Debate: What Will It Take to Make You Change?

Yesterday, Our World 2.0 ran a story on the launch of the 10:10 campaign in the United Kingdom to encourage individuals and businesses to reduce greenhouse emissions by 10% by the year 2010.  10:10 and campaigns like it around the globe ask us all to change our high carbon emitting behaviours to save the planet.

But will environmental campaigns about rising temperatures alone encourage you to reduce your emissions? Or will it take something more drastic like higher petrol prices for you to consider improving your transport options?  Or worse still, will you wait until it’s all too late to get on your bike?

For our second instalment of Debate 2.0, we ask the simple question:

“What will it take to make you change?”

We would also like to hear what events, experiences, knowledge or people have motivated you in the past, or will motivate you in the future, to change your behaviour to be more environmentally sustainable, with a smaller carbon footprint.

Tell us whether you stopped eating meat after visiting an abattoir, switched to new fair trade types of jewellery after watching the Hollywood movie Blood Diamond or whether you started shrinking your ecological footprint after seeing An Inconvenient Truth.

Let the climate challenge begin!

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Debate 2.0: What Will It Take to Make You Change? by Mark Notaras is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.



Mark Notaras was a writer/editor of Our World 2.0 for the United Nations University (UNU) Media Centre from 2009–2012. He is a former researcher in Peace and Security for the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP). He holds a Masters in International Affairs (Peace and Conflict Studies) from the Australian National University and the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) and in 2013 completed a Rotary Peace Fellowship at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Currently Mark works in Timor-Leste advising local NGOs on community agriculture and conflict prevention projects.

Join the Discussion

  • BrendanBarrett

    Perhaps the biggest challenge is recognizing that you need to change. It may be all to easy to conclude that I am no different to anyone else so why me? Why should I make changes in my life.

    One helpful indicator is to calculate your carbon footprint and then think about whether you ought to or can make some changes.

    Last year, I was facilitating a course on climate change when we asked all the students to calculate their carbon footprints. The results were really interesting especially because we had students from all over Asia and the Pacific – Thais, Indians, Indonesians, Japanese and Americans. I think the students were shocked to see the differences!

    But I was most shocked because my footprint was the biggest. My job requires a lot of international air travel. However, after that experience, I decided to seriously reduce the travel. So now, when a request comes in for a trip, I ask if they have video conferencing. So far, this year, I have only taken one trip, with only one other planned. Ok, it is not perfect, but it is a big improvement.

  • Guest

    While I worked as a graphic designer, I saw how easily photographs can be manipulated. I began to be aware of how advertising consisted of manipulated images designed to manipulate my self-image. Consequently, I stopped watching TV, listening to commercial radio, and reading most newspapers. I realized that all of these media sources are primarily distribution channels for advertising and, secondarily, distributors of information and entertainment. My urge to consume dropped enormously. Free from the drum-beat of “More. MORE.”, I began to look for what is “Enough” and “Necessary”.
    Now, I understand that so much of our “civilization” is motivated by an artificial, unfulfillable desire for “More.” The cost of this lifestyle is destruction of ecosystems and the suffering of societies on my side of the planet and on other continents.
    Now, my life activity generates far less carbon pollution and waste than it used to. I used to drive several hundred miles in a month, but now I go for months without stepping into an automobile! When I see people driving their luxury cars and trying to be as happy as the paid, digitally-altered actors in a TV commercial, I see them more as victims than perpetrators of eco-cide.

  • svenab

    I am amazed that you have managed to reduce your travelling. Good! I also travel somewaht less, and have lost my gold card rating at KLM. I must admit though, that I still probably do 3-4 intercontinental trips per year. My daughter’s wedding in Kenya was difficult to participate in virtually. It is also not really possible to have a two weeks seminar with our students from five countries without meeting face-to-face.

  • ducodelgorge

    Hi Brendan
    Great question. Indeed, maybe the ultimate one since, unless we can get a significant proportion of the nearly 6.8 billion people on Earth to change, only 1 billion will be left to discuss this issue by the end of this century, according to James Lovelock. It is taking me longer to change than I would like. The things I believe will be required to change the world are the same things that are helping me to change: Education (specifically, studying all the facts about development and sustainability), Inspiration, Responsibility, Determination, Challenge, Collaboration, Love, and creating a new environmental-socio-economic model that can effectively help us to reach our dream double goal of sustainability and social responsibility. For those interested, please join a presentation on this at the next Green Mondays presentation and gathering on Sep 28th and visit The Unlimited Dream Company ning Hope to see you again soon Brendan.

