Carrots versus Sticks

What motivates people? Carrots or sticks?

As an ethical consumer, I aim to use carrots, generally speaking. I try and persuade people that thrift shopping is awesome (which it totally is), that farmers' markets have delicious food (they really do), and that having less stuff can make you happier.

My goal is to appeal to people's sense of morality. And, you know, after about two years of living more ethically, I think it's working. Witness, the drop in plastic bag consumption in the UK. All because people like you and me just said no.

I've studied a number of sustainable cities, and I've become convinced that community involvement is integral to sustainability. On the other hand, when people are not involved, but change is imposed, they seem to reject it. For example, in Seattle, voters recently rejected a fee for plastic bags.

This suggests that our current attempts to deal with climate change by "putting a price on carbon" are simply misguided. If the public rejects a 20 cent fee on plastic bags, why would they agree to a carbon tax? And given that most industrialized countries are democracies, politicians simply cannot pass legislation so unpopular.

Instead of top down heavy-handed plans, we need more plans that appeal to people's better instincts. We need to motivate people to change their behavior instead of forcing them with a stick.

I agree that we need to move fast. I agree that climate change is a critical issue. But I also understand that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing time after time after time and expecting different results.

Climate activists have been largely pursuing the same goals since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. And we're still nowhere close to achieving those goals.

Given this, isn't it time we try something new?