Every now and then, I come across a piece of climate-related news that boosts my spirit and gives me a bit more hope for the future of our planet.  Several weeks ago, it was a solar project in Sunnyside, a Houston community.  And a few days ago, I was in my car listening to NPR and a local reporter was describing a conference she had recently attended called Climathon – Houston.  She explained how entrepreneurs, coders, social scientists, city leaders and other interested parties had presenting their ideas and proposed solutions to address specific, local climate issues.  I thought to myself, “wow, this sounds interesting”.

Back at home I did a bit of research and learned from the web-site:

Climathon is a year-round programme, with a powerful solutions-hackathon at its core, translating climate action solutions into tangible projects, supporting climate positive businesses & start-ups and addressing local policy changes.

Being unfamiliar with terms like “solutions-hackathon” it took a little more digging to better understand Climathon but basically, these folks gather on a specific day, this year on October 25, and offer solutions to challenges identified by the city, usually software, and ideas to address climate problems.  The solutions are evaluated and further developed over the next several weeks and later, selected ones are presented in Paris.

Houston, along with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., was one of four cities in the U.S. to participate this year.  Last year, over 5,000 participants representing 113 cities, 46 countries, and 6 continents developed over 400 solutions to address climate challenges.

The City of Houston identified four challenges that participants could address:

Challenge #1: Crowdsource Solutions for the City of Houston

Stakeholder and citizen engagement are an important part of solving Houston’s climate challenges. The City seeks solutions towards multiple goals from the Mayor’s Climate Action Plan, which guide the strategies and actions that the City and community can take to reduce our GHG emissions and help prepare for a changing climate  Details #1

Challenge #2: Better Decisions from Better Carbon Visibility

By giving consumers visibility to the carbon footprint of different energy sources, which companies utilize these sources, and the degree to which they utilize these sources, we can empower consumers to make informed purchasing decisions about their energy supply.  Details #2

Challenge #3: Impact Climate Awareness and Action

When sustainability is taken into account, not every action carries the same weight. How can we motivate people to adopt a new, sustainable lifestyle and act in meaningful ways in their everyday lives in order to address the main causes of climate change?  Details #3

Challenge #4: Houston Electric Vehicles (EV) Challenge

For a developing EV market to thrive it is important that would-be adopters have awareness of and convenient access to options that suit their needs and preferences.

The NPR reporter interviewed some participants that were working on an app that would enable EV owners to determine where charging stations were located.  Sounds simple but very important.

Now if you’d like more details on any of these challenges, the links above will provide much more information.  But the thing that struck me about Climathon more than any specific project or plan, was the idea of figuring out how to motivate people to change their behavior regarding climate issues. This might involve providing them more accessible information, say with an “app”, or making climate choice decisions like a game, or providing incentives that encourage them to better utilize resources by making them aware of their climate “score”. 

If you’ve been reading my previous blogs, you’ve seen me recognize that my individual choice to, say “ride the bus” is a minuscule action relative to what is needed – what is really needed is “a million, or 10, or 100 million people” to “ride the bus” or whatever.  Climathon is addressing how to multiply individual efforts into larger movements that will make a difference and that gives me hope.

A while back, my son forwarded me an interesting video which examines what things motivate people to act on an issue like saving electricity.  Turns out the most effective way to motivate people was to have them compete with each other (i.e., I saved more electricity than anyone in our building). People are also moved to action when thinking about their children. They are less motivated to save money (e.g., by using less electricity) and turned off when shamed into saving the planet.  Click this link to see this very interesting video, just under 10 minutes.

If we conclude that addressing climate change is a HUGE problem and won’t be solved by small actions, then we must figure out how to mobilize society and motivate people to make the changes that are critical, like using less electricity.  Climathon and studies like the one in the video about saving electricity offer critical insights into how to do this, and that is encouraging.

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