Communal Ways to Positively Reinforce Energy Transition
Updated: Jun 30
We hear about self-reinforcing negative climate feedback loops all the time!
Nick from Keep Cool points out how recently France has been met with unprecedented heat waves that have made their rivers warmer. This is a huge problem as their nuclear reactors, aimed at reducing carbon emissions, require their rivers to help cool down it down.
While the climate crisis that forces us to look into low-carbon power sources in the first place, we are being met with obstacles caused by the climate crisis that hinders us from improving things.
This negative feedback loop is everywhere.
Let's flip the switch and look at perhaps communal ways we can find positive reinforcing ways to push the energy transition movement forward.
Let's focus on the less visible... with information that can help decelerate the climate crisis:
In the early 1970s, there was an oil embargo and energy crisis which caused the Dutch to start paying particular attention to their energy usage.
According to a study by Donella Meadows (Thinking in Systems, Chapter 4), some houses were found to consume 1/3 less electricity than the other homes. How did this happen?
Turns out the key difference was in the position of the electric meter.
Out of sight, out of mind:
According to Meadows, families who consumed a lot of electricity typically had their meters in the basement, which people hardly noticed.
While families who consumed lower electricity had the meters in the front hall totaling up the monthly electricity and thus creating visibility.
The issue with being human is that we lack important visible data all the time:
We are not omniscient beings that can have a bird's-eye view of everything. The lack of knowing the full range of information stops us from seeing the impacts of our actions on the whole ecosystem.
Furthermore, a common bias amount humans, due to imperfect information, is discounting the future by indulging in short-term rewards. Meadows mentioned how "we don’t give all incoming signals their appropriate weights".
We can't fully visualise the impact of today onto tomorrow.
Meadow argues that "change comes first from stepping outside the limited information that can be seen from any single place in the system and getting an overview".
While we are on a plane that lets in a wider perspective, Meadow suggests that we can use the information to restructure our actions into something that is more rational, rather than being on auto-pilot and unaware.
The lack of information tends to create a toxic feedback loop that has been accelerating the current climate crisis as we aren't fully aware of how society and corporate actions contribute to the negative feedback mechanisms for climate change.
What if we can change that?
What if we can create new positive feedback loops with democratised information access to all to decelerate the climate crisis?
Here are some examples!
Image credits: Doconomy
Doconomy, a sustainability-focused fintech, came up with a 2030 Forecast campaign by showing Sweden's climate data for a particular week on the same out-of-home displays used to advertise consumer toothpaste and travel deals.
It's cheeky in some ways because a good part of the climate crisis is driven by unchecked eco-unfriendly overconsumption and thus the act of displaying crucial climate change-related data where advertising tends to be can help to create some awareness in the same space.
Details in the data according to TrendWatching state how much the week's greenhouse gas emissions are above or below the weekly targets needed to meet Paris Agreement goals by 2030.
Also, their democratized national level greenhouse gas emissions data breaks down the contributing emissions from 4 categories (industry, energy, transport, and domestic aviation).
The great thing is that this tracker goes beyond sole individual responsibility and also looks at bigger giants such as industry, clean energy alternatives, or looks into sustainable fuel to overcome domestic aviation demands.
(Fun fact: Sweden is a frontrunner in sustainable aviation and recently unveiled a new pilot school, one of their several green-themed initiatives, for electric aircraft and less polluting biofuel).
How is this being tracked? Satellite images and supplementary insights from Doconomy's partner, Kayrros, contributes real-time numbers that have a high level of accuracy.
TrendWatching urges that such data literacy helps to enforce a sense of collective responsibility to know what is driving carbon emissions in society.
By putting everyone on the same page, we can collectively look at the same outlets to decrease carbon consumption. Doconomy is looking to further push the insights by providing actionables that addresses patterns and shifts for everyone to adopt.
Another early and novel example is the Oberlin Environmental Dashboard by Oberlin College and Conservatory to empower community users with a citywide resource monitoring system.
It measures the number of resources such as electricity and water used in households, businesses, public spaces, and educational institutions.
The data is converted into real-time visuals shown on LCD panels.
This opens an opportunity for community feedback on their consumption of resources and encourages everyone to be on the same page for sustainability.
Over at Singapore's upcoming eco-town of Tengah, there are plans to equip 42,000 new homes with visions of a "centralized cooling, automated trash collection, and a car-free town center".
More importantly, there will be an encompassing strategy to tie everything together.
It includes an app for all residents to monitor the usage of resources and encourage them to cut down on usage. A clear visible digital display will be present for each block to encourage collective environmental efforts. There is even a gamified element by nudging residents into a friendly competition between residential blocks.
As Meadow argues, change can only happen when we are able to digest a wide range of information so we can get an overview of where we are at.
Perhaps the digital dashboards that we see in these three examples can do so alongside other ideas.
What other ways can we help decrease the information gap?
Information is the key to help stop us from accelerating into toxic feedback loops. And more importantly, it shows how the actions of today affect tomorrow.
What are some ways that your community is doing to help make energy transition sustainable?
Find out what others are doing with our Community Map featuring sustainability ecosystem players in Southeast Asia for you to network with: