Designing Global Climate Activism with Dave Johnson

Meet Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson began his career as a trial lawyer in the courtrooms of Miami. After a decade, he came to Stanford to study design, tech, and environmental law. He has worked for several Silicon Valley companies, with an increasing focus on teaching, first at Stanford Law School and then the Hasso Plattner Institute for Design at Stanford (a/k/a the d.school).

His most recent articles are Design for Legal Systems, to be published by the Singapore Academy of Law, Mar/Apr 2021, and Designing Online Mediation: Does “Just Add Tech” Undermine Mediation’s Ownmost Aim?, published in 2019 by FGV Direito, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Dave lives in Bay Area with his wife Rebekah, and their puppy-in-law, Buster. He is currently writing a book on design and climate activism with the working title “Climate Activism by Design”

Many climate activists have been spinning their wheels in previously made tracks. Our guest on this episode, Dave Johnson, thinks that we need a better design.

Dave began his career as a trial lawyer in the courtrooms of Miami. After a decade, he came to Stanford to study design, tech, and environmental law. He has worked for several Silicon Valley companies, with an increasing focus on teaching, first at Stanford Law School and then the Hasso Plattner Institute for Design at Stanford.

He is currently writing a book on design and climate activism with the working title “Climate Activism by Design”

Listen in as we chat about the difference between design and design thinking, how it can help solve the climate crisis as well as overcome its limitations, and the idea of creating your own personal greenprint!

Dave Johnson – Getting started

While getting a second law degree, he became interested in international environmental law specifically on international environmental treaties and agreements. 30 years ago good warming was starting to get a lot of attention in the legal community. Dave took a deep dive into these International agreements such as the Montreal Protocol and the Kyoto Climate agreement.

Then he went to work with several companies in silicon valley after finishing his degree, one of which happened to be an organizational design firm in Silicon valley which really piqued his interest in design. Dave became deeply immersed in climate issues and international environmental issues and was able to naturally blend these design principles into his work.

He quickly realized that he wanted to put his energy into activism in international climate activism by design, and decided to start working on a book to share his research with the rest of the world.

Global Climate Activism

Climate change is something that we have been dealing with for generations, still without a clear plan as to how we will effectively move forward in the way that we need to in order to save ourselves and this planet. Dave believes that the answer lies in the global structural design of our activism.

“The two places where the power resides to make something happen on a global scale are in governments and in corporations…Not even any 500 companies but just the business world. The corporate world at large around the world and these two entities that have the power to cause change to happen for sustainability in our world which begins with, but does not end with, bringing down carbon pollution and bending what they call the keeling curve that we’re all familiar with (that up and rights curve of increased CO2 concentration in our atmosphere). Bending that curve back down to draw down to a point where we are actually moving back to where we were. That’s a huge challenge. It takes a global effort. It is ultimately going to be governments and corporations that do it and they are not doing it…And the only other source of power in the world in my view that’s going to be able to cause governments and corporations to do what they need to do is the population of the world and that means Global populism and that means global activism on climate issues.”

Dave says that he can bring his expertise in design, law, and negotiation into the toolbox for activists so that they can get more people on board as climate activists so we can effect real change internationally.

Design and Design Thinking

Coming up with an idea is easy. Coming up with the right one takes work. With design thinking, throwing out what you think you know and starting from scratch opens up all kinds of possibilities. – MIT Management Sloan School

Many people are familiar with the design of how things look and work. But design thinking is a set of tools that have been developed over time that designers and students throughout all disciplines can use to problem-solve.

“Design thinking can port, can help people adopt a designer’s mindset, improve their empathy, develop their creativity, improve their ability to work and collaborate on teams and then develop teams of teams. grow their confidence in tackling Wicked problems in working with others in a creative, positive way. All of these things can be improved by working through design thinking principles and design thinking tools.“

Design thinking began in the world of engineering and prototypes. Testing out products with as much feedback from the end-user as possible to come up with multiple iterations of the prototype until they get something they can market. But Dave wants to use that process to design activists.

