It has often been highlighted that to get on a sustainable course towards prosperity, Filipinos need not a change of men but a change in men. It is a social transformation that needs to come from within. An article in Scientific American provides insight on how lessons learned from the success of some past initiatives that aimed to transform thinking in people and shape their regard for what were once deeply-ingrained beliefs and mindsets could be re-applied today.
In “Behavior Frontiers: Can Social Science Combat Climate Change?”, researchers are looking to “remove some of the guesswork about how individuals will use energy in 2050 by looking at past campaigns to induce personal change and their effectiveness”.
By studying past instances of social transformation, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) hope to predict future change in response to global warming as part of California’s Carbon Challenge—a study commissioned by the California Energy Commission to help the state cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels.
Lessons from how smoking was successfully turned from cool to uncool over the last several decades, and how a campaign to encourage the use of seat belts succeeded at strengthening laws to enforce their use might, in theory, be applicable to inducing change in critical human activities today where opportunities to reduce energy consumption abound.
For example, tobacco smoking has been in a steady decline since the 1960s with all sorts of factors driving this trend—improved science and epidemiology, education through labeling and advertising campaigns, and greater public awareness of risks—all of which could be applied to behaviors that contribute to climate change. “Watershed events and labeling can play important roles in transforming change. The 1964 Surgeon General report is an example [of a watershed event] and subsequent labeling for cigarettes was a big factor,” says energy researcher Max Wei of LBNL, adding that he imagines far more carbon or environmental labeling to inform the public.
By identifying the hurdles, policies and incentives used to, say, dissuade smokers from lighting up, the LBNL team says they can better pinpoint corresponding elements related to persuading individuals to alter their energy use.
Thus for the purposes of reducing energy consumption and, consequently, Americans’ carbon footprint, things like eating less meat, switching off unused lights, setting the thermostat to warmer temperatures in summer and lower temperatures in winter, among others, represent the next frontier of behavioural change campaigns.
Energy use coming from a runaway First World lifestyle happens to be the most relevant macro change imperative for Americans. For Filipinos the macro imperative is more basic — alleviating poverty and invigorating the economy.
For Filipinos, perhaps, a similar approach can be applied to developing programs and campaigns to change readily-apparent dysfunctional behaviours that contribute to the chronic poverty that our country is renowned for. Low savings rates, weak propensity to invest, consumerism, runaway reproduction, fiesta mentality, lack of imagination, atrophied sense of personal accountability, indifference to rules, and an inability to honour commitments among others collectively form a complex of character traits that predispose Filipinos to muddle along in that familiar mediocrity we have collectively become comfy with.
It is interesting to note that there is no one specific political solution that will address the roadblocks to prosperity presented by our dysfunctional culture. The solution lies in a sustained campaign to push a people who are driven primarily by a sense of hiya (shame), and not by any higher or nobler collective purpose. By progressively stigmatising these Filipino mindsets and character traits change can be effected from within. It is up to the influential among us — celebrities and opinion shapers — to effect this campaign by sending out the right messages and serving as role models to the people who take their cue from them.
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