Climate impact #COP26

Are the consequence of a ½ baked decision that we created (the mess we are in)squared

This article joins how the #climate outcomes we get may be related to the evidence requirements we set.  The audience for this viewpoint is those who are thinking about the long term consequences of our current decisions and the evidence we use to support those decisions. We are hoping to bring a sense of clarity to our community on why we feel frustrated and lost. You should read this because it will make you think and it will raise questions we need to debate over coffee as we search to become better versions of ourselves. 

@yaelrozencwajg @yangbo @tonyfish

The running order is: Which camp are you in for positioning of the crisis: know and accepted, still questioning or denial.   What are the early approaches to solutions?  What are policymakers doing and what is their perspective.  The action is to accept the invitation to debate at the end.

Part 1. Sustainability set up

The world appears more opinionated and divided about everything.  Climate change: real or not.  Vaccination for COVID19 conspiracy and control or in the public best interest.  Space travel for billionaires or feeding those in need. Universal basic income policy vs ignoring those aspects of society we find uncomfortable. Equality creates a more fair society or leaves us alone. So many votes are for self-interest, “it is fairer to me.”  Transparency will hold those in power to account or it will only make or worse. Open networks might create new business models on the web, but will they be sustainable? Sustainability is a false claim or it is our only option. Like books, and publications it is now complexity that is the tool that ensures power remains with the few.

We need to unpack the conflictual and tension-filled gaps in our beliefs, opinions and judgment because we depend on evidence to change our views. How evidence is presented and the systematic squeezing out of curiosity frames us and our current views. 

Evidence, in this context, is actually a problem as we have a very divided idea of what evidence is.  For some, evidence is a social media post from an influencer with 10 million followers (how can everyone else be wrong).  For others a headline on the front of a tabloid newspaper is truth (is it printed.)  For others, a statistical peer-reviewed leading journal publication that is cited 100 times is evidence.  In terms of evidence for decision making, there is a gap between the evidence requirements for research and the evidence requirements for business decisions.  To be clear, it is not that either is better; it is how we frame evidence that matters. The danger is being framed to believe something because there is a mismatch in the evidence requirements for a decision.  A single 100% influencer claim without statistical proof say about “fertility” vs a statistical trial with probability highlights both how a claim is only a claim but many will not understand what evidence is.

Why is this important? Because the evidence we see in journals, TV, media, books and publications have different criteria and credentials to those that inform business decisions.  Where is the environmental action being decided; in the board rooms!  Is this gap in evidence leading to a sustainability gap?

Part 2. Analysis from Kahan 

Here is the rub, it turns out that how scientific evidence is presented matters as its very presentation creates division. 

Dan Kahan, a Yale behavioural economist, has spent the last decade studying whether the use of reason aggravates or reduces “partisan” beliefs. His research papers are here. His research shows that aggravation and alienation easily win, irrespective of being more liberal or conservative. The more we use our faculties for scientific thought, the more likely we will take a strong position that aligns with our (original) political group (or thought).

A way through this could be to copy “solution journalism”, which reports on ways people and governments meaningfully respond to difficult problems and not on what the data says the problem is. Rather than use our best insights, analysis and thinking to reach the version of the “truth”, we use data to find ways to agree with others opinions in our communities. We help everyone to become curious. Tony Fish has created the Peak Paradox framework as an approach to remaining curious by identifying where we are aligned and where there is a delta in views without conflict.

When we use data and science in our arguments and explain the problem, the individuals will selectively credit and discredit information in patterns that reflect their commitment to certain values. They (we) (I) assimilate what they (we)(I) want.

Kahan, in 2014, asked over 1,500 respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “There is solid evidence of recent global warming due mostly to human activity such as burning fossil fuels.” They collected information on individuals' political beliefs and rated their science intelligence.” The analysis found that those with the least science intelligence actually have less partisan positions than those with the most. A Conservative with strong science intelligence will use their skills to find evidence against human-caused global warming, while a Liberal will find evidence for it (cognitive bias.)

In the chart above, the y-axis represents the probability of a person agreeing that human activity caused climate change. The x-axis represents the percentile a person scored on the scientific knowledge test. The width of the bars shows the confidence interval for that probability.

Part 3. Are our policies being formed by the evidence we like or evidence we have?

Governments, activists, and the media have gotten better at holding corporations accountable for the societal repercussions of their actions. A plethora of groups score businesses based on their ESG  performance, and despite often dubious methodology, these rankings are gathering a lot of attention. As a result, ESG has emerged as an unavoidable concern for corporate executives worldwide. ESG should be for boards for “purpose” or “are we doing the right thing” camp, but instead has ended up in the compliance camp, do the min, tick box.

For decades businesses have addressed sustainability as an end of pipe problem or afterthought. Rather than fundamentally altering their models to recognise that sustainability and wellbeing are critical parts for long term success, boards have typically delegated social issues to corporate social responsibility, compliance policies, or charitable foundations and associations, thus they publish their findings (which is not evidence) in annual reports. The issue becomes that neither investors nor stakeholders read these sustainability reports. Actually, they shouldn’t either.  

