behaviour change climate change

Dr Stephen Hill

Despite being an engineer by training, Dr Stephen Hill argues that a sustainable future is one of better social systems, not one of technical fixes.

Within that social system Stephen explores tensions in environmental management. For example, while the history of the environmental movement stems from place based protection, the development of renewable energy is largely motivated by a drive for carbon reduction. This tension comes to a head over proposals for wind farms. While in New Zealand he has been exploring the wind farm debates, and provides insights based on comparison to developments in Canada.

We ask if there a sweet spot between science and environmental policy? and discuss trade offs, social friction, vested interests, and fundamental tensions.

While we can influence and even change behaviours through manipulating markets – carbon pricing etc (and there’s no political appetite for this), the real change comes from changing attitudes. Attitudes, though, Stephen says, change really slowly.

Stephen describes some watershed moments in his career:

  • The earth shattering realisation upon reading the Brundtland report “Our Common Future” of the consquences of the population versus ecosystem services relationship.
  • Going to a talk by Steven Schneieder.
  • Working with Dixon Thompson – environmental management is about managing people.

Shane’s number of the week: 6. That’s six months to plug the leakage of natural gas from the Elgin well off Scotland.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: We’ve talked about externalities before. Most of the impact of our activity isn’t internalised as a direct cost. Now KPMG has calculated how much that is – 41% of value. This means the true cost of a $100 product should be $141. This footprint relative to earnings is getting worse – rising by 50% in the eight years to 2010. It varies by sector too, for electricity; mining, marine and airlines, the unaccounted true cost is more than half the value. For food, the missing environmental cost is more than the value. In reality these costs are not borne by the companies, rather these impacts are carried by others (see full KPMG report).

Trainspotting: We apologise for leading the very optimistic Dr Hill down a line focussing on global problems. We agree – on the optimistic side, humans as a species are very adaptable.