Scott Sullivan: Okay, so this work start­ed for me back in 2017 when I read the arti­cle The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. Has any­body read this? Shortly after he came out with a book of the same title. Reading this book has been described as an act of emo­tion­al vio­lence. So if you’re into not sleep­ing at night, I high­ly rec­om­mend it. 

So basi­cal­ly the author, he read a lot of stud­ies, and he’s a jour­nal­ist, and he basi­cal­ly found out that the media was dras­ti­cal­ly under-reporting the sever­i­ty and speed of the cli­mate cri­sis. So he wrote this book, and and real­ly one of the big take­aways for me was that the cli­mate is going to be the dom­i­nant lens of soci­ety going for­ward, right. It’s going to affect big, large-scale geopo­lit­i­cal deci­sions kind of all the way down to the per­son­al lev­el. To where we work, what we eat, where we live. 

So basi­cal­ly, I read this book, I read a bunch of oth­er books. I’m shit­ting my pants. And I have to fig­ure out what to do. I have to fig­ure out some­thing to do. A lot of peo­ple are moti­vat­ed by more pos­i­tive things, and utopi­an kind of things. I am appar­ent­ly moti­vat­ed by ter­ror. It works. 

So I start­ed off kin­da weird. I start­ed mak­ing weird videos for my then-unborn daugh­ter. Making videos of gro­cery stores because I think that gro­cery stores are going to look very dif­fer­ent and I want­ed to show or what they used to be like before she was born. As was pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned, I start­ed grow­ing a cou­ple hun­dred trees and threw up solar pan­els on the top of my house. And just kind of scat­ter­ing things around and try­ing to fig­ure out what to do. 

And you know, ulti­mate­ly I kin­da had some of my local bases cov­ered. Like imme­di­ate com­mu­ni­ty. I start­ed flood­ing all my friends with trees for them to plant. But I need­ed to fig­ure out what I could do as a design­er in the future. Like as a human-centered design­er what is my role, what is our role, in this kind of big­ger pic­ture? If this is the dom­i­nant lens of soci­ety, what’s our contribution? 

So look­ing around, a lot of the design­er things that are around the cli­mate or you know, eco­log­i­cal things, are all plastic-based. And that makes sense. Plastic is kin­da easy to wrap your head around. You cut open a bird, it’s full of plas­tic, and then you look down at your hand, and it also has plas­tic, and it’s easy to kind of make that 1:1 con­nec­tion with like the kind of cause and effect of that behavior. 

But ulti­mate­ly I kin­da see this stuff as you know, not all that use­ful to the big pic­ture which is this, right: 

So this is our big tar­get vari­able. 411.85, the num­ber of parts per mil­lion of car­bon diox­ide in our atmos­phere. And this is much more dif­fi­cult to real­ly wrap your head around. I mean there’s not even units, right. It’s just a ratio. It’s .00004 of our atmos­phere and some­how that gives us the ter­ror in Australia and you know, half of Bangladesh flood­ed out. A mil­lion refugees out of Syria. And California on fire, Venice flooded. 

And that’s at 1.1 degrees. So, this is a big­ger prob­lem, right. Figuring out what to do and fig­ur­ing out how to kind of like, explain this to me and every­one else in a rea­son­able way.

So Dan Ariely, a behav­ioral econ­o­mist, he describes the cli­mate cri­sis as basi­cal­ly the per­fect storm of human apa­thy, for three big rea­sons. So one is that it’s gen­er­al­ly seen as long-term and in the future, at least when he made this state­ment it was seen as more long-term and in the future. Generally when we don’t see things hap­pen­ing as a direct effect of what we’re doing, it’s hard­er to care. But the biggest thing is that any­thing we do is going to be more or less a drop in the buck­et for this spe­cif­ic cause. So there’s noth­ing that I as an indi­vid­ual or you as an indi­vid­ual are ever going to do where you are going to see the mate­r­i­al out­put of that reflect­ed in the world. It’s not gonna hap­pen. This is a mas­sive, huge, col­lec­tive problem. 

A wide landscape with pipes zig-zagging across the terrain leading toward a large factory-style building billowing large clouds of white vapor

So. Once again, as design­ers how do we tack­le this? We look around, and most of the solu­tions in this space are large-scale. They’re engi­neer­ing things. This is an amaz­ing project. This is CarbFix by Reykjavik Energy. We see a lot of kind of renew­able ener­gy kind of things; smart grid. Cool agri­cul­tur­al projects. These are kin­da big, and they’re very engineering-focused. And ulti­mate­ly, we look at the size of the prob­lem. The speed of this work is going to be too lit­tle too late to scale by the time we need to scale it up. 

