“Anything is possible. Problems are solvable. And we can create an exciting and abundant future for the good of all humankind.”
Tomorrow the fifty eighth session (SB 58) of the Subsidiary Bodies of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) —or “the SBs” as most of us refer to the spring intersessional— opens in Bonn, Germany.
One of the things that frustrates me most about the climate negotiations is how slow progress is, particularly in relation to the urgency and scope of the challenge that climate change presents to us as a global community. The gap between what is needed and what is achieved has grown exponentially in the 30+ years since the UNFCCC was established. Yet, we’ve programmed ourselves to revel in even incremental progress. That’s the very best we can expect we tell ourselves.
I’m a big fan of thinking blue sky thinking, of setting bold expectations. But when I articulate what those are, what I believe is possible, I often hear the phrase, “we can’t do that because developed countries won’t accept it”.
How do we justify that to the most vulnerable on the frontlines of climate change? You can’t get what you need because the people who make the decisions won’t allow it. Seriously? Are we okay with that? And doesn’t that assertion in and of itself re-enforce the gross power imbalance between global North and South we are working so hard to address?
For me this begs the question: who gets to decide? Who gets to decide what’s possible? Who gets to decide what we work towards and how quickly we achieve it? Who gets to decide the kind of world we want to live in. The answer is we do. We. All. Do. And we can all do better at broadening our expectations of what the global climate regime is capable of delivering.
Here’s the thing folks: we need a lot more moonshots in our work on global climate action. A lot more.
I think by now most of us have an idea of what a moonshot is. But in case you don’t, here’s a nice definition from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary which also explains how the concept has evolved over time:
While ‘moonshot’ originally meant “long shot,” it’s increasingly being used to describe a monumental effort and a lofty goal —in other words, a “giant leap.”
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Naveen Jain wrote a book on the topic of moonshots and has built his career —not to mention his companies— on taking his own moonshots. Earlier this year I took Jain’s quest on Mindvalley. In the quest he provides his own definition of moonshots:
Moonshots are these audacious ideas that on the surface look like they’re impossible to do, very difficult to do, but these are the ideas [that] if successful can help billions of people live a better life.
Jain argues that if others don’t think your idea is crazy, then it’s not a moonshot. For moonshots are truly audacious ideas —at least for those of who still see the world as finite (more on that later).
Moonshot thinking: Shoot for the moon and you just might land on the stars
To even conceive of a moonshot, we need to believe that achieving the truly audacious is possible. As the late psychologist and spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer said:
“You’ll see it once you believe it.”
To create moonshots you need to think big and to believe that we can achieve what others conceive of as impossible. Jain is a huge proponent of what he calls “moonshot thinking” which, in his own words, is:
“The simple belief that entrepreneurship and creativity can solve the world’s most pressing and complex challenges.”
Jain has a brain that is constantly scanning the world for what’s on the horizon. Where other people see challenges, he sees opportunities. In the quest he provides his insights on some of the challenges facing our world today which require moonshot thinking:
The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunities. If you want to create a billion-dollar company, you need to solve a hundred-billion-dollar problem. And if you want to create a hundred-billion-dollar company, you need to solve a trillion-dollar problem. The trillion-dollar problems tend to be social problems: lack of fresh water, disrupting healthcare, disrupting education, creating sustainable energy. Every one of them is a multi-trillion-dollar industry. And every one of them is ripe for disruption.
There’s no shortage of challenges in the world today. As such, Jain argues that there are enough possible moonshots (i.e. possibilities to change the world) that each person on Earth could have their own.
What does our moonshot look like?
Moonshots, by definition, are about solving problems that help billions of people and make the world a better place. No two people look at the world in exactly the same way. So, it stands to reason that our moonshots will be different.
The problem I have chosen to focus my life’s work on on is Loss and Damage. Finding an answer to this question of how to mobilize trillions of dollars a year to enable the most vulnerable households, communities and countries to address loss and damage from climate change —both economic and non-economic in nature— is the question I’ve dedicated my career to solving.
A few years ago, I was at a workshop to support vulnerable developing countries in the international climate negotiations. We were discussing the change we needed to see and aspired to achieve. The ideas that were circulating were not very far from those we had discussed on so many other occasions. And then one person said:
“What if there was no climate change?”
Queue the mic drop. The room got silent. Everyone turned and stared at the person who had spoken. Mouths open. Jaws dropped. Then out of the haze of disbelief, someone asked the person who had spoken to repeat what they had said. They responded:
“If we’re really practicing blue sky thinking, why can’t we contemplate that there is no climate change?”
I’m embarrassed to say I’d never thought of that before. Isn’t climate change a foregone conclusion? The scientific body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that global average warming has already increased by up to 1.3°C compared to pre-industrial times.
Can we roll back time?
Well, quantum physics tells us that time is not linear and that in reality, everything is happening at once.
So technically, yes?
My primitive brain has a hard time getting around that. What it does understand is that to comprehensively address climate change, we will need to transform the systems that have given rise to it. Because as Albert Einstein allegedly said: you can’t address a problem from the level of thinking that caused it. Another thing I know for sure is that we could see climate change as an opportunity to create a better world.
And I’m not alone.
