Complexity and Ambiguity

Radio Tipping Point
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[00:00:00.330] – Mike Boyle
Our subject today, we’re dealing with complexity and ambiguity. And as I understand from you, Peter, that is one of your main focuses. And perhaps, maybe before we get started with the main part of what we wanted to talk about today, perhaps if you can tell the audience a little bit about yourself.

[00:00:22.530] – Peter Lefort
Great, yes, very nice to be here. Thanks for inviting me. So, my name is Peter Lefort. I have a few different hats related to this. I work for the University of Exeter, based in the southwest of the UK, and my role there is to effectively translate and take out of the academic space all of the environmental and climate research that the University is doing. So I run something called the Green Futures Network, which is about creating spaces where the latest information data frameworks can be made more accessible, can be tested, pulled apart, fed back on to try and democratize the need for more information about climate data. I also am the co chair of the Transition Network, which is an international movement of grassroots climate initiatives and involved in various other networks and movements with a particular interest in governance. Which leads us to this idea of the idea of governance as another one of many ways to hold uncertainty and complexity, to build these slightly contrived frameworks that enable us to exist in spaces and ideas that would otherwise be overwhelming and impossible.

[00:01:53.570] – Mike Boyle
Yes, and I think that the whole process tied to that of what you described would be very interesting if we can perhaps perform a little bit more of a deeper dive, looking at it from a very basic element, if we look at input process output. So if I understood you correctly, you are extracting information from the university and you are performing certain processes tied to the intention of adding democracy to the entire process. That would mean that you would have some sort of output. To what degree is that output fed back into the university? I would assume it would be. And what do they actually do with it?

[00:02:36.210] – Peter Lefort
Yeah, very good question. There are outputs and they are fed back into the university because otherwise it’s very much a one way process which is not particularly useful or new. The challenge I find with anything in uncertainty and complexity is the outputs. You can’t be too fixed about what those might look like or what those might be. Otherwise we fall into the same traps of, well, we only look at what we measure and we can only measure what we know and all of these kind of things. So the outputs are fairly loose and sometimes they might be tangible in terms of projects that are happening or people who are using a particular bit of research, but it’s a bit more systemic than that. So I think the long term output is actually changing. Well, what does a university look like in the future? I think we get very much into in academic spaces this idea that we are in service to people, we will provide knowledge, and there’s a certain understandable arrogance behind that in terms of we will give you all the information so you can be resilient to the future, you can fix the problems that you’re facing, but very little introspection about.

[00:03:58.190] – Peter Lefort
Well, universities are also part of and reliant on those systems and we need to change as much as anything else. So I think the output as I see it, which is not necessarily a smart target, but is how do we shift the university into acknowledging that well, not the university, but universities in general. And obviously I’m not alone in that piece of work, but I don’t think any of us really know what it looks like. But the key thing is that as soon as you have that perspective that you might need to change and you might need to be different, then a whole world of possibilities open up that weren’t there yesterday when you just assumed you’d be the same as you were today.

[00:04:37.430] – Mike Boyle
Well, it’s quite interesting you mentioned all that. I put together a show a few weeks ago that was tied to the subject of deschooling and the concept was deschooling society. And I believe that there’s a crossover to that of what you said in the idea that we are the sole source of knowledge, which, of course, is a bunk, and that we have the ability within a learning organ. Within a learning community within a learning community to learn from all stakeholders within our society with the intention of increasing not only the overall level of knowledge but the dispersion of the knowledge itself. And I think it would be very interesting looking at it from your focal point, of course, looking at it from the climate change perspective or the ecological perspective you mentioned governance are a few different terms that I need to bring some clarity to because we do not know what we do not know. And that means that we need to be very adaptive in the processes, not only how we collect the data per se, but what we actually do with it. If we go back to this input process output model or this flow, that means you have to be very adaptive on the input side, you have to be adaptive on the process side and also on the output side and what you actually do with it.

[00:06:00.790] – Mike Boyle
How do you set up a validation loop? So I’m sorry, that was a lot. Any thoughts from your side on some of these concepts?

