In tackling climate chaos, we have all the answers – we just lack the right question

Susannah Wood

In tackling climate chaos, we have all the answers – we just lack the right question

By Susannah Wood, Marketing Director

Anyone who watched the final of the men’s eight from the 2000 Sydney Olympics couldn’t possibly forget the stunning victory by Team GB. They weren’t expected to win; they weren’t expected to place. The underdogs confounded expectations. A few years later I heard a team member speak and I’ve always remembered the secret of their success. For two years the team lived by one maxim – “will it make the boat go faster?” This simple question determined every decision they made as individuals and as a team. Should I train for a bit longer? Can I go for a curry and a few pints with my mates tonight? Will it make the boat go faster? There’s no need for debate. There’s no confusion, no argument, no chaos.

This powerful question is deceptively clever. It gives every team member agency. It’s easy to answer; you know if it’s yes or no without having to call in experts or researchers; there’s no bias from fake news. It’s not binary in terms of its objective which makes it achievable. It’s about getting better rather than a choice between winning and losing. You can do the right thing without losing hope.

I recently attended a fascinating conference with IKEA. Their research shows that 90% of their customers are concerned about sustainability, but only 3% of them know what to do. I doubt this. I think we have all the answers and information we need whether we are consumers, politicians, businesspeople or school children. But if we know what we need to do in order to fix our existential crisis, why aren’t we doing more and at a massively increased pace? It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. If I do the right thing, will I be criticised? Will I offend? Will I look stupid? Fundamentally, will it make a damn bit of difference? As one friend put it: “If Australia is going to build a new coal mine the size of Britain, what difference will it make if I cut down on meat?” Our thoughts are chaotic, confused, angry, despairing. I don’t pretend to be clever enough with words to know the right form of words for a question that cuts through all of this. I’m pretty sure it’s not: “If I do this, will I help save all living species from extinction?” That lacks all the agency of the rowers’ mantra and is ridiculously portentous.

Solarcentury has recently changed its mission. Since our formation 21 years ago, our purpose has been to make a meaningful difference in the fight against climate change. Words matter and it’s clear that the term climate change has become too passive. It somehow invites a level of debate that we no longer have time for. Other organisations have also been examining their choice of words in recognition of the clock running down. At Solarcentury, we’ve chosen to describe our fight now as being against climate chaos. Chaos is complete disorder and confusion. I’m sure many of us feel chaotic as soon as we start thinking about climate. This isn’t a surprise. I bet if we could read the objectives of certain oil lobbyists’ briefs, top of the list would be: spread disorder and confusion! We need to fight this. With our actions and our clarity of thought we can focus on the only thing that really matters; the fight against climate chaos is the fight for the preservation of life on this planet with breathable air, clean available water, stable weather systems, diverse ecosystems and abundant natural resources for future generations. We have the technical solutions. We have the resources. We know the right thing to do to end the chaos. Solar is central to this fight. It’s taken the solar industry more than 50 years to build 500GW of solar. This will double in the next three years and could grow by 140 fold by 2050[1]. In the next two years, Solarcentury will build as much capacity as it has in the last 21 years. The deployment is exponential and the sense of agency with every panel installed is palpable.

You could be forgiven for thinking that if you work in a solar company deploying clean green power all day, that you get a pass from thinking through every other decision we make as a business, but of course you don’t. At our offices, do we buy our office supplies based on price or sustainability? Do we serve visitors plant-based food or meat? Do we really need to fly to see each other face to face? During construction, do we minimise travel, use diesel for power, minimise waste, recycle food waste? I don’t want to debate this anymore: Will it make the boat go faster!?

In our private lives, do we buy the veg wrapped in plastic, do we care where our pensions are invested, do we indulge in fast fashion? As a politician do you back fracking, do you vote for airport expansion, do you carry on giving tax breaks to fossil fuels? As a journalist, do you indulge in false balance, fake news, are you even reporting on the horrific climate impacts?

Like the rowers, in reality we all know the right thing to do and if only we could check our decisions with the right question, it would stop feeling like chaos and start feeling like we’re all working together, supporting each other to save ourselves and our wonderful environment. Let’s stop weighing pros and cons, trying to see all sides of an argument, balancing this with that. I don’t have the right form of words just yet, but in the meantime when you ask me if we need more plastic pens with our logo on, expect the response: Will it make the boat go faster?

 

[1] Terawatt-scale photovoltaics: Transform global energy: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6443/836