Systems thinking, social marketing and sustainability

thank you very much I'm delighted to be here I want to thank the organizing committee for having me in and all of you for your patience so I guess the question to start out with is why do we need systems thinking and of course everybody understands the world is getting more complex and things are changing faster and faster and so on and so forth but that's only part of the story when I go out and talk to the senior leaders and organizations they tell me that it's not just that things are changing faster and everything is getting harder but they say look this is all happening despite the fact that we have never had more tools and more methods and more frameworks and more analytics and more dare I say it consultants to help us address these pressing challenges but things are still getting harder and the most thoughtful of these senior leaders they tell me it's not just that this is happening despite all of that we think it's because of it so let me give you an example I go into the office of one of those senior leaders I brought a photo of them and here he is and the poor guy is just squeezed by pressures on all slides I mean he's really under a huge amount of stress and he's getting claustrophobic and he can't breathe it so you've got to do something in that situation boom and now things are much better right I mean he can see out to the side his heart rate is going down his breathing is getting more regular but as you might suspect there could be some unanticipated side effects yeah that is the essence of why we need systems thinking and it's not just that this happens once it's that it happens over and over again and one of the reasons of course is that it there's a time delay there and in many organizations if you don't understand the complexity in which you're embedded including the time delays and the feedbacks then what's going to happen is well let me ask you what happens to this guy you can go back yeah in most organizations right about now what happens to him it's a real question I will cold call I'm from a business school I can cold call you so what happens he gets promoted absolutely and then you get to sit in the chair that's a very dangerous situation so what's going on here is what we call policy resistance so what is policy resistance it's not that what you wanted to do couldn't get done because was blocked by the Congress or whatever it's what happens very often when you do implement the solution that you sincerely believe is most appropriate to address the problem that you're facing and it often fails or more insidiously it works in the short run and it works locally but then the problem comes back a little later and maybe over there and often worse so let me give you some examples forest fire suppression if you fight forest fires you keep them from happening and you put them out quickly the fires then in a few decades become worse this is very well documented and why it's simple the success of your policy leads to a buildup of fuel in the forest and then when a fire does get started it burns hotter it burns faster it jumps over your fire brakes it's more dangerous more lives lost more property damage you build roads because you have too much traffic congestion in your city what happens you get more traffic Washington is a terrific example of that how many of you have ever been through a process improvement program or a an organizational change program that failed real question hands please okay look around the room everybody it's almost everybody there how about health care I mean we spend the most in the United States of any country in the world and we don't have anywhere near the best health care we've been trying for over 50 years to reform the system and none of these trends have changed how about antibiotic and pesticide resistance we are now facing a situation where between mersa and antibiotic resistant TB and STDs and so forth there's essentially no antibiotic in the world that doesn't have at least one resistant pathogen strain and it's the same story for pesticides which then accumulate up the food chain and poison us in various ways and my last example is economic growth and happiness economic growth is supposed to make us happier does it well let me show you some data so this is real GDP per capita in the United States it's about 1970 and it has more than doubled we are twice as well off in material production and consumption per person economic theory says we should be much happier as a result but here's the data this is from the General Social Survey and it shows the fraction of people the percentage of people in the United States who say they are very happy or extremely happy and it has been trending down now of course it took a huge drop during the Great Recession and rebounded a little but the long-term downward trend is still there the richer we get the more miserable we seem to be this is not just a phenomenon in the United States it's the same in the EU it's the same all over the world and here's China the GDP per capita in China quadrupled quadruple the factor for increase between 1990 and 2007 and the vast majority of people in China are less happy today than they were in 1990 and that upper third of the income distribution that slight increase is not statistically meaningful so what's going on well it's not just that having more stuff doesn't make you happier and there's a variety of reasons for that that we you can ask me about during the QA but you get habituated to whatever you have you move to a nicer neighborhood all your neighbors have nicer houses and nicer cars too so you don't feel relatively better off you're working harder for all that money so you have less time for yourself for spirituality for exercise for eating healthfully all the kinds of issues that you talk about here in this conference and then another unintended consequence is the increase in that material output the economic growth that's driving the decline in happiness is also destroying the ecosystems upon which all life including human life depends so here you see the global ecological footprint of humanity what that means is how many planet Earth's would it take to support human activity all human activity this is all from my friend Malthus vaca Naugle who developed this framework published in the Proceedings of the National Academy some years ago and continuously updated and what you see here is that around 1970 we exceeded the global carrying capacity of our planet and today we use one-and-a-half Earth's worth of resources and ecosystem services to support human society now how is that even possible well it's because we are destroying the natural capital we're drawing down the natural capital the resources the fish stocks the forests the freshwater and we're polluting the environment we're building up a huge debt to nature so of course any of you you can live well above your income temporarily until you've sold off everything you own and nobody will lend you any more money and then your lifestyle comes crashing down and that is where we're headed here the only difference is Nature doesn't do bailouts so we're driving economic growth as fast as possible in the belief that's going to make us better off it doesn't it makes us more unhappy and part of the unintended consequence that leads to that result is pursuing that economic growth is destroying the basis upon which our lives