Outrage has been one of humanity’s key evolutionary strategies as we must have social structures in order to survive.
People who behave in anti-social ways must be called out and corrected in some way or they would pose a threat to the whole.
When we perceive something being unfair or wrong and against our code of social conduct, then we, as a group (it is a group behaviour) call-out, shame, and express our outrage at the perpetrator. This shared outrage is the necessary vehicle for carrying out ostracisms and punishments that again, keep the group together. Think about it, we probably individually have too much empathy to be able to convict and sentence and imprison someone for 15 years for possession of a stolen TV. Could any of us individually carryout the socially mandated punishment to cut off the hand of a person who stole bread… but as an outraged group, yes we can carry out some pretty horrific punishments.
Researchers have found that when we get together as a group and express outrage at some injustice, we get a big hit of satisfaction and reward as a physiological response. (Facebook has surely read this research). And this same hormonal and brain chemistry surge of righteous outrage that fuels “action” also makes it harder to remember. Yeah, best not to remember in detail.
Outrage has been developed as a way to enable most of us to overcome our aversion to inflicting pain and suffering on each other, so that we can impose a social integration system on individuals who step out of line. But of course it can also be weaponized and used to commit atrocities.
Outrage in this context is effective because the “action” that an enraged mob will take is already known by them, they just need to get whipped up into a frenzy to do it – e.g. detaining the perpetrator (taking away their freedom) taking away their property, causing them physical harm. This is why it has always been important in any culture that the punishments for crimes are well known to all.
In today’s click-bait world, outrage at injustices can build up into cyber mobs within the span of a few hours. Outrage combined with fear for our own lives and wellbeing does not have any known remedial action other than protesting.
And so here we are with the ever more outraged group responses to run-away global warming: 350.org, Student Strike4Climate, Extinction Rebellion. They are right about the injustice and danger. They have new powerful avenues for forming a group and fuelling the outrage and getting into that state of feeling great satisfaction and reward by “taking action”. But the only action that is available at this time is to protest.
They are right about the bad behaviour of people not in their protest group, they are behaving instinctually, and they are taking action according to social norms. AND they derive satisfaction and feelings of reward for doing it. You don’t want to be a person who points out to them that “just” protesting has a low probability of affecting change. They will not appreciate your analysis.
We have a wicked problem here. Protesting has worked over the past 100 years. Protesting, particularly by youth was instrumental in achieving suffrage, ending apartheid, stopping destruction of historical landmarks and wilderness, gaining marriage rights for all. Protesting is an essential activity for free societies. But, it is not sustainable to maintain enough pressure for change, and it does not seem to target those who could change the unsustainable activities. Protesting fulfils the need for correct reaction to injustice. However, if there is not a direct remedy to protest for, or a particular action to protest against, then protesting causes harm. Media coverage of protests hammers the wedge further into the social divide between liberal and conservative entrenched positions. Organizing protests as “the action” must change. But it cannot change because the people carrying out the protests are doing it for the right reasons and are being reinforced with the social palliative of outrage reward.
Transition Engineer That!
This wicked problem of Climate Protesting is different from others we have worked on. Maybe it will be a good test of our 7-Step InTIME analysis.
100 years ago
100 years ago there were a lot of outraged people protesting for safe work conditions, suffrage and political change. All of these protests were for progress that we now recognize as essential. Thus we can conclude that the protests play some important part in social change, and the evidence continues through the 20th Century that protests are part of change.
There are numerous media reports that the 20 September climate change protests, called the Climate Strikes, were the largest global protest of all time, with an estimated 7.6 million participating in 185 countries. According to the Guardian, the message of the protest was “demanding urgent action to tackle global heating” and to “stabilize the climate”. The strike’s inspiration, Greta Thunberg stated that “we will make them hear us”, and “we will make the world leaders act”.
Global CO2 emissions were the highest ever recorded in 2018, and show no indication of declining in 2019. Countries have committed to the COP21 agreement to limit global warming to less than 1.5oC.
More than half of top fortune 500 companies have sustainability programs and have set targets for emissions reduction. Numerous cities and some countries have set emissions targets and some have declared they will be net carbon zero by some time in the future.
The business as usual scenario would produce run-away global warming, with CO2 concentration over 550ppm. This business as usual includes climate change protests, even with bigger crowds and better placards and more superglue. The technology wedges relevant to protesting would be social media and cell phones. More effective local organization and more images of more inventive protests, and continued media coverage could mean the numbers of protesters and their creativity could increase. But if the correlation between protest numbers and emissions does not change, then the technology and efficiency of organization and increased protesting behaviour will not help.
The forward operating environment for meeting the COP21 limits is easy to determine. With a spread sheet, we can find the emissions decline rate to smoothly progress from 35 Gt-CO2 to zero by 2050 = 10% per year.
It’s 2120, the great emissions retreat was successful, most of the durable elements of 2019 are still being used in surprising ways, and things are pretty different. What has not changed is that people still get together and protest to demonstrate their outrage about unjust, unacceptable activities of companies or governments. One thing they really get upset about is violations of the prime directive of sustainable balance between extraction and regeneration. It is unthinkable, for example. that any fishing vessel would use drift nets or bottom trawlers, and in fact they don’t exist because they have been banned by the international engineering standards. Gluttony and avarice are considered to be vices.
What do they have in 2120 that we don’t have?
They know what is unsustainable and they don’t design unsustainable systems, and they don’t accept unsustainable activities. They still use protests, but protests are targeted at specific actions by specific organizations or individuals. The protests are laser focused on enforcing the standards and norms of sustainable balance. They are able to do this because the social norms and rules prohibit unsustainable exploitation and place limits on extraction, production, and service enterprises. Achieving sustainable balance is designed into technologies and monitoring systems, so it is clear when the balance rules are being violated.
More protests probably won’t trigger something new about protests. Even bigger protests probably won’t generate a new idea about what to demand that is more specific than “urgent action”. The trigger has to be something unexpected, but exactly right. What if the protesters focused their demand for action on The BigDO?
The BigDO is the most disruptive shift project ever developed by Transition Engineers. The BigDO is a planned production retreat by all major oil companies of 10% per year, and management of the oil price and distribution by the IEA, OECD and the UNFCCC. The price would be fixed and stable over a 12 month period until the next 10% decline and new increased price are brought into effect. The oil companies would have a regulated, but secure profit margin. The shift project involves working with the oil companies, IEA, OECD and UNFCCC to design the oil production retreat and set up the monitoring, modelling and management systems. The BigDO Shift would be accomplished by a “moon-shot” type of effort of the brightest and best young modellers, analysts and transition engineers. Then, the protest leaders could organize protests if the oil companies deviated from The BigDO.
As soon as The BigDO oil production retreat was announced for forward years, then there would be a boom of activity to re-design, re-develop, re-use and regenerate the oil era infrastructure, economic models and systems. Everything would transition along with the oil supply. The transition would decrease CO2 emissions by at least 10% per year, but the shift might be faster because people would make big decisions about change anticipating that within the lifetime of durable goods, the transition to low energy will be well underway. New businesses, new policies, new local networks and monetary systems would develop, while essential trade and communications would be identified and planned for.
We still need a way to initiate the moon-shot of The BigDO, but it would work, and Transition Engineers would have to do it, with the backing and enforcement of the protesters.