Is climate change creating your new career?

Anthony Cabraal
Dec 27, 2017 · 8 min read

This short blog post announces the release of the Low Carbon Challenge 2017 reflections report. To skip straight to the report, click here.

As 2017 scrolls out of our lives, Planet Earth leaves us some interesting challenges and opportunities to reflect on….

The past 365 days have generated more record hurricanes, floods, coral bleaching, heatwaves, melting sea ice and species extinctions. This hard, measured data from our changing climate is part of the puzzle that also includes the social instability, squeezed resources and geo-political tensions that have been rolling through our newsfeeds this year.

The scary part.

Systemic level challenges like climate change exist because of the invisible structures, services and ways of life we demand as individuals. It looks like the cars we drive, the companies we work for, the coffee cups we throw away, the shares we invest in, the steak we fry, the media we choose to believe, the imported pineapples in our fridge, the cheap flights we grab online, the shoes on our feet and….. all the energy required to make those things a reality.

Let’s be honest. The biggest challenge here is deeply personal.
It’s easy to feel hopeless about climate change when it’s all so closely linked to all our own decisions and actions. No one wants the hard work they do and the fun they have to be the cause of global collapse. No one wants to feel guilty for existing when we finally have time for a break to put our feet up and enjoy a holiday.

Unfortunately for all us whether or not we believe in the scientific insight and data, whether we feel the moral compulsion to act, whether it aligns with our political agenda or economic worldview or whether we can be bothered forming an opinion or not, this stuff is real.

Whose problem is it?

Progressive governments are championing ambitious zero carbon policies.

Movie stars are turning into activists to lobby the UN and benevolent billionaires are going all in on electric, battery driven futures. Sure, the wonderful, powerful and influential can and will do a lot to help. All of that is great, but the scale of this challenge is much bigger than all of them.

The solutions that we need, to create the version of the future that we want, will take a bigger shift than just a few people can imagine.

Silver bullets won’t work. 1, 2, 10, 20, 100 or 200 solutions won’t be enough. We need thousands, maybe millions, of new solutions to be created and supported. That needs so much more than a few heroes and well intentioned governance.

We’re talking about changing a system here.

Systems change needs each of us to build the pieces we can see, to allow all of us create something none of us can yet imagine.

Together all of us make this system. We build it everyday. We are it. We need to believe that we can change the system. We need to believe that we ourselves can change. And, most critically, we need to build the actual solutions that will transition our society to get us there.

So, how do we actually make an impact here? How do we invest our time and resources into the work that actually works? How do we change? How do we know it will work? How do we test it? Where do we start?

The good news.

We are a pretty clever species, and we’ve never been more educated, connected or resourced. We have never had more reason to believe that we can solve these problems. We have everything we need, we have learned enough to see the signals pointing us in the right directions, we just need to coordinate and execute.

  • It’s about cities. Today most humans live in cities. Creating deeply sustainable urban lifestyles is a big light at the end of the tunnel for our species. Today cities are big contributors to most of the challenges we face. Cities also have the most resources to develop solutions as well as the most motivation to get them right.
  • It’s about solving real problems for normal people. Ideas that don’t solve problems and makes life better will fail. However well intentioned the solutions we can imagine, they need to have teeth that bite into something we care about in our everyday lives.
  • It’s about economics. Dreams need fuel. We are people and we are consumers. We have needs and we have a certain amount of resources to fulfil those needs. Practical transitions need to work inside our current economic decision making system. In short, our low carbon initiatives need to pay the bills.
  • It’s about everyone. There are no passengers on this planet. As leaders, innovators, funders, cheerleaders of change, early adopters and customers of new ideas, supporters and community — we are all implicated in this time of transition. Solutions need to visible, accessible and relevant to everyone.

If we funnel resources towards interventions that can help to speed up and amplify solutions that address these concerns we can enable the kind of changes that can shift our deeply connected systems.

The opportunity of a lifetime.

Leadership takes guts.

Over the past 4 years the Enspiral community, alongside friends, collaborators and partners in Wellington, have been delivering the Low Carbon Challenge.

The programme is an intervention to support more people to test, learn and build solutions that support the transition to a low carbon economy. It continues to evolve and grow every year with feedback from funders, participants and the organisers.

As an intervention, it does a few things.

