Modern Metropolis: Part 2 – Watch as the Cincinnati 2030 District starts to get off the ground. And learn why this national model for urban sustainability has caught on from one of its early pioneers, the Cleveland 2030 District. 

Barriers In Our Brains

Changing How We Think About Climate Change

Humans tend to favor the path of least resistance. It’s just how our brains are wired. For the most part, we prefer the quickest route, the simplest approach, and the lower fruits to those dangling from the highest branches. As a survival instinct, it’s true that this way of thinking has served us well throughout most of our evolutionary history. Today, however, we face a new and very specific set of challenges that is forcing us to rethink the way we engage with problems and seek solutions.

Take climate change, which is both a global issue and a human issue. And while technical ingenuity is part of the solution, some of our biggest barriers in dealing with this actually reside within our own minds. When it comes to this topic, our brains aren’t particularly conditioned to think objectively – especially when considering changes over longer periods of time, which the study of climate demands. These kinds of insights into our cognitive wiring have been popularized through the broader work of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow.” 

Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience may shed some light on how we can overcome these internal hurdles. To help us understand how our brains work, particularly when tasked with processing something as complex as this, we spoke with “Inquiring Minds” podcast host and cognitive neuroscientist Indre Viskontas.

“We get tired of hearing about all of these doomsday scenarios because it feels like we can’t do anything about it, explains Viskontas. “I mean when you’re an individual and you’re being told that we’re pumping so much carbon into the atmosphere that it’s going to cause these catastrophic changes in ocean systems so what can I do, recycle one extra soda can? Not use straws? These are all things that you can do, but it feels so insignificant in terms of the magnitude of the problem. And so we feel fear and we feel guilt, and those are passive emotions essentially, and it makes us not do anything about it. And it makes us feel bad so we ignore it. That’s problematic.”

In this segment, Viskontas digs deeper into how our brain’s two competing systems of thinking struggle to deal with a challenge as big as climate change.


Apocalypse Fatigue

The paralyzing “doom-and-gloom” narrative we’re hearing daily is more likely to leave us feeling powerless than informed and motivated. There are two closely-related factors at work here. First, people need credible expertise paired with quality communicators in order to fully understand the scale of a complex issue. But, second, people also need reasons to believe and examples of how and why an issue like climate change is relevant to them specifically. 

The plight of icebergs, glaciers and polar bears is profoundly important – but, for most people, these things are a world away. Any notions of change and loss need to be viewed through a local lens in order to make the issues more pertinent to people’s everyday lives. By pivoting the conversation and making these issues more personally relevant, we can reduce apocalypse fatigue and remove barriers to inspiration and action.

Make It Relevant, Make It Local

Much like fingerprints, every city is different, each unique in demographics, geography, infrastructure, resources, and countless other factors. That’s why thinking locally is crucial. Community-based solutions can provide people with ways of directly impacting their own lives, helping bridge a global problem to something more relevant. 

And these bridges can be built in a huge variety of ways. They can include, for example, approaches driven by religious principles as diverse as those evoked in Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “On Care for Our Common Home.”

Or, from a former NFL player. Atlanta-based activist Ovie Mughelli is helping elevate the topic of climate justice in communities most likely to bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of climate change.

Ovie Mughelli (Moo-Haley) has taken the same drive he had as a two time all pro fullback into his community — by combining a love of sports with his advocacy for climate justice.


The 2030 Districts

One organization that’s helping address climate change at a local level is the 2030 Districts. Using a model of pairing businesses and nonprofits, the 2030 Districts Network offers guidance on some easily-implemented yet impactful improvements for  cities to get behind in order to help curb the effects of climate change. Twenty-two Districts in the United States and Canada are already participating. Each is helping build momentum at a local level, fighting against “doom-and-gloom” paralysis with a proactive and innovative approach to addressing climate change.

About “Modern Metropolis” 

This documentary tells the story of how Cincinnati formed its own sustainability district, designed to make healthier buildings and community. From the city’s mayor to a soap company and into your home, this six-part series documents one community’s efforts to prepare their city for the future.

Part 1: The Science of Cities

Part 2: The 2030 Districts

Part 3: Strength in Unity

References / Further Reading