My Climate Diary 2: The Ecocene

This is my second cathartic installment charting my personal and emotional journey as a designer and educator coming to grips with the possible death of many of Earth’s ecological systems.

Since my last post I have been constantly searching for uplifting news about positive steps folks have taken to combat the rise of greenhouse gases either through design or everyday activism. Whatever good news I unearthed, it was tempered by the frustrating fact that greenhouse gas emissions (in the US) rose by 3.4% in 2018 and CO2 rose 3.5 parts per million globally, despite our overall drawdown of coal in our energy portfolios. Much of the increase in the US was due to Trump’s rollback of Obama-era GHG regulations combined with a booming economy (travel, consumption, and manufacturing) — and a colder winter. In fact “emissions from the American industrial sectors — including steel, cement, chemicals and refineries — increased by 5.7 percent.”

This uptick is absurd when climate science is clear that a drawdown in GHG is the only way forward. The US had been making great progress lowering their GHG emissions 11% since 2005, but reversing this climate strategy under Trump (despite an already robust economy) is dangerous and stupid for our collective future.

These depressing facts are an obstacle for me to successfully battle and beat my climate anxiety and depression demons. The good news I found seemed small in comparison to the gigantic (and growing) 413 ppm of CO2 we currently have in our atmosphere. But then I stumbled upon this tweet by Dr. Jonathan Foley (from Project Drawdown):

I definitely have been stuck in a crappy plan of my own design. If doom is my only picture of the future, then that is what I will make for myself. And, of course, the same holds true for everyone predicting the same. It is clearly plausible that humanity could destroy themselves in any number of ways (including through climate change), but giving in to that scenario is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We should escape the current Anthropocene (or geological era where humanity negatively impacted our natural environment), by designing what we want the future to be. This is called the Ecocene.

Humanity (or some small subsets of it) have known for quite some time that we must live and create in harmony with nature. The indigenous Māori (to New Zealand) have known for generations that a “circular economy — understanding the interconnectedness of everything, and building cycles of continual regeneration” is the right way to live on Mother Earth. The Māori are not the only indigenous culture with this knowledge, as Native Americans, First Nations in Canada, and many others have known and taught similar paths in the past.

Many times this is called TEK or Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Humanity is smart enough to combine the “progress” of our higher tech with that of the enlightened TEK — or (as the Whole Earth Catalog suggested) to build a better machine in the garden.

The Good Climate News
Specifically to fight the worst that climate change will offer, we must move to 100% renewable energy everywhere. And there is good news on this front (despite the growing GHG of last year):

  • Germany‘s renewable energy share jumps to 47% during 1st 5 months of 2019, well ahead of 40–45% target for 2025
  • California is now at around 55% renewables and has a law to go to 100%
  • Facebook moving closer to 100% renewable electricity by 2020
  • Colorado to be 100% renewable by 2040
  • US cities claiming 100% renewable power may quadruple in 2019

This data (and more) is found on the Twitter page of Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson (Stanford). I definitely recommend him for current and positive energy and climate news.

My Ecocene

“We need to cultivate positive emotions associated with climate actions rather than negative emotions coming from climate impacts.” — George Marshall

During my readings and search for uplifting stories on the climate, I have collected quotes, articles, images, and thoughts to strategize graphic design as a tool to create positive climate and environmental/social change. The ideas below are remixed from many thought leaders and scholars from inside and outside design and combined with my own musings.

In your personal activism:

  • When you use design to inspire action on climate change, made the story of a greener future accessible and inspiring. People will not be frightened into caring. They want to see how practical steps now will lead to local clean, air, water, and safer products. Your messaging should not focus on “climate,” but instead a cleaner and safe future where we can protect our families.
  • Show the possibilities that come with a carbonless future. This means visually designing what cleaner land/air/water, greener landscapes from regenerative design, income from renewable energy, and new job opportunities look like. Focus on the local. Ask yourself, “what matters to your own community?” and “how is it changing from climate change (and what it could like with positive change)?”
  • Empower the “informed but idle” like-minded. These folks are ready to act, but don’t know how. So in your personal activism, focus on practical as this is what this audience needs to get moving.

In your client work:

  • Treat earth as a stakeholder as much as you do the audience. Focus on solutions. My book “Design to Renourish” covers how to do this effectively
  • Help clients set goals to reduce their carbon footprint through what you create for them and in their office space. Small habit changes lead to bigger ones
  • Make lowering GHG emissions a competition. Make your personal studio progress public and challenge other studios to compete

What ideas do you have that I can add to this draft list to improve how we can help fight climate change through design? Feel free to post in the comments below.

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