Today is Earth Day, and as ‘the people’ battle against a deadly pandemic, ‘the planet’ is healing and prospering. Co-founder, Ged Savva explains that today, a virus that is invisible to us, has made our individual impact on Earth more visible than ever.
Not by choice, but necessity, not proactively, but reactively, we have taken a global whole systems approach to reducing the negative effects of our behaviour on our planet. Whatever the reason, we now have the opportunity to create a new world together; we understand that our collective actions can make change. The question is: ‘what are you going to do differently when this is all over?’
Those avid fans of behavioural science will be aware the Behaviour Change Wheel (Michie et al. 2014) offers nine possible intervention functions to encourage positive change inline with the COM-B model (COM-B stands for Capability, Opportunity and Motivation, which is the holy trinity for enabling change).
During the global pandemic, the capability and opportunity for change has been granted and the motivation apparent everyday as we watch the dreaded curve increase and work together to level it off.
But what about the intervention functions?
‘Restriction’, ‘persuasion’ and ‘modelling’ are the intervention functions having the biggest impact on climate change right now. However humanity is the motivation, not the planet.
Through fatal circumstance, and not usual circumstances, these intervention functions are not only prevailing against the virus but also against climate change.
The intervention function ‘coercion’ has also been adopted through lockdown fines, however this has arguably been less effective than others (particularly in the UK).
What have we learnt from these circumstances and intervention functions?
Surely we owe it to both people and planet to take something positive forward from this.
Restriction: While lockdown might not be a viable long-term solution for climate change, what have we learnt about our behaviour during this time and what new restrictions can Government enforce in a post-Covid world?
Persuasion: When was the last time you saw prime time televised Government briefings about the planet? What have we learnt about our response to this and how we persuade each other?
Modelling: The news and media has never been so packed with social models and heroes who are inspiring more positive reaction and action. What can we adopt from this to save our planet?
Granted, the devastating effects of Coronavirus can be seen and believed, and while the planet has issued us many horrific warning signs, perhaps it’s not enough for some to act. So even if we start small, even if we collectively made a 20% change in our behaviour, that would still offer a great return for our future and the generations that follow.
Earlier in the pandemic, as some social media posts scare mongered around buying loose fruit and vegetables, with many feeling safer buying plastic wrapped goods, our team feared regression. However, this sparked discussions on a 20 strong video call, revealing the majority of us have been much more aware of our environmental impact, consumption and waste during lockdown.
At Magpie, when we are creating behaviour change interventions to positively impact on an individual’s wellbeing, whether to increase activity levels or to prevent antimicrobial resistance, evidencing that change is possible, through positive norms and social modelling, plays a key role in how we motivate more people to adopt and sustain change.
Usually this is in a situation where a minority of innovators and early adopters are inspiring a later majority of people through the change they have made.
Under the current situation of global lockdown restriction, many of us may not have chosen to have a positive impact on the environment or have been motivated by climate change, however what we have achieved is another important step in the process of individual change; ‘contemplation’.
As far as evidence goes, here is a recap of what our collective impact has been. In a time when the world seems smaller and more interconnected than ever, we ask that you don’t underestimate the change YOU can make.
- In Venice, the canals have cleared due to lack of tourism and pollution.
- In March the carbon monoxide levels reduced by half in New York.
- The Himalayas could be seen from 125 miles away in India for the first time in 30 years.
- Air pollution levels have dropped between a third and a half in London.
- Air quality has improved markedly in the UK and around the world, which could reduce the estimated 10 million people who die prematurely each year from poor air quality.
- There has been less seismic activity due to the lack of vehicles and people on the streets.
Reflecting on one’s own behaviour is an important early step in taking action. So let me leave you with some questions for you to reflect on as we enter a new world, which doesn’t necessarily need to go back to ‘life or business as usual’:
- What changes in your behaviour during this time have had a more positive impact on the environment?
- Of these changes, which ones have made a positive impact on you as well as the planet?
- Of these changes, which ones will be easier to sustain post Covid-19?
- What are you going to do differently when this is all over?
Ged Savva is the Co-founder and Director of Magpie, a meaningful marketing agency with expertise in community engagement and behaviour change campaigns.