  • Globalciti

    Sometimes I think it takes a dramatic event to shake things up and to make people wake up. In my case, the events of 9-11 and resulting wars set me on a path to really question the world I was living in and the one I wanted to create/leave behind.
    I was initially more focused on issues related to peace and conflict, but as I dug deeper I saw that environmental issues are intrinsically linked to the overall well-being of the planet.
    I know that 9-11 had that affect on many other people. Unfortunately, I think if we wait for another event like that and more specifically an environmental catastrophe it may be too late. So people in the business of creating dialogue, media, education must continue to do the work they can in creating awareness. Every little bit counts!

  • BrendanBarrett

    Thanks to Aake and Duco for the feedback. Also to Blue-eyed Monkey and Globalciti for great comments. I sometimes wonder if people are waiting for “irrefutable proof” before they act. Friends often say to me that there is so much uncertainty around issues like climate change, the models are not 100% reliable, and who can we believe? So they want concrete evidence.
    At the same time, now over 50% of us are living in cities and quite frankly totally out of touch with what is going on in the natural world. For the just less than 50% living outside of cities, they don’t really have a voice in the big media. So we are perfectly insulated and the possibility of discovering that irrefutable proof fades into the distance. And it is likely that the proof eventually could come in the form of the crisis or catastrophe that Globalciti mentions.
    But there are many people who are already changing the way they live and I am wondering what is the spark or the event that brought about that change. What was the point of realization? How deep do the changes go?

  • Thanks for all the thought-provoking comments so far. I believe everyone has made some changes in their life which we can all learn from, whether in relation to their lifestyle and consumption, their relationships or their own personal development. The change processes or value systems applied in any of these areas relate to how we improve our ecological footprints.

    For example, we often hear people say “why should I be nice to him/her, when she/he isn’t nice to me?”. It’s a vicious cycle where people might find it more dignifying not to be nice, because this can be seen as ‘giving in’.

    It’s the same with environmental consciousness where I, ‘just one person’, choose not to do something positive, because others are not doing it. The schoolyard-like “Why should I?” attitude represents the Tragedy of the Commons – and we all know what happens there. Once we can move beyond that resentment barrier that compares what we do with others, we can then focus on encouraging others to make the changes we have made, and furthermore use that positive energy to make more changes in our own lives.

    Finally, if I am ever stuck in a conversation on these issues with people ignorant about the state of the planet, it’s always handy to quote that if every citizen in the world lived like the average American, Australian, etc, we would required 5.3 or 5.5 planets’ (approximately). And then ask them if they still think all men/women are created equal and have the right to live the same standard of living that they do?

  • Sorry to join in so late on this important topic. First I’d just like to admit that I’m a slightly addicted to personal change when it comes to environmentalism. Since I began recycling about 20 years ago (pulling my shopping cart full of newspapers & tin cans to the neighbourhood depot in the days before curbside existed), I’ve continued to pretty much obsess about how to reduce my own impact on the Earth.

    I don’t know how I got this way, sorry Brendan! Perhaps it was just an innate love of nature, empathy for all the creatures on the planet, I don’t know, but I don’t think there was a defining moment. Perhaps it was also logic/intuition (I’m a super-common-sensical person) that told me such waste and destruction would eventually bite us in the behind.

    Anyway, as time goes on, and the urgency and variety (eg., peak oil, water crisis) of problems increases, I’ve been inspired by great environmentalists and movements like Transition to start chopping the heck out of my already slightly-lighter-than-average footprint. At the same time, I’ve battled frustration and depression about the lack of global action.

    Lately, I’ve come to believe that a very important aspect of the change necessary that is being neglected is the need to couple personal change with actions that provoke wider societal change. I personally was recently enlightened by this article by Derrick Jensen (, in which he argues that our consumer culture has taught us to substitute personal acts for organized political resistance.

    After taking my shorter shower in the morning and while biking to work, I’ve been trying to think of ways to help accomplish the necessary political change. And fast. Ideas, folks?