[00:06:10.230] – Peter Lefort
Yes, I think that was a very helpful framing. Yes, and the idea of learning community is one I absolutely agree with and it raises a challenge as well as how far do you go in terms of universities and academic spaces are very specialized in terms of doing a certain thing and performing a certain role. And clearly there’s a need for not going too far, but also not coming back too far the other way. But understanding. And for me, fundamentally, it comes back to this idea of a deeper understanding of the systems in which we are part of and where there becomes a problem is when we become unconscious of those things and become reliant on them. So me coming here this morning, a good example of that, as you say, of my microphone’s, never not worked before. And I develop a certain assumption that it’s going to be fine. And then when it’s not fine, then I’m suddenly very conscious of the dependencies I have within this system and I’m then able to fix it in whatever ways I did. But as we’re in that space which is driven by society in terms of well, we have to not think about every single system we are part of otherwise we will go a bit mad and we can’t hold all of that information in our head.

[00:07:38.130] – Peter Lefort
But for universities or any other business or system or industry, the risks I see in terms of complexity are when we assume that just because there’s something that we’re not paying attention to within a system that it will be there forever. And I think you can translate that into practical terms for university in terms of well, what happens when students stop coming or they don’t want to be part of a university that works with certain industries and businesses that they don’t see as compatible with their future? Or what happens when you physically can’t get into the space like we saw with the COVID pandemic and having to really shift a lot of the assumptions about what these institutions mean? And I think the crux of our conversation feels very much in those questions.

[00:08:27.570] – Mike Boyle
To what degree do you feel that the terms fit for purpose and fit for use come into play in that of what you’ve been discussing? And maybe if I can quickly add to that fit for purpose, fit for use, fit for whom?

[00:08:43.590] – Peter Lefort
Yes, I think they need to be at the very front of that process. I don’t know that there are answers to those questions, but absolutely what does that really mean? So fit for whom, but also fit for whose purpose? And I think there are some clear answers to that at the moment and they might be the right answers now, but they will keep shifting. They weren’t the same answers that they would have been 50 years ago and they’re certainly not going to be the same answers that they will be in ten years time. So there’s a constant interrogation needed, I think, of those quite fundamental questions which is hard for an institution to do.

[00:09:25.110] – Mike Boyle
But it has everything to do with the subject matter complexity and ambiguity because we only know what we know right now and we don’t know what we will know. And so therefore the question is being able to drop that of what we consider to be true and ensure that the data that we’re using is relevant and useful. So maybe if you can describe to us, based upon your experience so far, what kind of issues have you run across specifically tied to the climate data, especially coming from the extraction from the university.

[00:10:10.850] – Peter Lefort
So one of the clearest examples, certainly within complexity and I should maybe start with so my background to this, I’m not an academic, my background is climate campaigning and network building in that kind of space. So my approach to complexity might be slightly different. But there’s an important distinction between complexity and complication. So complication being the way I like to talk about it, is complication is a bicycle. So something you can take apart, you can put it back together. There’s a right answer, it’s predictable. You need knowledge and information in order to be able to understand and be part of that system. But once you have that knowledge, you can do pretty much whatever you want with that and things will break, but you can work out how to fix them. Whereas complexity is when you put a human being on that bike and it turns into a cyclist. And so you might be able to predict some of that system, but you can’t ultimately predict all of it because you don’t know what they had for breakfast, you don’t know what the traffic conditions are going to be like or the weather or where they’re going.

[00:11:21.770] – Peter Lefort
You might have some of those bits of information, but you can’t ever have enough. And what you need then is perspective. And that perspective, multiple perspectives, and helps you understand that you can’t really control that system. You can’t ever really understand it. And a lot of, not all, but a lot of the problems we face in our response to the climate crisis and ecological emergency and social crises are around treating complex challenges as though they are complicated. And there’s very good reasons why we do this because they make them less overwhelming. They give us a place to start with. So, for example, a good example would be net zero and the rush for carbon neutrality, which is taking a complex challenge and trying to make it complicated. Okay, let’s put a number on it. We’re trying to get to zero and there’s a lot more complication within that around net negative and net positive and the kind of emissions removal technologies and things like that. But ultimately we’re saying this is the way we’re going to measure our success, by this particular number, which is not particularly accurate to begin with and will get less and less so as we get closer and closer.