Although investors' thinking on sustainability has evolved substantially over the past few decades, sustainability and efficiency leaders have used strategies to pressure corporations to advance a wide range of social concerns such as the SDGs across industries and supply chains, regardless of the financial considerations. As ESG assessments, sustainability reports or guidelines have become more rigorous; this accountability raises essential biases. This “pressure” has resulted in many types of actions and raised many concerns, including in the operational efficiencies supposed to reduce the use of energy and natural resources at the expense of their profitability.

Whilst it is still unclear if most investors utilise ESGs factors in their investment selection process based on evidence, it is clear that we do side with what we want to hear and not with the science, Dan Kahan, in part 2 above, was right.

Part 4. Null Hypothesis H(0) A lack of headspace for most people to think about the complexity of these issues due to meeting performance targets means leadership has to make time. And if it does not, we become the problem.  

At what point do people care about something bigger than themselves? This means you as a person have the headspace to move from survival towards thriving. (

If ⅓ of the world don’t know where the next meal today comes from, they will not have the headspace to worry about sustainability.

If the next additional ⅓ of the world don’t know where the food will come from for tomorrow, they will not have the headspace to worry about sustainability.

If the next ⅙ of the world will run out of food and money in 4 weeks - worrying about sustainability is not their most significant concern.

Less than ⅙ of the world can survive and think beyond four weeks - is that enough to make a difference, and are these people in roles that count?  

Between than 0.01% and 0.001%  (8m and 80m) people should be able to consider global complexity on the basis that they will never have money or food issues (over $1m in assets), but are they acting together and is their voice enough to make a difference?  

Is leadership's first priority to ensure that first ⅚ have enough to survive and worry for them, but are they able to manage this conflict?  Which group has the headspace to cope with recycling?  What is amazing and worthy of note is that the majority of those who care about the environment, sustainability, recycling have created headspace irrespective of their situation. The argument above was designed to frame your thinking, the reality is we don’t create headspace because we are too busy.

Part 5.  The imposter syndrome: followers are not followers

Politics (leadership), Business (leadership), Quango/ NGO (leadership), individuals (leadership), influencers (leadership) - all have different agendas, and demands for different outcomes as incentives drive in different directions.   We lack sustainable leadership that drives in one direction. 

As a Leader and opinion former, the most troubling finding should be that individuals with more “scientific intelligence” are the quickest to align themselves on subjects they don’t know anything about. In one experiment, Kahan analysed how people’s opinions on an unfamiliar subject are affected when given some basic scientific information, along with details about what people in their self-identified political group tend to believe about that subject. It turned out that those with the strongest scientific reasoning skills were most likely to use the information to develop partisan opinions.

Critically Kahan’s research shows that people that score well on a measure called “scientific curiosity” actually show less partisanship, and it is this aspect we need to use.

Do we need to move away from “truth”, “facts”, “data”, and “right decisions” if we want to have a board and senior team who can become aligned? We need to present ideas, concepts, how others are finding solutions and make our teams more curious. Being curious appears to be the best way to bring us together — however counterintuitive that is.  But to do that, we have to give up on filling time, productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, keeping people busy and giving more people time to escape survival and work together for the better good. 

There is a systematic squeezing out of curiosity in our current system.  Are we to blame through schooling and education, and search engines? Have we lost how to be curious if the fact and truth presented to us is one that just aligns to our natural bias or one that challenges us?   Do we spend sufficient time with others' views to be able to improve our own?  Has individualism and personalisation created and reinforced our self opinions of our own views are correct?  Does the advertising model depend on this divide?

Part 6. Conclusion, rationality and irrationality 

There is a clear message to those in leadership; stop using evidence to create division, push people away or sure up your own camp. How do we take (all) evidence in and use it to ask questions which mean we come together for a common purpose?  

Politics becomes irrational as we focus more on the individual and less on society and community. Politicians and policy formation need to be voted in, which means they have to mislead and misrepresent their populations who are acting in their own interests: therefore, we find evidence for decisions for short term gain based on individual preferences and not long term community - this is obvious but has to be said.  The same is happening in many corporations.

Anger is often seen as a rational emotion, but that is because we focus on the evidence we want to justify the action. When you feel under-represented, threatened, or in harm's way - the evidence you want will fit the glove. Understanding how the evidence frames us is what brings value to the process. 

Part 7. Call to action: The Road to Sustainability webinar series

We believe we have to communicate better, talk openly, listen to more, debate to appreciate, be curious and find a route to collaborate. The best way is to do something small.  Sign up for the sessions below and bring your evidence, but be prepared to take away different evidence so we can make better decisions together. 

The Road to Sustainability is a content and tool platform and initiative launched in October 2020 that started as a weekly email newsletter providing approaches and strategies to plan sustainability and innovation. We are launching the third edition of our webinar series, following up on the successful two previous versions, “From chaos to recovery: gateway to sustainability”.

This new series will take place every Monday through 5 meetings from October 4th to November 8th, with a possible extension of the plan.

The following schedule is based on our approach "Roadmap and product management - the new framework for sustainability conversations". The sessions have an informative purpose and constitute sets of criteria to help organisations in their operations towards sustainability:

Please register here: