate change: lessons from Cape Town
The city’s response to a three-year drought offers pointers to the coming ‘new normal’
They Grew Up Around Fossil Fuels. Now, Their Jobs Are in Renewables.
These are portraits of seven people working in wind and solar, industries their families hardly imagined they’d go into. But as one of them put it: “It’s not ideology. It’s just math.”
Opinion: The energy-hungry world isn’t waiting for Canada
The country must take a balanced approach to harnessing its natural resources and investing in clean technologies
6 Pressing Questions About Beef and Climate Change, Answered | World Resources Institute
There are a lot of misconceptions swirling about beef—its environmental impacts, how it's produced and whether or how much to eat. We examined the latest research to separate myth from fact.
Extinction Rebellion: inside the new climate resistance
A new movement plans mass civil disobedience — and its numbers are growing
Disaster on the horizon: The price effect of sea level rise
Homes exposed to sea level rise (SLR) sell for approximately 7% less than observably equivalent unexposed properties equidistant from the beach.
Mercer - investing in a time of climate change
A lawyer set himself on fire to protest climate change. Did anyone care?
David Buckel hoped his death would catalyze action. But what is individual responsibility when confronted with the crisis of a rapidly changing planet?
The zero-waste revolution: how a new wave of shops could end excess packaging
Shops that minimise the environmental impact of our consumer habits are springing up across Britain. Could they help us avert catastrophe?
Over 4,200 Amazon Workers Push for Climate Change Action, Including Cutting Some Ties to Big Oil - The New York Times
They say Amazon should stop offering custom cloud computing services that help the oil and gas industry explore for and extract more fossil fuels.
To Map a Coral Reef, Peel Back the Seawater - The New York Times
To Map a Coral Reef, Peel Back the Seawater
This scientist couple created an airborne observatory to map tropical forests. Now they’re using it to identify threatened reefs.