The simple “virus” that spreads excitement

Overall strategy input / brainstorm by Mik Aidt for the workshop “How society can resore safe climate” on 1 July 2015

Elevator summary: We need to invent an exciting and simple ‘virus’ which makes people want to engage and which can kickstart a movement of people who are excited and engaged. Over time it will grow to become that game-changing zero-carbon movement we need to see, but we need to take one step at a time. Large groups of people don’t move from 0 to 100% in one jump. The three most important elements which the ‘virus’ project uses strategically are: Simplicity, excitement, role models.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Richard Buckminster Fuller, American author (1895–1983)

It’s been an inspiring week, starting with the encyclical launch last Thursday, then the new media campaign of Fairfax media, the Lancet report, and more, which made me think we really do have all the “bricks” available in front of us by now. They just need to be put together in some special way that makes people want to get onboard and start investing some of their time, money, thoughts and energy.

On the 8-minute video above I try to explain the direction I am thinking in:

The Pope’s encyclical in itself is a powerful “vision”. The vision of how we become less focused on material goods and consumption and more focused on being connected with ‘The Creation’ – with nature. The Universe, ultimately.

Visions for humanity anno 2015 don’t come much better than that encyclical, as far as I am concerned, because it takes a deep, holistic and moral approach, just as the Pope has managed to do it. The encyclical doesn’t JUST talk about climate change – it talks about our way of life. And it is already – in theory, anyway – to be taught to and potentially endorsed by 1.2 billion people = all Catholics on this planet.

It wouldn’t take long to make a secular write-up based on the encyclical – a write-up which removed ‘God’ from the story, but still said everything that the encyclical does – all those aspects that need to be pointed out to everyone, regardless of religious background.

We could aim at producing a paper which showed what it is in concrete terms that needs to happen if the vision of the encyclical is to be rolled out. Which steps we must take.

If we set out with asking ourselves: “How can we make the vision of the encyclical into reality?”, a lot of answers would crop up automatically from there.

So, what I’m trying to say is that with the encyclical, we almost have the overall ‘manifest’ in place now – and to some extent, we also have the technology we need. And since papers as The Guardian, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have decided to make a difference, to some extent we are also beginning to see a shift where we are having mainstream media with us.

We still need to get our political leaders onboard, but we need to come to terms with that we will never see political leaders in a democracy come onboard until we have public pressure and a majority of voters demanding it.

We need our government to invest a lot more in not only renewables, but research and development in renewable technology. Currently only 2% of government funded research goes to research in renewables – which is absurd, considering the importance of enhancing this area quickly.

We need our government(s) to close all coal mines and ban all onshore gas mining instantly. And so on.

But we won’t get politicians to act on all this before there is public pressure.

Therefore, the one BIG brick missing in the equation, in particular when we talk about convincing politicians to take action on renewables, is people. Voters. Lots of them. People who put up demands to their leaders. People who engage. Who are taking action themselves at an individual level. People who subscribe to the vision – in huge numbers – and who are showing the way, one step at a time.

How to create that kind of majority public pressure? What does it take?

Well, what we have learned since 2009 – through six years of climate campaigning – is that the “traditional” climate action campaigning doesn’t work, because it simply doesn’t appeal to people. They shut off. It generally doesn’t reach and appeal to more than a few percent of the population.

To get “everyone” on board, we need to understand how mainstream marketing works – the same way advertisement companies and “branding gurus” understand this.

We must focus on finding/inventing a ‘killer app’ or ‘virus’ – a simple, exciting idea – which will go viral and which within weeks will get a majority of the population to engage and subscribe.

Three basic ingredients will be necessary in order to get people (not just the already converted 2-3%, but a much broader part of the population, like 70-80%) on board:

1) Simplicity
2) Excitement
3) Role models – ‘ambassadors’ with mainstream credibility who show the way. Artists, community leaders, local heroes. Not politicians or councillors.

The overall goal remains: to achieve a safe climate restoration. We know that. But to mention that in the first rounds is a “show stopper”, as we are getting people to join the movement. As the matter of fact there is no need to mention “climate” with a single word in the first phases of this campaign. It should be about this one thing which is simple and exciting, and initially only that.

As an example: let’s say that we agree with the Pope’s analysis that what’s missing is a stronger connection to nature and the planet. So we decide to use the egg as a symbol and a driver for everything we talk about. ‘The Egg’ological Age’… We manage to turn it into a national craze to raise chickens in the back yard and have them produce free, organic eggs for us out of our food waste. We save money – we (kids in particular) have fun with the chickens, and invent stories/gadgets/games which make people think it is supercool to produce eggs in the garden.

Out of that experience of producing our own food follows a series of DYI revelations, including the clean energy option: producing your own energy on your roof. It saves you money, it gives you independence, and your friends will think you are cool and “in” on the game. Domestic wind turbines should be part of this equation.

We must talk about benefits – reducing costs, better health, new jobs, wellbeing.

For instance the promotion of the many benefits from walking more. Walk to school. Walk to work. Become part of new hiking-mailinglists, to join others for hikes in nature, and of freecycle-lists.
Spending more time on sports and playing with our kids. Etc…

Running a campaign for “100% renewables by 2030 in our city” has the same problem as the above mentioned idea with The Egg’ological campaign: Unless we somehow manage to come up with something fabulous in terms of how we promote it, it is missing the “excitement” element. Not very many will think, “Wow, that sounds exciting to have chickens!” or “wow, that’s exciting, 100% renewables!” – or “Wow, they want us to walk to school!”

It would have to be combined with something else, maybe something we do TOGETHER with our neighbours or friends.
Something which is driven by enthusiasm, passion and positivity. Something which essentially feels like joining a party.

Which in some way is exactly what the Pope is inviting us to. A “party for the planet”…

Whatever that “something” is, the way to launch it all would be to create an entertaining feature film about it. One that can be screened in mainstream cinemas, the same way ‘Frackman’, ‘The Inconvenient Truth’ and other films have done it.

So once we have the “virus”-ideas in place, THAT is the first thing we should start fundraising for.

And once we have sufficient public pressure, we also should keep exploring the Dutch-style taking it to the courts and leaving it up to judges to observe that at present the policies and numbers do not add up to what is needed.


I’d love to be more part of this brainstorming process, but I am currently tied up with various deadlines, including accounting and ‘tradesman-jobs’ with our house. For now, I will be listening in the background and hope to be able to contribute further down the track.

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