“Momentum towards a climate-safe future is now unstoppable”, reassures Christiana Figueres. But there’s a catch, she warns. “We must avoid distraction: keep our eyes on the road … the direction of travel has been set.”
After more than two decades of international climate efforts are we now finally on the right road? The apparent key to success is simply not to get distracted by any other road. Doesn’t this make you wonder, what other road is out there?
Blindspotting – to discover another road
Relentlessly rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and fast vanishing Arctic ice should be enough incentive to seek another road. Yet while the problems grow, the imaginative space for solutions seems to shrink. Political leaders offer denial and scapegoats rather than meaningful solutions. Austerity makes vital investments seem unaffordable. Beyond the current debate and beyond established solutions there’s a huge blindspot, where fresh possibilities for change can be found – by blindspotting.
Blindspotting starts with a simple thought experiment to nudge ourselves beyond familiar habits of problem-solving. Are intractable problems such as climate change too tough to solve? Are the obstacles and vested interests too large and entrenched? Or is the imaginative space where solutions get discussed just too small and entrenched? When we consider the third answer we’re blindspotting. Now it’s possible to discuss, map and reinvent climate solutions on a new scale of ambition.
Blinsdpotting can be initially uncomfortable. What do we talk about if instead of rehashing established solutions, we’re trying to look beyond them? How do we keep going if we no longer rely upon the hope that existing examples of progress will surely lead to the long-awaited global transformation? We can instead be more hopeful, that by stepping off the old road we can move freely across a far bigger imaginative space. We can find ways to do quickly what has previously been done slowly or not at all.
First make biochar – then talk about climate
Where to start with the new policy, infrastructure and lifestyles urgently needed to switch humanity from wrecking to restabilizing the climate? Discussions about policy and practice, even among experts, routinely become lost in the scale and complexity of this switch. Ironically, the best start may be not talking but doing. Anyone can make quickly and easily make biochar, which is biodegradable biomass transformed into non-biodegradable charcoal. (See our award-winning work to opensource biochar-making.)
A handful of biochar also transforms the elusive goal of carbon carbon capture and storage into an immediate reality. The vision of a carbon positive civilisation, with less than zero emissions, starts to feel tangible. When your biochar goes into compost and then into soil you also get the reality of regenerative agriculture, where the soil structure, fertility, ecology and productiveness all improve – with no need for synthetic fertilisers or pesticides.
Climate Rescue – another road for the climate
Sooner or later the stock of accumulated global problems, including atmospheric carbon concentrations, reaches a scientifically unpredictable tipping point where the unavoidable impacts exceed the possibilities for resilience and recovery. Before that point we have the opportunity to implement the other type of tipping, to reverse global problems and regenerate the systems we all depend upon. What could be done to make this happen?
Established climate strategy contains initiatives to reduce emissions (mitigation) and initiatives to reduce harm from the impacts (adaptation). By blindspotting we can look at what’s missing from this strategy. By making biochar we can imagine the goal of reversing climate change, not just trying to reduce it. I call this additional strategy ‘climate rescue’; it means acting to quickly reduce greenhouse gas concentrations not just emissions.
Whole system change – another road for climate and global problems
As climate chaos and all the interlinked global problems worsen, our psychology leads us to reinforce, rather than to challenge, established solutions. Complex intractable problems feel more manageable when we focus on the parts that we know best, on selected sub-systems. More investment in renewables, less in fossil fuels. More tree planting, less deforestation. More practical action within the selected sub-systems where we live and work. This is the established road.
The progress that the established road allows within sub-systems, such as new investment in renewables and new trees planted, supports hope that all the practical action will eventually reach a regenerative tipping point if only enough people join in. This road is broad enough to carry anyone wanting to do anything to help solve any issue. It has carried millions of activist, academic and government initiatives for decades and remains open to everyone willing to keep their eyes on the road.
Blindspotting allows us to imagine, design and use another road. It allows us to see that the outcomes from sub-systems, such as whether carbon levels in the air rise or fall, depend on the global whole system. Outcomes are led by billions of individual decisions which are not spontaneous nor significantly led by any climate or sustainability initiatives. They are led by a small number of whole system decisions, that determine how the whole system is set up and how it runs.
Decisions about how the whole system runs are the largest available levers to switch from causing to resolving global problems such as climate change. I call them planet levers. They’re not just technical decisions about specific sub-systems but choices to correct specific whole system errors. For example the technical error of dependence on fossil fuels is led by the systemic error of markets run without responsibility for the risk of products (such as fossil fuels) becoming wastes in ecosystems (such as the atmosphere).
Why go to all the effort of switching the whole Earth system to a new default state if, like almost everyone, your main focus is on a sub-system such as the issues where you work or the place where you live? Why not just plan more initiatives and practical actions? Actions in sub-systems can be admirably helpful but they’re just doing what would happen anyway if the whole system was switched. Planet levers can make this switch, so that action accelerates to match the scale and urgency of the problems.