Ed Cotton: Long-Term Thinking Movement Can Change The Way We Consume Resources

Ed Cotton: Long-Term Thinking Movement Can Change The Way We Consume Resources

Taking a cue from Treehugger, the director of strategy at BSSP encourages consumers to start valuing long-term profit over short-term gain instead of risking the depletion of all of Earth's resources.

Valentina Park
  • 21 july 2011

One of the things behavioral economics does teach us is that we value short-term gain over long-term profit.

It’s hard-wired into our DNA and it’s all about our immediate survival, but take a look at this headline from Treehugger and you will soon realize that it’s at the root of many of our problems.

“More than Half of Tuna Species Facing Extinction, But Over-Fishing Them is Too Profitable to Stop.”

You can probably substitute any foodstuff/species and any natural resource like oil or water and we are likely to net out at the same place either now, or in the next few years.

Here’s the big problem-the more depleted a resource becomes- the more attractive it becomes to profiteers- because they have zero interest in the long-term.

So, either we risk all our resources getting depleted for profit or something gets done.

We are going to have to attack short-term thinking with a complex combination of education and incentives.

It’s going to require the full force of NGOs, governments, enlightened corporations and consumers to make it happen.

Take the tuna case highlighted above- here’s what you might need.

1. A massive campaign from NGOs/Government and Corporations to increase public awareness about the plight of all tuna species- not just a few

2. Education amongst fisherman and the fishing industry of the situation

3. Protection of all tuna that would involve making the fishing and consumption of some species potentially illegal

4. Establishment and identification of alternative employment for tuna fisherman and those in the tuna industry- could be in sustainable fisheries

5. Potential buyouts for the fisherman and fishing industry to seek alternative employment

6. Education and re-training for fishermen

It’s clear that this needs to be a massive global operation- involving the identification of the scarce resources, the establishment of priorities, planning to protect those resources and a creative mix of dis-incentives and incentives to ensure it happens.

The challenge is how to make this happen?

We don’t want the UN or a bunch of politicians running this organization- could there be a new structure that bring the brightest and best together to collaborate, make plans and solve for the big issues?

A new structure that morphs according to need; bringing in the right people only when needed and finding unique ways for groups to work together to make change.

Maybe Google and Facebook should be enabling this before bringing us the next version of the social network, or perhaps we can hope that the next version of the social network will enable this.

An example of the danger presented by lack of long-term thinking is told in the story recounted by Jared Diamond of what happened to Easter Island.

Eventually Easter’s growing population was cutting the forest more rapidly than the forest was regenerating. The people used the land for gardens and the wood for fuel, canoes, and houses-and, of course, for lugging statues. As forest disappeared, the islanders ran out of timber and rope to transport and erect their statues. Life became more uncomfortable-springs and streams dried up, and wood was no longer available for fires.

People also found it harder to fill their stomachs, as land birds, large sea snails, and many seabirds disappeared. Because timber for building seagoing canoes vanished, fish catches declined and porpoises disappeared from the table. Crop yields also declined, since deforestation allowed the soil to be eroded by rain and wind, dried by the sun, and its nutrients to be leeched from it. Intensified chicken production and cannibalism replaced only part of all those lost foods. Preserved statuettes with sunken cheeks and visible ribs suggest that people were starving.

(Read original post here).

Ed Cotton is the Director of Strategy at BSSP, and is curious about all things relating to brands, marketing and culture. Read more at influx insights.


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