Author and activist Rebecca Solnit wrote an opinion piece recently arguing exactly that and has a book called Not Too Late launching next week to tell us more about how we can transform the story of climate change from one of despair to one of possibility. Creating a world in which climate change is seen as an opportunity to create a better world is possible. Audacious sure, but possible. That’s my moonshot.
So what does this all mean for us as a community as we converge in Bonn over the next couple of weeks to discuss how to keep warming to below 1.5°C (remember blue sky thinking?) through mitigation efforts and how to address climate change impacts that have or will occur, be it through adaptation or measures to address loss and damage?
We have articulated our expectations as the Loss and Damage Collaboration which you can find here. This incremental progress is completely doable and it is the minimum we expect. But it’s far from what is needed.
So, what do I expect from the next two weeks in Bonn?
I expect bold visions of the future. I expect a whole lot of moonshots and a growing community of folks who believe that we can achieve whatever we believe is possible. Because we can, we will and we must.
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon as photographed by Neil Armstrong (Armstrong seen in the visor reflection along with Earth, the Lunar Module Eagle, and the U.S. flag) Image credit: NASA (CC0).
From scarcity to abundance: Transforming our mindsets
We can’t achieve our moonshot on Loss and Damage if we have a scarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset is like a cage. It sees resources as finite and possibilities as limited.
How are we going to transition from our scarcity mindset which revels in incremental progress? To start we’re going to need a collective growth mindset. And what that means is that as individuals we must be humble and open to learning new things. We must be willing to contemplate different realities.
We also need to understand how our minds work to reprogram them. Because at the end of the day it’s not our fault that we have scarcity mindsets. But it is our responsibility to transform them.
Our ancestors lived in a world in which they had to constantly scan the landscape for the negative because doing so was literally a matter of survival. Tigers or other large mammals who feasted on humans could quite literally be lurking around every corner.
But the world has changed. To truly thrive today we must program our minds to scan the world for the positive. To see opportunities around every corner. To think that anything is possible. That’s an abundance mindset. But even though the world has changed, most of our minds have some catching up to do.
But there is hope. Transforming your scarcity mindset to one of abundance can be done with discipline in a few simple steps according to Jain. These include:
• Becoming aware of your thoughts and focus them on possibilities, not challenges.
• Believing tomorrow will be better than yesterday and focus your energy on making it a reality.
• Being grateful for everything going right in your life now.
• Meditating every day even for just a few minutes —it’s a game changer.
These steps might be simple but they’re not necessarily easy. To develop an abundance mindset —which we’ll need to achieve our moonshot on Loss and Damage, we’ll have to be disciplined. But once we get there, we will be rewarded. Because everything will look and be different from the vantage point of abundance.
Jain maintains that once you’ve created an abundance mindset, “you will always think big.” He argues that once you dedicate your life to something, everything will fall in place to make it happen because “the smartest people want to work on the toughest problems.”
Transforming our audacious ideas into achievable actions
Another thing we need to do to achieve our moonshot is to learn from others. To not just build on the shoulders of giants in our own fields but also to learn from folks working on different global challenges.
Jain believes that when we become “experts” at anything, we become useless. When we focus too much on one thing, we become what he calls an “incrementalist”, achieving only incremental change. To make things exponentially better, we need to move from industry to industry, disrupting as we go.
I work on climate policy but I love drawing on the perspectives of and bringing ideas from other fields. I love learning from entrepreneurs, artists, and folks who generally shake the world up in different ways. Disruptors. Thought leaders. They inspire me.
It’s going to be very hard to create the world we want if we stay in our silos.
Author and thought leader Matthew Syed demonstrated the danger of homophily —or interacting only with like-minded people —in his book Rebel Ideas. The premise of his book is that to curate and cultivate rebel ideas we need to be having conversations and collaborating with folks from all different walks of life.
Some of us are born disruptors. I fall in that category. How do you become a disruptor? Welp, to start with, you need to become a dabbler in many things. You might become a specialist in something, but you must know what’s going on elsewhere. You must also commit to being a lifelong learner.
For me, that means reading books and listening to podcasts about entrepreneurs, and having lots of conversations with artists. For everyone, it will look a little different, but the point is don’t stay in your silo. You can’t create and you definitely can’t achieve moonshots that way.
Imagine the new reality: Seeing the world we want in our mind’s eye.
An important part of first finding and then achieving our moonshots is visualization. We must spend time imagining the world we want to create “in vivid colour”.
And then you must start working towards making your moonshot happen. And don’t forget, if it’s not scary, it’s not a moonshot. When we do anything audacious, we’re going to be scared. That comes with the territory.
But what’s worse, failing or not having tried in the first place? And what’s the worst that could happen? As Norman Vincent Peale said:
“Shoot for the moon. If you miss it, you will still land among the stars.”
So as we get ready for the opening of SB58 tomorrow, let’s go ahead and dream. Let’s conjure up audacious ideas together, and then, let’s make them a reality. Because the world needs our moonshots on climate action. And the most vulnerable people on the frontlines of climate change need us to conceive of and achieve our moonshot on Loss and Damage.
An earlier version of this version of this blog was originally published in Medium. You can find it here.
Erin Roberts is the founder and Global Lead of the Loss and Damage Collaboration. She is in Bonn working on expanding her expectations of what is possible as she gets ready for the opening of SB58 tomorrow.