So luck­i­ly, the oth­er 80% of the solu­tion is some­thing we can affect. And basi­cal­ly what needs to hap­pen is a mas­sive reduc­tion of con­sump­tion, and that’s going to require behav­ioral change. So that’s kind of where I land­ed in terms of how design is going to con­tribute to this. 

And that is aus­ter­i­ty as a ser­vice. So, basi­cal­ly in my work in the past as a humans-centered design­er, behav­ioral change is pret­ty much the most mean­ing­ful work that I have done. So, I did a lot of work in the wear­ables indus­try. So help­ing to enable peo­ple to meet their own per­son­al goals in terms of health. Did a lot of work with Capital One in behav­ior change, help­ing peo­ple work towards their finan­cial goals. 

So, I’m going to walk through this idea of what this might look like. And I’m going to use a lot of exam­ples around reduc­tion of home ener­gy but real­ly this applies to any­thing. Like, per­son­al use in home is kind of one of the more… Energy in the home is a more obvi­ous exam­ple of this. But it applies to retail, food, any kind of finan­cial ser­vices. There’s going to be some lev­el of reduc­tion and this is going to be reflect­ed across all aspects of our society. 

UN Emissions Gap Report 2019

By 2030, emis­sions would need to be 25 per­cent and 55 per­cent low­er than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost path­way to lim­it­ing glob­al warm­ing to below 2°C and 1.5°C respectively.

North America = 80%
UN Emissions Gap Report 2019 [pre­sen­ta­tion slide]

So how much do we need to lose? We talked before about what our tar­gets for 20302030’s a big year. Basically, to stay at 1.5 degrees—which is not going to hap­pen. 2 is prob­a­bly not going to hap­pen but let’s just say this is our goal. We need to get 55% low­er. And if we lived in an equi­table soci­ety, which we should, me—my part of the world, North America needs to lose about 80%. Because it’s 55% across the board and we pro­duce far more than average. 

So how do we do that? So let’s say we’ve got ten years to do this. We want to help peo­ple reduce 10% every year for X num­ber of years. 

Step one is run­way. This is real­ly the most impor­tant part of this. It’s for mul­ti­ple rea­sons, right. So we’re giv­ing them a year, if pos­si­ble, before for­mal­ly enforc­ing kind of any restric­tions on con­sump­tion. And this is good for a cou­ple rea­sons. The first of which is that we’re not impos­ing it on peo­ple right away. We’re actu­al­ly impos­ing this restric­tion on a kind of dis­em­bod­ied future self that they can kind of dis­con­nect from and put that off for a lit­tle bit, which is good, right. So our chances of accep­tance in gen­er­al are much bet­ter in that case. 

But more impor­tant­ly than that, it gives us as design­ers this onboard­ing peri­od. It gives us a cer­tain amount of time— And most of the most impor­tant work that we’re going to be doing here in this whole like, thread of work, is going to be in this run­way. And what that looks like is gonna be a lot of expe­ri­en­tial learning. 

Abstract information becomes more accessible in your personal context.

So, there’s a lot of abstract infor­ma­tion, espe­cial­ly with behav­ior change. So a good exam­ple of this is with Fitbit and the first kind of pedome­ters. If you remem­ber when they came out, the goal was 10,000 steps. And if you would’ve asked me the day before I got my first Fitbit 1, if you would’ve told me, You take three thou­sand steps a day,” I would’ve believed you. If you would’ve told me I took fif­teen thou­sand steps a day, I would’ve believe you because I have no idea, right. These are big num­bers. I know what five steps looks like and feels like, but I have no idea what ten thou­sand feels like. 

And that was the first big break­through of these wear­able devices. So, what we did was we were able to kind of con­tex­tu­al­ize our own behav­ior so the first day that you got that Fitbit, you just kind of went about your dai­ly life. You’re like okay, so I took 7,000 steps. So you know what 7,000 feels like. You know what your day was like when you took 7,000 steps, and if you want to work towards a goal you’re gonna have to take that day and do a lit­tle bit more. You’re going to have to mean­der on your way to work, take a lit­tle walk on your lunch break. Get it up a lit­tle bit. And over time…as quick­ly as a week or two, once you kind of change those habits and change your behav­ior, right—we’re chang­ing behavior—you don’t even need to mea­sure it any­more because you know what the day is like and you just live that day. The device becomes almost meaningless. 

