Making a Post-Carbon Move

Finding value way beyond net zero

The drive to net zero rightly captures the attention of many of us at the moment. We are fast reaching - and exceeding - many of the planetary boundaries on which our civilizations depend. Addressing this means making drastic changes at all levels of our society. However, to do this we need to help many more people and organisations to see their place in the world to come - and help build it, as fast as possible. 

As reports like Project Drawdown’s 2020 report have made clear, we already have most, if not all of the technological solutions we need to avert the worst of the climate catastrophe. And yet we’re not moving quickly enough. Why? Because the challenge isn’t just about technology. It’s a social, cultural and organisation issue. It’s about people.

We know from our work with the action platform Count Us In that when people don’t act on climate it’s for some very specific reasons: 

  • They don’t know what to do

  • They are overwhelmed by choice

  • They don’t believe they can make a difference.

  • Demands of the present overwhelm concerns for the future

Many organisations are not that different. They’re concerned but stuck, unable to break out of their habits, assumptions, profit models and cultural practices. Our collective future depends on our ability to address this dynamic - and close the gap at personal, organisational and social levels between intention (i should do something) and action (i’m going to do it right now).

Thankfully, we also know the  kinds of levers that work the hardest to trigger this move from intention to action:

  • Positive stories trump negative ones. 

  • Big changes work best when chunked up into smaller ones. 

  • Make it about who we are, not what we should do

  • Find an immediate benefit

Take an example: Its far easier to drive a modal shift in transport than it is to get people to change their electricity supplier. Replacing car travel with a walk to school doesn’t just reduce carbon, it gives you cleaner air, better mental health and quality time with your children. The details might be different, yes but these same dynamics play out at an organisational level. 

In short, helping people and organisations around the world to get “unstuck” means more than telling them what they should do. It means helping them visualise and inhabit a different future. And this is where the limits of the Net Zero narrative become clear. Even the phrase Net Zero is interesting - nothing lost, nothing gained. In many net zero visions, it often appears as if we can achieve a version of our current reality where nothing changes except the fact our emissions are miraculously reduced to zero. This is unrealistic, and it’s also profoundly uninspiring. We’ll only succeed if we get inspired by the promise of a Post-Carbon future. 

Doing this means accepting some hard truths. We need to recognise that the developments of the last 200 years were built on a fossil fuel regime that supplied high-intensity, cheap energy, gathered without any concern for the “externalities” in its extraction or use. This cheap energy allowed us to move faster, produce more and live more comfortably. It became the catalyst used to fuel a way of living, producing and consuming globally that is highly extractive and exceeds many of the natural boundaries of life on earth - often relying on more than 4 x the planetary resources the earth can provide. 

This is the story, but it’s not where it ends. Whether you are a business owner or a full-time parent, we want you to see post-carbon as a vital frame to help you respond to the present in a more positive way. Be honest about the scale of the changes we are about to witness. But let’s step into this change with courage and curiosity, dig into a richer and more visceral sense of what this world might look like. Energy will be more scarce and “always on” might not be an option - but what does that actually mean? As businesses and individuals what do we lose and what do we gain? Post-Carbon doesn’t mean returning to the stone age but it does mean exploring worlds where high-tech products emerge from different kinds of business models and organisation. Yes - the cracks in our current reality are increasingly, painfully present. But we can also see the seeds of this post-carbon future all around us.  

Responding to the climate crisis requires more than eating less meat or optimising your supply-chain. Those things are important, but not enough - we’re in a moment where “yes, and…” must be the basic principle. A different world is coming. Business-as-usual won’t be here for much longer, whether we like it or not. There’s a responsibility here but a prize, too. In our lives and our businesses this decade holds the promise of transformation opportunities too - for personal reinvention, for market leadership, for collective success. Our future will belong to those who can find a post-carbon move, and act on it now. Right now. 

If your organisation wants to move faster, learn more about our Post Carbon Moves accelerator here.

Image source: Chris Burkard

David Gunn is co-founder of Something More Near. Participation specialist. Major projects for Tate, World Health Organisation, Museum of London and Franco Manca. Co-founder of Something More Near.