CROWDSOURCING SUSTAINABILITY

Exciting news!

by | April 23, 2021

So…something kinda cool happened: I was recently recognized by the UN!

The 1M2030 initiative is working “to build a global movement of one million global youth leaders for sustainable development to carry the 17 SDGs to 2030 and beyond.”

I got nominated in the Fall and was asked to write an article about the issue I’m focused on and the work I’m doing (starting with a sentence saying my name and that I was “one in a million” which I couldn’t bring myself to do haha).

Anyway, it’s essentially my high-level thinking on climate and touches on Crowdsourcing Sustainability’s theory of change if you’d like to check it out.

I’ve copied it into this newsletter, but you can see it on their site too of course.


Hi, my name is Ryan Hagen and I am one of millions. This is our cause.

“The climate crisis is not just another issue. It is an era.” – Alex Steffen

Reversing global warming is the greatest challenge of our time.

With each year that passes we’re facing more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, and heatwaves. We’re seeing our coastal communities shrink due to sea level rise, a relentless decimation of wildlife, and much much more.

This climate chaos is increasingly taking or threatening our food, water, health, livelihoods, homes, and lives.

These are the foundations of society. And they’re beginning to crumble before our very eyes.

The climate is critical because it is the context in which everything else takes place.

We rely on it for everything.

WWF biosphere society economy chart
Credit: Living Planet Report, WWF, Azote Images for Stockholm Resilience Centre.

To put it simply, if we get climate wrong, nothing else will be right.

Here are the main things to understand about the climate crisis right now:

At its core, reversing global warming is about protecting the people we love and the places we call home.

It is about saving and improving the lives of people around the world. (Not to mention all the other life on earth we are biologically related to.)

And, luckily, what our future looks like is still up to us. Everyone has an important role to play in saving everything we can and rebuilding a better world.

The key to reversing global warming: people power.

Climate change isn’t really a scientific or technological problem anymore. We’ve had the basics figured out for a while now.

At this point, meaningful climate action is all about power.

Some of the most powerful people and companies in the world are actively working to delay climate action so they can keep making unimaginable amounts of money (they’ve been doing this for decades).

Not to mention the fact that change can be a slow and hard process anyway. The system itself has a certain level of inertia and resistance to move away from business as usual. But these forces must be overcome. The IPCC says we need “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in every aspect of society that are “unprecedented in terms of scale”.

Fortunately, we already have the solutions to reverse global warming. And they’re economical.

*What we’re missing is the power to implement them.*

Elizabeth Sawin calls this the ‘power to change direction gap’:

“Think of it as the gap between our current influence on the decisions that determine future emissions and the amount of influence we would need to close the emissions gap.
The ‘power to change direction gap’ is the one that will close first. Once it closes the emissions gap will follow.”

Other climate experts agree.

“The possibility of swift change lies in people coming together in movements large enough to shift the Zeitgeist.” – Bill McKibben
“Political will is not some final item on the grocery list to be checked off once everything else is in the cart. It is everything. None of the rest of it, none of the available policies and technologies, mean anything without it.” – Dave Roberts

The 3.5% Rule

Perhaps the best way to conceptualize and measure this power to change direction is with the “3.5% rule”.

Erica Chenoweth’s research analyzed the last 100 years and found that it only takes 3.5% of a population’s active, sustained, and non-violent participation to force political change.

“No single campaign failed after they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population. And lots of them succeeded with far fewer than that.” – Erica Chenoweth

Erica believes the 3.5% rule likely applies to smaller-scale efforts as well.

Recent events imply she is probably right. The “Amazon Employees for Climate Justice” make up just 1% of Amazon employees, but they have started to turn the behemoth into a climate leader in a very short period of time. And New Zealand passed science-based laws immediately after 3.5% of their population protested in September 2019.

Grassroots power is succeeding where nothing else has for decades.

It is the first domino in the sequence of transformative change.

This is the power that needs to be built.

Crowdsourcing Sustainability is helping to build the power to change direction

Three years ago, I decided the most effective thing that I could do was actually to get as many other people as possible to work on sustainable solutions together. I’m just one person after all.

So I started writing a weekly sustainability newsletter to inform minds, touch hearts, and inspire action.

My goal was to unleash the power of people everywhere to help reverse global warming as soon as possible. I saw this as the best way to save and improve lives.

Now, over 125,000 people from 150+ countries are reading the Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletter.

We’re strengthening existing sustainability leaders and helping to bring new ones on board to reach the needed 3.5% in schools, towns, states, companies, and countries around the world.

These amazing people are increasingly influencing policy and investment decisions where they live and work.

When I’m lucky, people share their stories with me about how this newsletter and community have influenced them and what they’ve done as a result.

Here are a few things Crowdsourcing Sustainability has inspired and empowered people around the world to do:

  • Peacefully protest. And give speeches at protests.
  • Change careers.
  • Change majors.
  • Divest from fossil fuels.
  • Present to co-workers about the climate crisis and solutions.
  • Organize co-workers to make their company offer sustainable retirement funds to their 50,000 employees.
  • Present to communities and churches. And begin organizing them to implement solutions and affect change.
  • Speak up more about the climate crisis with friends, family, and at the office.
  • Publish climate comic books.
  • Write letters to loved ones in the future about climate change.
  • Get out the vote.
  • Turn anxiety and depression into activism.

The newsletter has also been cited and re-used by many other organizations in this space.

In just the last year Crowdsourcing Sustainability became a non-profit, launched a slack group to connect readers and enable collaboration, started a podcast, began getting help from an amazing team of volunteers, and has seen ten times more people start reading the newsletter!

Final thoughts

The latest climate science is scary.

I believe the effects of global warming will be far worse than most people expect.

But I also believe that we have the capacity to rebuild a better society much faster than most anyone thinks is possible.

We think linearly. But these climatic and social processes move exponentially.

So I still have hope.

I have hope because I see more people like you and me stepping up every day. People are bringing their unique skills, ideas, experiences, networks, and resources to the table. This diversity is a major strength. We all have different pieces to the puzzle. They all matter. We need all of them.

I see more and more people speaking up about the climate crisis and organizing with others in the places they live and work to make them sustainable as soon as possible.

And that is exactly what we need to do to rebuild a safer, healthier, and more just world.

A big shoutout and thank you to the millions of people already working on this critical problem. You are appreciated. You are not alone.

And an open invitation to anyone who isn’t on board yet. We can’t do this alone. We need you too. And when you’re ready, we’ll take you in with open arms.

This post originally featured in the Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter below!

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