Inspiration, Design    |    February 4, 2020

I Went on a Climate March, So Now What?

By Brian Giesbrecht
Since attending the Global Climate Strike in Vancouver with my daughters back in September, several questions have been nagging me. What did it mean for my girls to see one hundred thousand people, many of them youth, chanting slogans and carrying signs declaring that urgent action is needed? What did this march mean for me as a product designer? What were the goals of the march organizers? Were climate change skeptics converted? Did people vote differently afterwards? How does change happen on a personal level? As a society? Did it change me? Can we get a cat? (kids are relentless)

After studying hundreds of non-violent campaigns over the last century, Harvard University political scientist Erica Chenoweth coined the 3.5% Rule, finding that if just 3.5% of the population become active participants in a protest movement, the movement is far more likely to achieve its goals. Compared to the population of Greater Vancouver, the people who walked over Cambie Bridge that day came close to this magic percentage, so is change now inevitable? What will it take to prevent catastrophic climate change? What would that change look like?

Critics point out that skipping school and making signs and shouting slogans while walking over a bridge with your friends is easy. They challenge that if any of the marchers got dropped off at the event in cars, own phones, travel by plane, or buy new clothes and goods made overseas, they are part of the very system they wish to change. It should be obvious that anyone enjoying a high quality of life in developed countries are part of the problem. The real question is how do we change the system? Critics of the march are placing the onus of change on individuals while protestors are placing the onus of change on governments and business leaders to make the hard decisions. Maybe the change needs to be driven by something else; could it be design?

Elon Musk debuted his Cybertruck recently – Blade Runner styling and bulletproof (almost) glass aside – the exciting thing is that the specs, truck people care about, aren’t inferior to those of a standard truck but in many cases, meet or exceed them. Compared to a Ford F-150 (the bestselling truck in the world), the Cybertruck offers greater payload, towing, ground clearance, and acceleration, while achieving exactly the same 805 km driving range (how often you would actually need to drive that far is a whole other discussion). The starting price for the Cybertruck is eleven thousand dollars higher than that of a base Ford F-150, sure, but the 5-year average fuel savings nearly make up for this difference alone. We’re entering an exciting period with electric vehicles where people will buy them, not because they are “green” but because they are better and, in the long run, cheaper. In Canada, 28% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from transportation alone, so a switch to electric vehicles will make a difference. 

Tesla Cybertruck
Before the march, I biked to work, rarely ate beef, took minimal flights, recycled, researched my purchases carefully, and tried to maintain the things I own until they are truly worn out. I assume many marching did the same. But before you accuse me of patting myself on the back, I must admit that the decisions I’ve listed are driven more by common sense than some kind of ecocentric sacrifice. Biking is the most efficient way for me to get to work, so even ignoring the exercise, it’s the better choice. I wasn’t a big beef eater and enjoyed vegetarian meals long before I knew how destructive that industry is, and flights are too expensive to be a regular occurrence. Making careful purchases and fixing things saves time and money. As a product designer, I strive to design things to be the best they can be by using materials efficiently, making them durable so they last, and making sure devices can be taken apart and fixed or recycled. Making products look better also makes them more desirable and potentially less likely to end up as landfill. In all these cases I’m not making “green” choices; it just so happens that the greener choice is also the better choice.

So back to that march, what did it accomplish exactly? Did it increase awareness that more needs to be done by governments at all levels? Did it spark something inside the youth attending who will be our future leaders? Did it encourage all of us to do more, or to vote differently? Does the impressive scale of marches like this inspire business that climate activism is creating business opportunities instead of destroying them? I hope it achieved all of these things. Meeting the 1.5o C warming targets will take a multi-faceted approach, and has a much better chance of succeeding, the more people are talking about it.