“I’m talking about designing a system of activists who hopefully, ultimately can organically grow and organize themselves into a really solid functioning network of aligned people.”

Dave says that he hopes with his books that he can teach the application of design thinking and design of global climate activism by first reaching people at the individual level. He wants to give people an understanding of how design thinking works to guide them from their passion for climate change to finding other like-minded individuals to collaborate within small acts of service. Then, moving a step up at the organizational level, he wants these groups to network with one another and share their interests globally. The idea is that when these different groups are working together that they can organically grow and develop their momentum, create norms, and self-regulate.

Limitus test for climate activism?

So do we need to get everyone on the same level of understanding for the issues we face in order to solve the climate crisis?

Dave says that if people have the drive to do something about the climate change problem – they already know enough to get started. He wants to break the notion that you have to have all of the scientific knowledge or be present at large climate activism events to have their voices heard. You don’t have to be steeped in climate activism to make a change. We need people at all levels doing their part, what interests them, to make the whole system work.

As individuals and groups, we need to hold governments and corporations responsible for strictly adhering to the international agreements and laws that will move the needle for climate change.

“As a group, as a global group of people of climate activists, we have to accept that people are going to have different levels of knowledge and information. And we have to get past this idea, this litmus test, of well if somebody doesn’t know enough then they can’t join our group or they can’t help our group. We need to have a big tent. If you’re passionate and you believe in trying to make something happen to achieve sustainability, then you should be welcome.”

Designing for human behavior

Human behavior is uncertain, and climate activism is ambiguous. Without a clear plan, that ambiguity has caused us to try to create the same wheel repeatedly. Navigating ambiguity and uncertainty are at the top of the list of critical design abilities in the design world. This is why providing the tools to individuals on design thinking is important and will be addressed in Dave’s book.

“Tools that we talk about – engaging and embracing ambiguity and learning how to develop confidence in doing work and continuing to work on problem-solving in the midst of ambiguity. We may not know where we are or where we’re going in the problem, but if we’re confident that doing something, following our model, doing our work, will lead us out of that ambiguity and into clarity we develop not just confidence in that but we develop competence in the work.”

Creating a Personal Greenprint

The Nature Conservatory came up with the idea of a greenprint, or a sort of blueprint, to help develop environmental spaces to be more livable and sustainable for all life on the planet.

Dave spun this into his idea of creating a personal greenprint where individuals sit down to think
about their principles and values that move them towards sustainability and climate issues – or their eco philosophy.

“It could be a philosophy about one’s self in the world, about one’s self with respect to their community, how they feel about the environment, are they vegan, are they vegetarian. It could involve their spirituality, religion, and any sorts of things that they assemble. I think it is probably unique, like a fingerprint to every person. The idea is I had, referencing back this idea of iteration, is wherever you start in developing a personal greenprint, it evolves as we get more interested in learning more about environment and climate.”

Dave mentions the connection between whales and krill in Freya Matthews Book “The Ecological Self.” He argues that when we begin to think about our greenprint, it allows us to think of our relationship to the rest of the world around us and become more connected to it.

The Intergenerational Handoff

One area that design should help with is the intergenerational handoff. Instead of new activists feeling like they have to reinvent the wheel, or as I put it spin our wheels in previously made tracks, we should be sharing upon and building on our knowledge from generation to generation.

“I really feel strongly about improving the intergenerational handoff and obviously when we’re talking about a problem that’s going to cross 6, 8, maybe 10 generations across the next thirty forty fifty years until we get to 2050 – 2060. We need to do a whole lot better with empowering the youth to move forward instead of have to sort of wait and climb the ladder on their own just to take the position and learn what we know at this point in time.”

We shouldnt have to wait until we are old enough or powerful enough to make a change, but be able to use the information available to us now to change the world. Dave believes that through design and mass global activism we can achieve that goal.

To learn more about Climate Activism by Design and Become Part of The Global Movement – visit Climate Activist.

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