What’s behind the cCHALLENGE?
The ideas and approaches underpinning the cCHALLENGE come from research on the social and human dimensions of climate change. There are many theories of change based on different understandings of causality and the role of human agency in relation to social and political structures, and based on different conceptualizations of human-environment relationships.
Our goal with the 30-day cCHALLENGE experience is to stimulate thoughts and reflections on the process of change — especially the role that individuals can play in fostering systemic change.
In terms of responding to climate change and sustainability challenges, individual behavioral change is often promoted as the most important response to climate change. Numerous efforts have been made to understand, influence, manipulate and “nudge” behaviors in sustainable ways. People are increasingly told that “this is good for the climate” or “this is bad for the climate.” It is difficult to make sense of all of the contradictory information, and easy to feel guilty for everyday actions, from feeding a pet to breathing. A focus on changing individuals and their “attitudes, behaviors and choices” has been criticized by social practice scholars for ignoring the underlying systems of provision, and the extent to which behavioral options and possibilities are structured by norms, rules, regulations, and institutions.
Another body of research on social-technical transitions draws attention to the need for changes in energy, transport, agriculture and other large systems. This research emphasizes learning processes, adaptive management, innovation and experimentation. It also points to the limits to rapid transformations because of deep structures and the lock-in of technologies. This research sees innovation as coming from entrepreneurs and managers, with little room for most people to contribute to systemic change.
Many “transformative” responses to climate change ignore the role of politics and power in perpetuating business as usual—or its potential for creating sustainable alternatives. Depoliticized responses to climate change have been criticized for downplaying the role of dialogue, deliberation, and disagreement.
The problem with many sustainability and climate change responses is that people have become objects to change, rather than subjects of change. People are given little agency to envision, enact and realize alternatives that are equitable and sustainable.
There is no doubt that transformative responses to climate change will involve a combination of technological innovations, institutional reforms, behavioral shifts and cultural changes. However, the most successful ones will also question the assumptions that are explicit and implicit in current development pathways and practices.
This is where the cCHALLENGE comes in. Through one small change experiment, it is possible to see the bigger picture, and to find new ways to approach change. When we recognize that we are part of larger systems, we realize that each of us matters much more than we think!