Solving the Sustainability Equation: Try Adding People

030714Technology_OrigSome people think technology will be the panacea for our global sustainability challenges. Others think technology — and the consumption patterns that often come with it — are just making the problem worse. In reality, neither view is right, writes Columbia University’s Steven Cohen in this recent Huffington Post article.
Technology alone is no magic bullet. But dramatically decreasing consumption won’t cut it either, mainly because people are incredibly resistant to being asked to use or buy less. The best way to approach sustainability problems, Cohen argues, is to consider technology, consumption, and most importantly, human behavior in tandem. Technology can help to craft new patterns of consumption for things like energy and food: it can change what we consume, and how we consume it. Combine that with a keen understanding of how people change their behavior, and we have a good shot at ensuring that people will willingly and quickly adopt these new patterns and ways of living.

The takeaway for climate communicators here is clear. We need technology to help solve our climate problems. But we also need people, and we need to understand people in order to get them to change their behavior and move towards more sustainable ways. For more tips on understanding the people side of the equation, check out ecoAmerica’s latest collection of research reports on how Americans are thinking about climate and environmental issues, available here.

Solving the Sustainability Crisis: Our Job and Technology’s Job

By Steven Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Contributor to the Huffington Post
Last week, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Columbia’s doctoral program in Sustainable Development, and at one session an undergraduate asked a central question that I thought cut to the heart of the matter. He asked if the crisis of global sustainability would be solved by technology alone, or would it require changes in human behavior and patterns of consumption? This past weekend, while attending a conference on the climate crisis hosted by the University of California at Santa Cruz, I heard the same question. It’s a key issue and I thought I’d do my best to address it here.
The simple answer is that of course it will require changes in both technology and behavior, and it is important to understand how technology affects behavior and how behavior affects technology. Human history has seen the rise and fall of civilizations, and we are not immune to those forces of history. While I could be wrong, and we could be approaching the moment of our demise, I really don’t think so.
Read more here.
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