[00:12:34.920] – Peter Lefort
But you can absolutely see why we are doing that because otherwise we wouldn’t have a clue where to start. But we need a bit of flex within that. We need to have that complicated target but also be acknowledging complexity at the same time. So a lot of the work that I’m doing is looking at, well, how do we do both? How do we have something that allows us to take action? Because there is urgency and we can’t let the perfect stop the good and stop anything happening. But at the same time, how do we also acknowledge the fact that this science and data and there’s a lot of uncertainty within that, there’s a lot of modeling within that. And one of the key tensions is between, say, carbon mitigation and reduction and climate adaptation. One is very much looking at numbers and one is looking at future models which are inherently ambiguous and uncertain and we’re as certain about them as we’ve ever been. But as we see society, and particularly decision makers and governments look towards mitigation and carbon reduction because it’s easier to put a target on, it’s easy to understand how we’re doing that versus the ever growing need for adaptation as we see the impacts.

[00:13:53.510] – Peter Lefort
And a lot of the good progress that’s being done on adaptation is where it’s been made complicated, where people are creating risk models that allow us to say, well, we need to do this thing because if we don’t, then the risk is going to increase by tenfold in three years time. So it’s interesting the kind of the risk currencies language that we start to use. And so, yeah, that started out as a slightly specific example, but I guess has become a bit more general. But there’s a lot more we can get into in that tension.

[00:14:26.640] – Mike Boyle
Sure. We noticed with a pandemic one of the biggest problems we had, and I think in our society, was the uncertainty that we didn’t have answers, which could theoretically be considered to be a byproduct of the ambiguity. I never thought of it from that perspective, but one could look at it from that way. And so going back to your analysis, I’m going to put it in the vernacular, trying to create something that isn’t there to give a warm fuzzy feeling to individuals. I talked a few weeks ago about the Ellsberg paradox where he had two beakers and one he described I won’t go into too much detail, but one he described very distinctly and the other he didn’t describe at all. And he asked for the participants to make some sort of prognosis based upon the data and they were to get a prize. And of course, we already know that nobody wanted to go towards the ambiguous speaker. For me, obviously it’s a bias we have as individuals and it’s not unique to the university. That’s something that we all have in some form, some of us more, some of us less. To what degree do you well, obviously you’re going to run across that issue.

[00:15:49.710] – Mike Boyle
I don’t need to ask you that. But how do you deal with it, especially tied to the various stakeholders that you’re dealing outside of the university? Because you’re bringing this question of ambiguity. We’ve been trained to think that they are the source of knowledge, they should know everything and of course, nobody knows everything. How do you deal with that one?

[00:16:08.550] – Peter Lefort
Yeah, this is a really core part of the work that I’m doing.

[00:16:13.350] – Mike Boyle
I bet.

[00:16:13.980] – Peter Lefort
And I’ve noticed, yes, sort of a desire for the University to have answers. And I think there has been a tendency over time for the university to feel very comfortable in that position or again, not the university universities‘ academic spaces, not just universities to feel very comfortable in that position of people are coming us for information. We have value, we have an identity, we have a purpose. But as these more complex crises and challenges emerge, it’s clearer and clearer that for some of these, not only does a university not have the answers, there aren’t answers to these questions, there are no right and correct answers. There may be some that have better outcomes than others but really, if you’re dealing with a complex problem, you need to hold space for that and you need to really speak to the human in people, which is often what gets left out of the kind of the complicated process. We get very mechanistic about those things and we forget fear and grief and joy and how much of a huge impact those emotions and all other emotions have on our response to these challenges. So a lot of what I do is about creating communities of practice where we’ll take a particular complex challenge like climate adaptation or scope three carbon emissions and come together, look at good practice, but also just hold space.

[00:17:37.990] – Peter Lefort
For people to share how difficult this work is and to hear other people say how difficult this work is, because that’s an incredibly important part of it. You talk about the biases. Absolutely. We have a biased against wanting to admit when we don’t know something or we’re finding something really difficult. But until we do that, until we acknowledge the problem, we can’t get deeper into it. So so much of this is about that human experience in the process and the acknowledgement that we don’t have answers all of the time.