  • It creates visible city-wide collaboration. Running a Low Carbon Challenge means inviting funding, support and participation from across the civic, corporate, professional services and entrepreneurship sectors. This builds visible collective action on climate change and sends a strong signal that any organisation can (and needs to) contribute to this work.
  • It enables innovators. The core of the programme is about championing the people driving the solutions. The programme helps early stage entrepreneurs and innovators to land partnerships, gain visibility and profile, learn new skills, build a community and access new funds in a very short period of time.
  • It is open to anyone. Using crowdfunding as the mechanism to create social awareness and customer validation means contributing to the programme is effectively, open to the public. Anyone can pledge on any of the campaigns to support any of the teams.

I believe interventions like Low Carbon Challenge have real potential to make tangible impact but they require long-term thinking, generous intent and the courageous investment of both money and time.

It is fuzzy logic that investing in human capital, building cross-sectorial support structures and inviting open, public testing of ideas via crowdfunding can all help shift our interwoven social fabric to a more sustainable, equitable future. It takes guts to invest time and money in that.

In our corner of the world, Wellington City Council has been the funding and motivational catalyst to enable us, and a community of partners in the city to get this off the ground.

Is it working?

2017 saw a record number of applications, organisational partners, the establishment of a Low Carbon Partnership Fund and 6 successful teams launching crowdfunding campaigns to support initiatives tackling a broad range of challenges, from menstrual waste, to local bio-diesel production to infant clothing to polystyrene recycling.

The report from 2017 outlines our thinking and vision, reflections on the programme from the 2017 cohort as well as an invitation and resources for anyone else to pick up and run the Low Carbon Challenge in your city.

**You can read the report and access the resource here.**

Low Carbon Challenge is supporting innovators to build tangible solutions to local problems right in front of them. Not all of their ideas will succeed, and these solutions won’t change the whole world. And that is a big part of the point.

All roads lead to people.

Can you turn climate change into a great career?

The crux of this intervention lies in the potential of entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is a way of looking at the world. It’s about spotting problems, seeing opportunities and working out a way to turn them into your livelihood. It’s not easy. But I believe it is the perfect muscle that our modern society needs to see through the noise, drop the false excuses and build the transition to a truely sustainable economic model.

This worldview also makes these problems firmly our own individual responsibility to solve.

Photo by RayBay on Unsplash

These are the times we live in. These are the challenges in front of us. These are the opportunities they present. What are you going to do about it?

Have you considered what might happen when we support enough motivated, purposeful people to build their livelihoods solving problems that change the world? What other better choices do we have?

Enabling many more powerful problem solvers.

Early stage entrepreneurship is difficult in any market. The barriers to entry are tougher than they need to be and the chance of failure is high. Everything is uncertain. The learning curve is steep. You don’t know what you don’t know and you need all the help you can get.

By growing the profile and support of programmes like Low Carbon Challenge we begin to change the odds for people willing to take a risk and make a first or second step and continue their journey building solutions.

Globally there must be hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people already creating potential solutions to improve society. We have no idea which ideas are the right ones and which people or organisations will succeed. What we do know is that with the right support less will fail and with the right opportunities many more will join the cause and play their part.

So in it’s essence, programme’s like Low Carbon Challenge represent time, money and focus spent to enable more people to test things, learn things, fail, try again, grow their entrepreneurship muscles to (hopefully) begin to succeed in building solutions, businesses and livelihoods that solve important problems for our little corner of the world in Wellington.

And this model can be adapted to any city in the world to support local innovators to solve problems in their environments.

How can we help you?

Our work here is to unlock the right motivation and resources, be it political, economic or deeply personal, to keep building the momentum to support entrepreneurial action and tangible solutions.

  • We want to see the Low Carbon Challenge continue to grow in Wellington, New Zealand.
  • We want to share our learnings to support more programmes like the Low Carbon Challenge to start and grow in other cities across the world.

Where ever you are in the world, if we can be of service to help you support more people to join this growing global movement please be in touch.

We’re just getting started.

Ants Cabraal works across several companies as an investor, director and business developer with the Enspiral network. Currently focused on building ventures working in education and professional development. Get in touch:

Enspiral Tales

Stories from a bold experiment - creating a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.

Thanks to Silvia Zuur.

Anthony Cabraal

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Words to help people trying to make the universe a better place.

Enspiral Tales

Stories from a bold experiment - creating a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.