  • Omar

    Having personally experienced it, I strongly support the homeopathic approach to making people change. Raising awareness is about planting
    seeds in people’s mind and you can never know what will come out of it, even in cases that seem completely hopeless.

    For the longest time, in spite of hearing and occasionally reading about the dangers of climate change, I wasn’t really willing to change my personal behaviour (whether it was laziness or fear I don’t know. Although I now tend to believe it was just self-centeredness).

    I was a supporter “in principle” until I started sharing my life with someone who would constantly remind me of the issue. That (mainly), the accumulation of scientific evidence, a couple of catastrophes (like the one you describe in your videobrief about the Carterets, which yes, to me, is a catastrophe) and recently listening to a presentation by a well-known environmentalist, have combined to push me to finally start changing my life. The challenge is now to keep changing by trying to always consider the environmental impact of my actions. Where are my limits? I have no clue yet, but the seed keeps growing for sure.

  • Jon

    What it took to make me change was a realisation that if i’m not acquisitive by nature, there was not much point in playing the game… no car, no a/c, work from home, no flights, no meat, buy secondhand, repair, reuse. Books and film are my vices.

    And, the realisation that our societies are essentially a game (in which the “winners” die with the most) is what makes me sure that the humanity is *not* going to voluntarily opt to live within it’s means.

    The level of dedication and single minded focus that it takes to even begin to scratch the surface of understanding our problems, indicates to me that any mass movement towards to sustainability is going to be superficial, something akin to fashion. The whole LOHAS boom ( is a perfect example of how easily a trend can be co-opted, and fall into the ever gaping maw of consumerism. The ‘enlightened’ one percent (who says i’m not an optimist!) are going to be dragged into the gorge, kicking and scream, eyes wide open!

    It’s easy to ridicule Lovelock as an alarmist, but it seems to me that he’s one of the only ones brave enough to stand up and say that we, as a species, have reached the point where the parasite is overwhelming the host. After all, we’re just another animal, why wouldn’t the normal rules apply?

  • BrendanBarrett

    Jon, there are many people who agree with Lovelock and do believe that we have overshot the natural systems. This is is what leads many to believe in a possible collapse.

    However, I believe that a big factor that prevents most of us changing (and I confess this plays on my mind) is the notion that the “problems”, a calamity, would not happen in my life time, or better still not in the lifetime of my children. That is why when we see predictions that temperature could increase by 2 degrees or more by 2050, we tend to put off thinking about it. Or just feel relieved and tell ourselves “oh, maybe I can start doing something in 2020.” Or maybe if I just hang on, there will be this amazing breakthrough and all our worries will go away.

    The same applies to peak oil…. most of us prefer the predictions that say oil production will peak in 2030. Somehow that seems far enough away not to have to worry. But that is nonsense. Shouldn’t we be preparing for that kind of change right now?

    But that is why I like campaigns like 2010, they are positive and transformative. They say, “we have a problem and we better start fixing it.”

    This reminds me very much of the Transition movement, which says we are going to have to live in a world with less energy and that produces less carbon (sooner rather than later). So lets get ready. Then they say “we can get there, if we plan it, and actually it would be a better world than this one now.” It is a positive vision, that inspires people to change.

    • Jon

      Brendan, the idea that a big (the biggest?) factor in people changing there lifestyle away from consumerism is some form of wishful thinking sounds like… wishful thinking! In reality people are not thinking about this issue. The media is still trying to keep it’s advertisers happy by presenting a “balanced view”, which tells me we’re a long way from popular acceptance.

      That the majority of the population of any western nation is rationally considering it’s response to climate change is, from what i see, an outlandish suggestion.

      I don’t doubt that the people behind 2010 have good intentions, but when i look at the emissions for a country like Japan, where only 30% is personal consumption related, with the rest being industrial, i don’t see how cutting 10% achieves very much. That sounds really defeatist, but you don’t have to have been following along for very long to realise that optimism isn’t going to have much impact on the reality of the situation.

      If we’ve already done enough to blow through any natural buffers, we don’t need to be messing around looking for 10% improvements, we need to be looking for radical changes (it’s not like we’re short of suggestions – i see Plan B 2.0 as a good start, or coming to terms with our failure as (self-appointed) guardians of the biosphere.

