The following is about some of the basic problems in changing lanes to a more sustainable future, and about sustainability cognition:
This post sprung out of something as simple as a journey from my bedroom to the bathroom. I went to go use the bathroom, but had to turn back to put on a hoodie and knitted socks because it was so freaking cold I couldn’t stand it.
Now, I far from live in a mansion. In fact, there’s only about 1,5 meters from my door to the bathroom. So why the desperate need for warmer clothing? Well, we’re on the top floor. Right above us, is the attic. This is what it looks like:
Do you see it? The bare bricks, the total lack of insulation? (2016 Edit: Well, there is a layer of insulation beneath the attic floor, which is my ceiling. I have no idea how thick is is)
And this is the view from my window. The white stuff is snow (Sorry for the newb like window reflection, but there was no way in hell I was opening that window).
In other words, I live in a country that has a chance of snow from November to April, but has very low standard requirements for insulation, regarding buildings build before 1980. And that combination makes me a little bit angry. Cold and angry. And this is not a raggedy old building, this is a standard building in Copenhagen.
The following picture is from one of the cities in Denmark the closest to Copenhagen, in terms of size, culture and age of buildings. It’s taken with a 45 degree angle, so that it is possible to see the facades, as well as the roof tops. Lots of heat just getting lost. Lots of energy just wasting away.
20% wasted energy
Studies show that more than 20% of Denmark’s total energy consumption can be eliminated, just by isolation our current, badly insulated buildings (in Danish). Some even argue it’s closer to 35%. I would love to say that Denmark is one of the worst sinners in the world when it comes to bad insulation, but we’re not. We’re like most other countries in the world. Actually we’re in the good end of the scale. A terrifying thought.
There have been different initiatives from the government to promote investment in housing insulation, where citizens could apply for financial help, in order to put in new and better (or any, in my building’s case) insulation. But this was only to stimulate the economy in the financial crisis, and now that the economy is finding a balance again, isolating your house just isn’t as attractive as buying that new car.
So why is it that, even though the insulation would still be a better investment than the car, we don’t see people rush to the insulation companies? I’ll tell you. The insulation has no bling. No status. How are you gonna show of your wealth and style? With a 2,5 inc fiber filling, or with a new Ford?
Now, I don’t wanna go as far as saying that human beings are stupid as a whole, just a little bit tied to our biological and social need of being accepted by the pack, in order to ensure our survival. We are a pack animal and we need to fit in to remain in the pack, and to show of power to excel within the pack. Hence the new Ford.
So now we seem to have an issue. We have nice cars, but will soon have no gas to put in them, and we have a big energy bill, that will only get bigger as prices of fossil fuel will rise. That seems to me kind of, ummh.. Stupid. But on the other hand, you can’t just rise against the pack, keep the old out-of-fashion-car, and use the money on insulation, can you?
What if it was all of a sudden in fashion to plan for the future and save money? What if all of the sudden you knew, that fossil fuel prices would only go up, and that you would have to cash out.
The economic crisis had a wonderful effect on the world’s sustainability cognition. All of the sudden it became popular to invest in renewable resources. Just like it did in the past oil crisis’. We saw the point, we saw the necessity. And most importantly, we saw ourselves. We saw, and we knew that keeping passive, will hit us hard. I have a motto:
The biggest lie in sustainable management is that we are doing this for our children and our children’s children.
We’re not. We shouldn’t be. We should be doing it for ourselves. Non-renewable resource reserves such as crude oil and helium will have run out before I even retire. Old age is gonna suck if we don’t act now. Unfortunately, the only thing that reminds us of this, is a crisis. When the world has settled again, we go for the car. So what do we do? Launch the world into a global crisis every now and then, just to stay on our toes. Insert a sense of panic every so often? NO! (I’ll get back to that in a later post) Fear is not the answer.
Part of the wolf pack – It’s biology, baby
We have to change the way we interact and the themes for which we are accepted into the pack. What if your neighbours frowned at you for not insulation your house, for not buying energy efficient appliances, for not eating organic food, what would you do then? What would you do to fit in and be accepted? What if the community, if states, pushed its government to make decisions that were long lasting, economically beneficial, and would secure enough resources for its citizens? Where would it start?
I think it starts in the individual. In the stubbornness of one person, to do what he or she finds to be right. In standing up to the pack and not buying that car. Then it spreads. Friends, family, neighbours, facebook relations. At some point these norms reach the key people who have governance enough to make a substantial difference. It’s all about the first movers. Marketing science knows this. Communication science knows this. It’s time for environmental science to know this. It’s time for environmental science to understand that if it wants to succeed, if we want to succeed, we need to draw upon knowledge from other scientific branches, such as communication, economics, social network science, behavioural science, learning theories and much more.
I believe it’s doable. I also think I will be posting a lot more about the dilemmas and promises of this approach. In the mean time, maybe I should learn how to knit, so I’ll have socks for my freezing home.
*end note from 2016: Looking back, I’m glad to see that I was on the right track, and that the environmental sciences are welcoming other fields of science. I am a bit sad that I took a 4 year break from blogging, though. I Wish I had been gutsier back then, and shared these posts more. Hopefully this is one of those moments where you learn from your mistakes.