depend so all of that is happening now and what is the solution well what everybody says is technology will come to the rescue and as a faculty member at MIT I love technology right I have a house that is now better than zero net energy we make 50% more energy than we use after a deep energy retrofit I love all this stuff I teach all this stuff but the fact of the matter is no technical solution for this problem is possible why because the more Headroom we create with innovation the more growth there will be the planet is telling us we can't keep growing because we've overshot the carrying capacity if we relax one of those constraints find a way to get more fresh water find a way to restore the forest find a way to use aquaculture instead of wild capture fish because we've wiped out so many fish stocks that only allows us to grow our economy and grow our consumption and grow our degradation of the environment until we hit some other limit and because we live on a finite planet that game cannot go on forever so although we're going to need all the technological innovation we can possibly muster to solve the problem of building a sustainable society on this finite planet technology alone is not sufficient there's no purely technical solution for these issues so what is required what is required is that we ask this question how much do we need how much is enough so I've been asking my students this question for many many years and collecting their answers and I found early on that they're very clever MIT students are very very smart they're very clever at coming up with all kinds of loopholes so here's the current question you don't have to read it in detail but basically it goes like this imagine I could give you an annuity for the rest of your life every year you would be guaranteed with no uncertainty to have a certain amount of money that you decide and it's after all taxes it's adjusted for inflation it's for your entire life so you don't have to worry about saving for retirement and everybody else in the world gets the same deal so you don't have to accumulate resources to give to the less well-off or a tzaddik west to your heirs okay just what you need to consume how much money do you need every year for it to be enough and they can answer two ways choice a this much is enough or at least this much but more is always better so what do you think the results are well here's some results this is from a couple years ago but it doesn't change much year over year the average was 300 thousand dollars a year the max was 4 million now that's to spend in order in the real world in the real world in order to have 300 thousand dollars a year to spend where you have taxes you have inflation you need to save for retirement and so forth you would need about a million a year in income maybe more and how about is that enough well 64% said at least this much but more is always better now it's worse than that let me show you a couple other things now you've got to choose this is a real question I'm going to ask it you have to choose between the following two worlds in world one you earn one hundred and fifty thousand dollars last year and this year two hundred thousand in world – its reversed last year you were in 200k this year you earned one hundred and fifty and again I've learned to put the fine print in there prices are the same in both worlds and the environmental impact is the same in both worlds so how many like world one you have to vote no abstentions are allowed how many like world one how many for world – world one has it hands down okay and that's the result that I get 97% in this particular sample want to have an increase in their income and and what do they stay first of all that's the wrong answer take the money up front you could invest it have more than the total of 350,000 at the end of the two years and then you can do whatever you want with the extra right so it's objectively the wrong answer but and 3% of my students remember their finance it can say that but but what did they say so a lot of them say things like this the increase in my salary represents the increase of my value and contribution to the world this is really scary conflating how much you earn with your worth as a human being that's scary but notice people want growth all right let me give you the next one two worlds in world one you earn a hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year everybody else earns half as much 75 K in world two you earn two hundred and fifty thousand a hundred thousand more but everybody else earns 500k per year twice as much as you and again fine print is the same now how many four world one raise your hand you got it well raise your hand for one of them you have to vote how many four world – okay you're different than my students because I think you figured out there's a trick question right so here's what they typically say 70% of them so buy more than two to one they are willing to give up a hundred thousand dollars of income per year as long as they can be richer than everybody else and what do they say about this they say it's better to be better off than the rest and I want to have more compared to my peers it is a mathematical theorem that everybody cannot be richer than everybody else now what is really going on here well there's some serious problems here and it's really difficult to solve this and the drive for more the drive for more than last year more than my neighbors more than the peers that I think are in my reference group this is something that is constantly as you all know reinforced by corporate marketing and let me give you an example there used to be a magazine here in the country called Lucky Magazine who's heard of it quite a few so it was basically a magazine of ads was aimed at women and this is not a gendered issue there's plenty of ads aimed at men – that I could show you here so they had an ad champagne started out like this it said my kids called a nanny mom now that is a serious problem now I am NOT opposed to daycare or nannies my wife and I had our kids in cooperative daycare but I think if you're so busy and you're so disconnected from your own children that they don't think of you as their mother but the nanny is their mother that's a serious problem so the ad goes on to say you need to fill the void and I'm thinking great but what's their solution go out and buy a thousand dollar pair of shoes and I'm not making this up so you know up until this point I've been talking about environmental degradation and the toxic sand our food and air and water and the pollution we're generating this is spiritual pollution and it's more damaging because it creates the drive for more stuff that's not making us happy and then we can never win you can never have enough of what won't make you happy so what's the answer for this well I have no idea that's why I came here to learn from you so what I want to do in the time remaining though is share with you one approach that we're taking on a small subset of the issues that I've just touched on and that's climate change so that's a pretty small issue in fact it's not a problem it's a symptom of the underlying problem but it's really tough we have incredibly difficult technical concepts if you want to understand it you have to understand things like parts per million and parts per and and watts per square meter of radiative forcing and if you're from the United States you have to