  • morgannemohr

    There are a few things that helped me to change; listening to my very smart and environmentally conscious sister for the past 20 years, an ability to change, a responsible nature, and my love of the earth and the planet.

  • BrendanBarrett

    Jon, I don’t disagree with you about the need for radical changes or that shifts in lifestyles alone are not the answer.

    I guess the main point is how to those radical changes manifest. In this context, I like the work of a guy called David Holmgren. He is a permaculturalist who has written on societal responses to climate change and peak oil. He gives us four scenarios. Take a look at:

    One of them has already been mentioned by people posting in this debate, that is collapse. Another one is a kind of business as usual scenario which he calls techno-explosion – where we use technology to solve the energy and climate problems. The third scenario is one that a lot of people have jumped on which is a kind of green, sustainable technology scenario that he call techno stability.

    The fourth scenario, that hardly anyone talks about, is called Energy Descent. Here, due to the declining availability of cheap oil and the need to respond to climate change, we see a gradual descent in our energy and resource use.

    Holgrem believes that this could be a postive development, that it could happen gradually over time through a series of mini collapses, and that we need to be prepared for it. At each collapse, perhaps including the one right now, people start to change in terms of their values and also their aspirations. Each collapse sends shock waves through the system. But it would be better if you take a look at Holmgren’s work yourself.

    Let me add that his writings inspired those involved in the Transition Movement, including Rob Hopkins –

    What I like about these people is they don’t say “Hey we have all the answers!” Instead they say “We better starting changing things, right now, right where we are.”

    • Jon

      You’re basically asking me to place my trust in the gradual onset of peak oil, as means by which we can incrementally lower our emissions…

      I’m actually completely with the idea that change has to happen locally, that change needs to start now. However, at the same time, think that people need to acknowledge that this change will be inconsequential in the face of a massively well organised, industrialised, capitalist system. It’s only worth doing because the realisation that we are all in some way culpable, makes it the only way to stay sane.

      So, get out there, live the simplest, low impact life, you can, but don’t delude yourself that you’re changing the world by so doing.

  • So perhaps the answer to my question about how do we make the necessary wider (political/societal) change happen is thus: First we must quickly rescue the ‘enlightened’ (and the dark greenies like Jon!) from the chasm of doom and task them with Omar’s idea about continually spreading the seeds, so that as many communities (& their corresponding local governments) begin Energy Descent as soon as possible. Which will then, with the mini-collapses as motivators, catch on up the political food chain?

  • BrendanBarrett

    Hi Jon,
    No, I was simply providing you with information on four future scenarios and suggesting there are alternatives to business as usual and collapse, which seem to dominate most discussions. I am not asking you to place your trust anywhere.

    Massive, well organized systems have come and gone in the past, to be replaced by something else. It could happen again. Your actions are never inconsequential.

  • BrendanBarrett

    There is an interesting virtual exchange going-on between Ted Trainer ( and Rob Hopkins ( about how to bring about change. Ted Trainer believes we cannot solve our global problems through the consumer-capitalist society, whereas Rob Hopkins argues that we would be lost if we tried to solve the problems without the consumer-capitalist society.

    Both perspectives are very thought-provoking and well constructed.

  • Thanks Brendan, yes, very interesting.

    Also something to think about is what Rob says in his response comment about a discussion with a government official who warns that we’re entering a new age of austerity, and that people “had no idea what was going to hit them” in terms of public spending cuts.

    Perhaps such forced austerity will have the catalyzing effect that you were saying “mini-collapses” could have.

  • End the Cup Madness

    i was shocked and appalled when i realized just how environmentally damaging disposable consumable are on our environment. of course the repercussions are easy to convince: billions of cups, millions of trees, tones of green house gas emissions. However i always considered these products to be recyclable. when i found out these products were not in fact recyclable or biodegradable,i had to seriously pause and consider my actions up until that point. I am a firm believer that the avaliablity of information and education will always elicit change. Therefore i formulated my own social media campaign dedicated to Ending the Cup Madness. However i know know, through learning loops that it is not in fact information that will elicit change by the way this information is presented and framed for an audience. Media and advertising play a pivotal role in the way we understand the world around. Therefore i believe that to see systematic change we need to begin to address the way our world is framed and change the conversation from more to Less. For More information or to get on board. Vist
    End the Cup Madness EM