DO think of an elephant: How to move ALL of us toward climate and energy solutions (Day 1 reflections at BECC)

May I offer a suggestion?

Yesterday, I attended a series of incredibly thoughtful and valuable presentations here at BECC.  To start, Andrew Hoffman from the University of Michigan, and a public intellectual (by way of the NYTimes article in 2010 on cultural barriers to action on climate change) spoke about how to understand and address the climate change issue in the United States as a cultural issue.  His sociological perspective offered concrete and research proven insights into how the general public reacts to climate change science.

Hoffman talked about the worldviews that each of us hold and how the issue of climate change either jives with or threatens that world view.  Climate change and the proposed necessary solutions are framed as needing greater government oversight, distrusting the market, and overestimating risk.  What Hoffman proposed is that these solutions are difficult for conservatives to accept, and therefore accepting the problem and this assumed solution creates impossible contradictions culturally, emotionally, and intellectually.  His solution is that we move beyond the data and model and use broker frames or alternative viewpoints and overlapping interests to engage people.  It means using appropriate language, not politicized language; and it means using the right messengers.

Our lesson in how to talk about climate issues continued with a Spotlight panel on Conservative Thinking on Energy and Climate Change.  Moderated by Stanford University professor Jim Sweeney, the Spotlight included presentations by Drexel Kleber on conservative values that allow conservatives to really own the energy issue; Connie Roser-Renouf from George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication on survey and polling data on attitudes and perceptions of conservatives; and Alex Bozmoski from the Energy and Enterprise Initiative on ways to engage today’s evolving Republican party.

Ah-hem. I have something to say, here.

The larger lessons I drew from these presentations on engaging the “elephant in the room” (pun very much intended), is that instead of indirect engagement, we must engage directly with those that have not been included in the solution-making for our climate change.  Imagine: If someone proposed a solution to a problem that flew in the face of everything you held dear and worked for, and everyone else started applauding.  If one had time and resources, one could come up with a counter solution.  But left with only a reaction without the opportunity to dialogue, we, in the public, are more apt to interpret the response as a sweeping denial of the problem or its importance.  As more of the general public comes to question the forces behind our droughts, disasters, and fluctuating temperatures, we need to let them play a role in framing the discussion.

One of the common themes throughout yesterday’s talks was about community.  Community is the common value among both sides of the aisle and beyond.  Yesterday’s proposals stressed the importance of community-based, community-led solutions that focused not on stopping global climate change, but focused on resilient and strong communities.

We can dance if we want to.

Now, I always knew that the CERTs (MN Clean Energy Resource Teams) model was special and unique, but yesterday brought it home even further.  The community-based and -focused approach by CERTs is precisely what engages our communities as a whole to act in accordance with our collective values.  I spoke with Drexel afterwards and described some of this work, and I told him…but it takes a long time.  It’s taken years and years.  His response was that it does seem like a long time, but he also said that it’s very short in the grand scheme of things.

What I enjoy about BECC is that it’s a convening where the technical, the community-based, the sociological, and the psychological approaches all get to sit together.  It’s about getting in the same room, Drexel (or Alex) said, and that we needed more opportunities like this one.  For many BECCers, the Conservative Thinking panel was eye-opening and really mind-altering.  I began to see the deep commonalities that lie hidden beneath today’s perception of a deep divide.

And maybe that’s the bigger work and movement of BECC.  It’s, in some ways, an unconventional convening.  (People are usually impressed with how fun it is…)  It’s really about bringing new folks and fields to the table, new perspectives and ideas.  It’s about building a better future by having more people at the table.

[Note: This is my personal blog and reflects only my personal views.]

On my way to the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference (BECC)

The DC Metro area seems its best sometimes on very early Sunday mornings.  I’m on my way to Sacramento, California for the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change (BECC) Conference.  BECC is the premier gathering of practitioners, researchers, and experts in sustainable and energy-efficient behavior change.   

Behavior change is the cornerstone of sustainability, opened Doug McKenzie-Mohr at a 2010 workshop that I attended.  Since, my work and my research has focused on those hard questions of how do we get ourselves and others to do things differently…to save energy, to reduce carbon emissions, to conserve our resources, to live sustainably?

No matter how efficient the light bulb, you still need to convince people that it’s worth investing in, they need to take the time to get to the hardware store, then choose the correct bulb when facing the wall ‘o light bulbs, take it home, install it and turn it on and (more importantly) turn it off.

Changes in transportation require a critical mass of people making a different choice, in where they live, where they shop, how they get to work, how their work accommodates different transit, and how their family transit needs can be accommodated.

BECC will be exploring what over 600 others in the US and around the world are trying, testing, researching, and finding to make the changes we all want to see easier to make.  BECC attendees start with a premise that people do want to change, that they do care about the environment, their families, their health, and their future.  But it’s just not always easy to act in accordance with those values.

I look forward to hearing about advances in gamification, learn about the latest in home energy feedback reports, look for partners in the world of thermostats, and explore the cross-disciplinary lessons in behavior change from the health field.  To learn more about the conference, check it out here:

I’ll try to keep my blog up-to-date with conference goings-on and hope that I can bring a little BECC to you!

[Note: This is my personal blog and reflects only my personal views.)

BECC Wrap-up: Pack it up and Bring it home

The last couple days at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference have sparked discussion, thinking, questions, and inspiration. I have met and connected with so many smart and motivated individuals — behavior change requires so much thought and creativity. And the people I have met are curious, risk-takers, and driven to find what works (and what doesn’t, in the process). 

Read on for my favorite case studies and takeaways from the week! Continue reading

BECC Day 2: “Can I sit here?” Best networking ever + Keynote take-aways

Just wanted to share this interesting experience I’m having here at BECC.  There’s a lot of people here, over 650, and from all over the nation and world.  So, what are the chances that I unknowingly sit next to four people I know fairly well on my first night?  And two more today?

Apparently very high.  And don’t worry, I’m also meeting many new other people–program designers, social marketing consultants, computer programmers gone energy-geek, and even today’s keynote speaker David Gershon, Founder & CEO, Empowerment Institute and inventor(?) of the EcoTeams concept.

I had a special opportunity over lunch to end up sitting next to Mr. Gershon, where we shared more about each other’s work and he quizzed me (yes) on my take-aways from his keynote.   Continue reading

BECC Day One: Game on! A lesson in gamification

Hello from Washington, DC!  I am at the end of my first evening at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference.  I think I’ve died and gone to heaven–there are so many incredible people here, with so much experience, and who truly understand the task of changing culture and behavior to meet important environmental and community outcomes.

In the opening evening of the conference, early-arrivals gathered for a social desserts-only networking event.  I’ve already run into several individuals I only hoped to meet and have time to chat with here, and had a wonderful discussion with Cool Choices (see previous post) and a programmer from University of Hawaii about “gamification” for energy savings.

For our networking activities, we played different games, including “two truths and a lie” and even Charades.  As Kathy Kundt from Cool Choices pointed out in her opening talk, games are fun.  “Fun” isn’t necessarily how we’ve branded energy efficiency.  But games can bring that element to the work we value. Continue reading