understand strange concepts like degrees Celsius the data are often presented in graphs like this and charts and it's just it's overwhelmingly confusing which creates an opportunity for the professional deniers and the vested interests who use the same tobacco playbook that you know is happening all over on soda and many other areas and they've been very effective so what's our approach bin well first of all the normal result is when people are presented with any kind of scientific information about climate change they experience these emotions very powerfully they feel helpless they go into denial they're angry or fearful and so they often just run away screaming and don't want to even engage so what's our approach we know that research shows research shows that showing people research doesn't work so right so here's one of my dear colleagues who's a very good award-winning teacher and she did a controlled experiment at the local high school in Cambridge Massachusetts so one group we'll call them the control group they got the standard lecture on climate change here here it is we introduce you don't have to hear it is there any learning going on in this room the answer is clearly no you guys lecture is boring so our approach is we created an interactive roleplay simulation of the global climate negotiations and in that negotiation and we did this my group at MIT and climate interactive which is a 501c3 nonprofit that's dedicated to these issues and what we did is we bring people into a room we divide them up into different delegations representing the different countries of the world the US EU China India etc and they negotiate face to face after getting a little bit of briefing just one page front and back with a little bit of data they get together and they start negotiating here you can see some of the different negotiations that have taken place around the world and as they negotiate and here's an example so this is again the treatment group at the same high school as their negotiating face every single sorry but we don't really offer your input here [Applause] doing owner Goodwin doesn't wanna know if we give you a menu here happens going are like my god okay enjoy sorry I was missing million dollars but are we going to get it return from that their cookies on everybody all my treat yeah then they enter their proposals each one stands up they give a little plenary speech in two minutes here's our proposal this is exactly what happens at the real Condit conferences like Marrakech and Paris we were at all of them with our model this model by the way is a science-based rigorous simulation model which I'm not going to spend any time on it's free it's fully available fully documented open box transparent you can look at every equation and this model has in fact been used by the UN by the US at least until the election by France by China by a number of other countries and the real policy makers have used this as one of their analytical tools here we've got a front end on it that's quite easy for people to use and what it says is business as usual carries us to four and a half degrees C or about almost nine degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2100 and a climate catastrophe and I say that in a sober way fully understanding the meaning of that word and so they have to enter their proposals and then we see what happened they get immediate real-time feedback on the likely consequences of their proposals so this would be a typical first round result there's a little bit of action from each of the groups here and it lowers the expected warming by about 1 degree C which is not enough and in fact it comes out like this very close to the outcome of the actual Paris agreement and we were there with our model and you know it's the best agreement we've ever gotten politics is the art of the possible and I think the negotiators in Paris got just about everything that was possible given the political environment and maybe even just a little bit but it doesn't say it's save us so then what do we do then we show them what's likely to happen so here's Shanghai today low-lying coastal city given what I just showed you this much warning it's very likely that by the year 2100 there will be significant sea level rise perhaps as much as 2 meters and now you see all those little blue spots that's now underwater and of course Shanghai is vulnerable to typhoons so if there's a typhoon on the scale of say typhoon Haiyan which had a four meter almost 14 foot storm surge then this is what happens and you could go around the world and show similar results and then to make it just a little more emotional we show them viscerally by dragging a tarp over their heads and you'll notice the people sitting on the floor they represent the poorest countries of the world we make them sit on the floor and you know it's a it's a very simple intervention but it creates a real emotional grievance similar to what you experience in the real negotiations and then they have to go back and negotiate again and this would be a typical result after the second or third round of negotiation and what's happened is they have finally realized that it's not zero-sum it's not if you win I lose it's we're all in this together and we need to come up with a solution that works for everyone they switch from the distributive bargaining frame to the integrative bargaining frame and we don't tell them to do that we don't tell them anything it's entirely them so what happens well here's a session that I ran at cop21 the Paris climate conference it was open enrollment people just came in the room was packed and you see the young man in the bottom there he's a high school student from China just happened to show up and I had him play the role of Barack Obama that day and here he is negotiating with his fellow delegates started asking we cannot even see the global ambitions planned we can contribute so what is happening here is that people are learning for themselves we don't tell them anything they ask us questions about the science we give them the best available peer-reviewed science and as a scientist I am NOT willing to step one nanometer over that line it's nonpartisan it's not advocacy they advocate for themselves as of today or last earlier this week it's been played hundreds of times in 74 countries around the world reaching almost 33,000 people that we know of these are people who have their their facilitators have registered their events that's in less than two years and you can see it's most everywhere in the world although we haven't done well in Russia yet and this is with absolutely zero marketing zero marketing it's all spreading by word of mouth we haven't run all these workshops we couldn't possibly do it all the materials you need to learn how to do this and to facilitate your own workshop the simulation the briefing documents the PowerPoint slides videos to watch how we've done it so you can learn they're all freely available on our website climbing interactive gorg and I would encourage you to get out there and check it out and try it and see what happens when you let people learn for themselves hopefully you can come up with something that will help with that overconsumption problem that one's really tough I'm really here to learn from you on that and I want to thank you very much and be happy to take your questions you you

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