How do we change the habits of “burning men” to save the climate?
The collection of grassroots solutions to tackle Open Burning in Ukraine
While identifying the motivations and the scale of the practice of open burning in Ukraine, we mapped a number of innovative approaches developed by local residents to address this issue. Some of these grassroots solutions are worth Netflix streaming. Generally, they can be ascribed to the following domains: additional district orders, monitoring methods, community volunteering, law enforcement practices, and communication campaigns. Some of these solutions belong to a few categories at the same time.
Communication materials are the easiest to implement and probably the most effective tools to change the practice. We have found many local initiatives and tested our own. Let me walk you through some of the most fun of them.
The popular anti-burning messages designed by the state or NGOs can be divided into two types: the ones that tell you about the harm to wild animals and those that highlight the harm to human health. These messages have not changed in years and may have a very limited effect on the public mindset. Like the anti-smoking posters which almost disappeared from our cities, other tools such as changing the policies and package design can be much more effective.
Seeing the limited effect of the mainstream posters, we started looking for hidden local communication solutions. One of them is coming from the so-called “God’s Eye” project we heard of from the former chief of the local environmental NGO. Local enthusiasts convinced donor organizations and the priest at the local church to install 3 HD surveillance cameras at the dome — the highest point in the town. With these cameras, local firefighters and residents were able to check the peatlands surrounding the town for any fire incidents. Of course, the cameras also showed when someone was burning leaves or garden waste. Firefighters did not use them for monitoring much, unlike the priest, who regularly communicated the need to “watch ourselves” and not pollute the air with smoke. “If cameras can see this much, imagine how much the God sees”,- he told the parish. His backroom was turned into the electronics support center.
Another tactic is to use ticks. Since the massive burning of the grass and meadows reduce the bird population, the number of pests starts to grow uncontrollably. Park administration in Chernivtsi published a thank you letter from tick Valeriy who is grateful to those who burn the grass. “Thanks a lot”,- says the tick in a Facebook post.
Once presenting our research of peoples’ motivations to burn organic waste and the three burners’ personas, we opened Pandora’s box. Before our analysis, the predominant public perception was that the most harm to the ecosystem is coming from grandmas burning fallen leaves. However, with the data obtained we convinced 200 communities participating in our research, that the most harm is instead coming from the farmers and the “activists” burning common territories.
We introduced new persons to the public discourse. The “farmer” persona was a real hidden treasure: they are powerful in their areas and do their burning far from the settlements, so people did not associate them with the air quality pollution. The people who burn grass also were in the spotlight, helping the research participants to excavate relatable stories and reflect on such behavior.
Taking the blame away from leaves burners (“household” persona), set a new trend: “grass burner” suddenly became a new social anti-hero and an insulting term in Ukraine. From politicians to scandalous celebrities — the Internet exploded with referrals to them as the “grass burners”.
Many respondents from the communities told us that when nothing seemed to work in persuading burners to stop their practice, there was a joker card that worked almost all the time. Even the most active burners could not resist the fact that their smoke impacts the health of their children. We later shared this insight with the largest communications agencies from the Dentsu umbrella in Ukraine: Isobar and Amplifi who were at the final stages of releasing their platform “We breath it in”. The message was coming from kids. Being top professionals in their field, campaign makers achieved outstanding results, and their posters, songs, and videos went viral.
While doing our research and learning about solutions from our communities, we could not miss the buzz around Kyiv-based artist Oleksandr Grekhov with his interpretation of the Ukrainian legendary (and somewhat sacred) writer Taras Shevchenko. Not thinking very long, we ordered a new painting from Oleksandr of Shevchenko promoting burning-free life “Do not burn — compost”. It was another hit in our communities.
Most of us are probably not superstitious but, like Michael Scott said, at least “a little stitious”. An NGO in central Ukraine decided to exploit this side of human culture, creating a semi-humorous fortune teller, who does not recommend burning dry grass (to put it mildly).
Although it was impossible to conduct isolated experiments to test different solutions in separate communities, from the anecdotal evidence we developed a sense of what combinations of solutions seem to be working best. Amidst the national increase in fines, different weather conditions, and many overlapping anti-burning initiatives taking place, we observed the overall reduction of fires.
At the start of our dive into open burning in Ukraine, we were advised to look for solutions in other countries where this practice was successfully eradicated. While we did find some inspiration there, local solutions were the most organic and resonated well with the communities’ capacities.
The open burning in Ukraine continues, however many local stakeholders are now much better equipped with the behavioral insights and grassroots solutions.