So, that’s what we real­ly need to focus on here. When we’re ask­ing peo­ple to make changes in their behav­ior and habits, we need to first con­tex­tu­al­ized with their exist­ing behavior. 

So gen­er­al­ly, there’s this kind of cause/effect cycle. So there’s going to be a peri­od of mea­sured behav­ior. Then we give them feed­back. We allow them to say, Okay, so here’s this abstract num­ber. You just lived this peri­od of time. And this is what you did dur­ing this peri­od of time.” They make an adjust­ment in behav­ior. Then we mea­sure that adjust­ed behav­ior. And then we give them feed­back on that adjust­ment cycle. So you made this change, and this is the result of that change. And gen­er­al­ly you know, in a year we might get three or four good cycles where peo­ple can start to build that under­stand­ing of the cause and effect rela­tion­ship between their behav­ior and the con­se­quences of that behav­ior in some kind of met­ric that we choose. 

Proactive intervention and increased access to tools and methods to meet goals.

And the third big part is this the inter­ven­tion and acces­si­ble action. So, dur­ing that time peri­od when we’re ask­ing them to mod­i­fy their behav­ior, we’re going to present them with options. Different alter­na­tives to what they’re doing right now. A lot of it is going to be like—so for the elec­tric­i­ty and hous­ing ener­gy con­sump­tion, it’s going to be sub­si­diz­ing high-performance insu­la­tion. In the food area it might be build­ing com­mu­ni­ty gar­dens. Or you know, mak­ing out-of-season pro­duce require far more stamps to pur­chase than in-sea­son pro­duce which might require zero stamps. Kinda stuff like that. 

Beyond that, the big thing is these kind of…these inter­ven­tions, okay. So these gen­er­al­ly hap­pen in two dif­fer­ent ways and it real­ly depends on the kind of lev­el of fideli­ty of the data that you have avail­able to you. So, if you’re get­ting real-time data, you can have threshold-based inter­ven­tions. And these are by far the most use­ful, I would say. And what I mean is that you’re con­sum­ing X amount of any­thing… This is some­thing that was real­ly big in bank­ing. So you know, we had real-time infor­ma­tion on what peo­ple were spend­ing because they were spend­ing it via us, right, Capital One. And we were able to kind of craft these inter­ven­tion say­ing, Hey look, you have this finan­cial goal. You crossed this thresh­old in spend­ing. So like, you can do what­ev­er you want, but we just want to let you know that you want to buy a house in five years…you’re going to have to tone it back a lit­tle bit.” That’s it. 

Other than that, if we don’t have that lev­el of infor­ma­tion, which is prob­a­bly going to be like­ly at least for the hous­ing stuff, it’s going to have to be kind of planned inter­vals like say­ing, Hey. Just a reminder. What’s up. You need to be a lit­tle cau­tious with your use of elec­tric­i­ty this month.” 

So, this is some­thing that feels weird, I guess, for all of us kind of design­ing back­wards from what we were doing before. And it also…I don’t think is going to be some­thing that we’re going to do with a con­sumer lens, right. I think this is going to be at a gov­ern­ment lev­el. It’s going to be kind of enforced from the top down. There’s us, all of us bleed­ing hearts in this room that would prob­a­bly do a lot of this at least some of it vol­un­tar­i­ly. But we’re not going to get down 80%. And there’s also the xeno­pho­bic 30% of soci­ety with Fuck Greta” bumper stick­ers that are def­i­nite­ly not going to do it vol­un­tar­i­ly. So there needs to be a sys­tem in place, like a much high­er pow­er who’s actu­al­ly kind of enforc­ing these things. 

And this is kin­da dark, right, this is a dark time­line. It’s not fun. It’s not fun for any­body. But these reduc­tions, it’s very impor­tant to kind of keep in mind that this reduc­tion of con­sump­tion is going to hap­pen one way or anoth­er. So it’s either going to hap­pen when we do it vol­un­tar­i­ly and it’s designed and we do it in a way that allows peo­ple to have some lev­el of dig­ni­ty. Or it’s going to hap­pen when the… When there’s a col­lapse. When the infra­struc­ture that allows us to con­sume at the lev­el that we’re cur­rent­ly con­sum­ing no longer exists. And that’s it. Thank you very much.

Further Reference

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