Rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior is not a new idea in finding solutions to climate change. The intention of carbon markets was finding a way for companies to meet their compliance obligations under cap and trade in the most economically efficient way, and for offset providers to see an opportunity to make money being better stewards of the atmosphere. More carrot; less stick.
In some ways this has worked—but it hasn’t scaled. When it comes to scaling, effective software plus the profit motive can get the goods. This is where Nori and one of our latest podcast guests come in.
Nori’s Reversing Climate Change podcast had on Gaya Roshan to talk about her project dashboard.earth. What if people could track their behavior through an app in order to reward their climate-friendly behavior?
We’re spoiled in 2018. I want a seamless and beautiful digital experience. I grew up using Amazon when it was just a bookstore. Why aren’t carbon markets as simple for the consumer as that? That’s part of Nori’s approach. Gaya is thinking bigger than just carbon removal though; dashboard.earth is a platform where individuals can receive rewards for their behavior that results in environmental impact and ecological stewardship.
If you could reward people for buying produce from a farmers market, for taking the bus or carpooling rather than driving alone, or for volunteering in a community garden, would that incentivize more people to do these beneficial behaviors?
Gaya’s thesis is yes, this might push people to act more consistently with stewardship in mind. I’m inclined to believe this as well. These stewardship behaviors in isolation are sometimes hard to justify unless you are strict enough with yourself to go full Kantian categorical imperative: act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. Most people aren’t that committed.
It is hard for me to feel so angered by people unwilling to make that sacrifice individually. As I’m fond of saying, if we all need to take the bus to cut emissions and you volunteer to take the bus but not enough other people do, you essentially lost twice as you rode the bus instead of a more comfortable experience, and climate change still happened.
You can change this dynamic if the rewards do not depend upon everyone doing it for it to be effective. A direct payoff can be more motivating than the abstract looming threat of climate change. If you were given a valuable token for taking the bus instead of driving yourself, that could make individual action rational. It breaks the dreaded climate Nash equilibrium. In making solutions to climate change more rewarding and less punitive, you give people less reason to oppose the reality of climate change.
I will continue to follow dashboard.earth, and am very keen to see more details regarding their monetary policy. I think individual rewards are scalable and can change behavior in a way that leaning on altruism is not sustainable, and policy too clumsy. More solutions to climate change like this would move the needle.