Why tracking decisions matters both for health and climate  

Much can be said about our individual decisions, and the way we make them.

The world is full of advice on this: countless books, webinars, podcasts, online courses and workshops on how you can learn to make better decisions.

When it comes to climate related decision-making, some have argued that framing climate change about individual actions is false, and how we should really focus our efforts on battling big corporations to take action.

This includes industry and private sector, the way our energy is produced (rather than consumed by individuals), and how natural resources overall are extracted and processed.

While I definitely agree that this all makes sense from a broader perspective on how societies work, often it is the individual action still that makes policy issues relevant for people.

Also, encouraging individuals to think about their impact on the environment and making environmentally friendly choices is part of the demand curve that we can influence.

For example, I’ve started buying shampoo bars instead of shampoo bottles to reduce plastic waste; I try to avoid plastic packaging as much as I can overall.

In my view, the more we can as individuals and as a society keep things off landfills and from increasing rubbish, the better outcomes we can achieve.

 

Better decisions through improved measurement

We lament the problem of obesity in Western cultures in particular, which directly links to resource use and how for example meat and other high-energy demand foods are produced.

Part of my 2019 commitment to myself is to start exploring more healthy plant-based eating.

The benefits of eating more vegetable-based diets have been long known, so for most of us it does not come as a surprise that healthier food choices focus on changing away from fat, meat, etc.

But it is not just what we eat but also how much.

Most adults (myself included) don’t necessarily pay much attention to calories as the main thing is to eat well and remain healthy through exercise.

Yet, the average calorie intake is surprisingly small for what we need on daily basis to function.

Hence, when we discuss resource use and things like food waste, we should also be paying attention to our own eating habits.

It is likely that the majority of us is eating more than we really need, which results in increase in weight but also excess resource consumption.

 

Tracking myself

For my birthday, my family got me a watch that can obviously tell the time but also tracks my steps, my sleep patterns, and heart rate.

I have always been half-laughing at people who measure their food, who use devices to generate metrics on how fast they walk or exercise.

I used to think that I was doing ok and don’t really need that kind of information.

It is highly likely that I was in denial about my eating, sleeping and exercise habits.

Yet, after having this watch, it has caught me off-guard how little I actually move for example during those days when am at work.

If I always drove to work, I would probably be able to only get 1000 steps a day done, (which is about 10% of the recommended 10, 000 steps).

In most cases office work is about sitting next to the computer and having very little incentive to leave the desk (except for coffee and cake of course).

I know people can get very obsessed with numbers, but I am actually finding most of these metrics very useful on my energy inputs and outputs on daily basis.

To understand and develop proper metrics you need daily habits and building up information over time to generate useful knowledge about how you are progressing or (not).

 

Climate change adaptation tracking and monitoring

It has (of course) made me think of how we view climate change adaptation and how are (and are not) tracking it.

Given it is such a nebulous concept and often vague as it can literally mean anything to anyone, the problem of tracking adaptation progress is evident.

Even more so, since the Paris Agreement has established that all countries would need to report on their adaptation actions and strategies, there is now even more global push to start developing metrics that can enable comparison but also make sense in the country context.

But how do we do it in a way that it generates sensible metrics that can be tracked over time, and that are easy enough to generate on daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis?

It’s not like adaptation professionals have apps like my watch where they can sync information from their activities and generate such data over time.

The health movement has already established such measures calories, healthy calorie intake based on weight, height and age.

We know how much energy each calorie corresponds to, and can calculate how much we need to use in order not to gain excess weight.

These are more or less universal and can be used in a number of ways to provide metrics and information systems that enable real-time tracking.

So, the question then is what would such metrics look like for adaptation? Who should be defining these, and how would they be tracked and measured?

These are big questions that have been debated in the field for a long time already.

But they cut to the core of adaptation science: how do we collect data that is meaningful and accurate, and more importantly, how do we analyse that data to understand trends?

 

Decisions decisions decisions 

To me, all of this comes down to understanding the way we make decisions, and the systems we have in place to track how those decisions turn out.

Core part of this is learning from the processes and outcomes, and using those lessons to learn how to improve the very decision processes we undertake and live by.

Much of this we know when it comes to climate change:

The way we choose to consume resources and the way we choose not to.

Our decisions do matter, whether these are climate, energy or health related.

As Martin Luckas notes:

“the impulse of humans to come together is inextinguishable – and the collective imagination is already making a political come-back. The climate justice movement is blocking pipelines, forcing the divestment of trillions of dollars, and winning support for 100% clean energy economies in cities and states across the world”

Individual actions can and should build into mass movements that support particular decision pathways, in this case towards a more sustainable world.

Now more than ever, we truly need leaders who are ready to take on this challenge, and really pursue sustainability in all its forms.

 

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