Aloof to Social Proof

and other rhymes

I should have a swear jar but instead of swears I’ll deposit a quarter every time I utter the phrase social proof. I use it way too often—whilst slapping together an impressive slide full of logos at work; when I see all the hip-hop stoners suddenly wearing Patagonia; basically any time anyone is doing something because someone important has given them the idea to do it.  

Social proof is behavioural-science gold. When you land it, you can convert a once peripheral behaviour into something normative. You can make a tiny sliver of early adopters (3.5%) swing a huge late majority into doing something almost unthinkingly (hello duckface!). Which is why it should be positively glee-inducing that the CEO of BlackRock is getting out of climate risk, right? And yet lots of smart business minds have been working towards divestment, and talking up their efforts accordingly. And it just doesn’t seem to take. It adds further ballast to my working theory that climate blowhards are aloof to social proof. By climate blowhards, I mean entrenched political and business leaders who refuse to move on climate. These types are not going to budge til you pry the coal from their cold, dead hands. BJ Fogg refers to these immovables as crabs. You target the crabs last in your behaviour change scheme, because a crab doesn’t care if everyone else in the animal kingdom is doing it.

This doesn’t mean it isn’t important that BlackRock wants to be GreenRock. It’s great to see them leverage their power to force a reckoning when it comes to how we measure for sustainability. And their disclosure work is a fantastic first step. But what would actually move a climate blowhard? You might think the only green they care about is money. But even money isn’t enough when you’re dug in to the wrong position, as a million studies show. So many of the worst polluting industries don’t make financial sense anyway, and are propped up by subsidy. 

Ultimately news of BlackRock’s move is most important to you and me as we lobby the people who inhabit the layers above us to make the shift. It gives us strength when we need to converse in a different vernacular. We can use it when talking to family members who only speak in bottom lines, or investment advisors who don’t listen when we tell them we want to divest, or detractors who relegate climate to a yes, but. So wield your BlackRock social proof with precision and care. And good luck. My jar runneth over.

The Hope Trope

What are you wearing? is to actors as X is to climate scientists?

The answer is What gives you hope? I’ve stopped collecting tweets from scientists saying they’re tired of this question. Of course the question is vexing. It’s an interrogatory offloading of anxiety. At the same time, hope hope hope hope hopedy hope hope. The best talkers suck up the unintentional crappiness of the question and turn hope into action, torquing the query into an optimistic checklist. Which is what we need. Optimistic checklists for the planet.

There’s been a batch of optimistic checklist articles of late, and I am loving them. This one is particularly crispy and doable.

The Ruin We’re Doin’

I can’t stop thinking about this fantastic article on political hobbyism. More particularly, its implications for climate action. The gist of it is that there’s a whole thinking class that reads politics for sport but does not actively participate. “I found that white people reported spending more time reading, talking, and thinking about politics than black people and Latinos did, but black people and Latinos were twice as likely as white respondents to say that at least some of the time they dedicate to politics is spent volunteering in organizations,” writes Eitan Hersch.

I spend a lot of time armchair activisting when it comes to climate — writing letters to elected officials and signing petitions — but my actions on the ground are spottier. I’ve planned to go to a 350 dot org meeting since we were at 250 ppm. Is there such a thing as climate hobbyism? I find it hard to believe that anyone would willfully chose climate as a hobby, but I concede there’s chasm between knowledge seeking and on the ground organizing. I wonder if this is partly because the climate crisis is a new-ish (in the moral arc of the universe sense) issue, one that doesn’t have the robust organizing structures of political campaigning. You can’t just sign up to canvas for climate emergency. But perhaps you should be able to?


Do you volunteer or do environmental political activism on the ground? Let me know!

Hopeful linkage

Love this idea of environmental work placements. It’s not dissimilar to post-war tree planting efforts. Thanks Alex!

Mending plastic. Thanks Helen!

The only shopping mall I can get behind. So cool! Thanks Julie!

Work With Me?

After much thinking about how I can be most useful in this, the most important fight of our lives, I’ve decided to take a job at Clean Prosperity, an organization that works on market-based solutions like the carbon tax. Are you a policy or comms whiz? We are hiring. In Canada. Please share with anyone awesome. 

Learn With Me?

I co-organize Toronto Action Design, and our next meetup might be right up your alley? Dr. Jiaying Zhao will talk about Psychology for Environmental Sustainability on Monday, February 3rd at the David Suzuki Foundation. If you can’t attend in person, we’re doing our first ever ZOOM chat, so RSVP from wherever in the world you are, and I will post the Zoom link shortly before the talk. I’ve been a fan of Zhao’s work for a long time. It should be good.


Have a wonderful week!