[00:18:10.090] – Mike Boyle
Great. Thanks Peter. For those of you who just turned in, you can be thankful that you were not here from the beginning. We had a few hiccups, but that’s to show how resilient we are we were able to overcome these hiccups and I’m very happy and fortunate to have Peter Lefort with me today. And we are talking about complexity and ambiguity. Those are basically our subject or starting off point, I see us going into different avenues which of course are natural progressions from the subject per se question tied to the various stakeholders that you are in touch with outside of the university and their reaction to your undertaking.

[00:18:51.450] – Peter Lefort
So one of the key responses that I have come across that touches very much on the previous question around the well, my interpretation of the question around the human element is one of accountability, which is a real gap in how people I’m talking to are working in this space, in that take any particular challenge or crisis that we’re facing really specific. So flooding, heat, pandemics, these things that most organizations, certainly now, whether they’re businesses, governments, communities, whatever, recognize that these things are going to keep happening. And we have a lot of data that tells us these things are going to keep happening. We don’t know exactly when, but one of the problems is within organizations, we’re still treating these experiences as kind of acts of God, by which I mean we know they’re going to happen. We don’t necessarily do much about them. Then they happen and we say, oh, that thing happened. Now let’s respond to it. Let’s recover, let’s hunker down and do what we need to get through this. And we have got quite good at that. However, where we need to get to is the point where within those organizations there is someone who has accountability for saying these things are going to happen and they’re going to affect our business model, our purpose, our mission, our vision, whatever it is we have as an organization.

[00:20:23.520] – Peter Lefort
And so we need to do things now proactively. But the challenge is, even if you have people in those organizations who recognize these things are going to happen unless accountability is built into the system, unless it’s baked in and someone has the power. And by accountability I don’t mean responsibility, it’s not their fault that these things are going to happen and that is an important distinction. But until we have that, we can’t really counteract the business as usual thing. It’s a tanker that’s moving really slowly and turning really slowly. But we’ve seen that things can change overnight. Again, with COVID-19 and Pandemics, so many institutions that felt intractable before that point changed their governance effectively overnight, their whole system because they felt like there was a mandate to do that and there was power to make those decisions. Someone had accountability within the system to do that because it was happening right now. So what we’re trying to look at is, well, how do you build that accountability in before the thing happens? Otherwise we’re constantly on the back foot.

[00:21:33.070] – Mike Boyle
Thank you for that and thank you especially for something that never really came to my mind, the inception of religion and how it actually came to be. If we can’t explain it, then it has to be at a higher level and perhaps there might be some truth to that. But that’s certainly for another time and perhaps another show. Let’s go back to these outputs that are being created, tied to your efforts because they’re clearly outputs through these processes that you’re running. I don’t know how long that may be another question I should ask. How long have you been working in this realm? Specifically with the university?

[00:22:14.690] – Peter Lefort
Yes, two years.

[00:22:16.040] – Mike Boyle
Okay, two years. One of the problems that I’ve noticed within academia is the process, the content and the perceived results tied to the research that’s done in certain departments. In other words, they will define what is acceptable. Not even going towards quantitative or qualitative research, but just what would be acceptable. Realm I think for what I’ve seen, this is very biased, I know, but what I’ve seen is somewhat insular. In other words, we’re always coming from the same sources, which almost means that we’re not to be too cheeky. We’re almost playing the game of Jeopardy, where we give the answer. So the answer is and then we have to figure out how did we get there? Because again, it’s another source of certainty. To what degree from those outputs that you are facilitating. You’re not creating them, you’re facilitating them. To what degree are they actually being taken into the university, especially visa vis research, and to what degree do we see any changes that are taking place within their processes? Based upon your input?

[00:23:35.110] – Peter Lefort
Yes, great question. I would say the honest answer to that is it still hasn’t happened yet. Because things take a lot of time, of course. So I’ve been doing this work for two years. I’d say the first year of that was building up the concept of how this network would function and teasing out the different freedoms I might have within a system that at least thinks it has been working well for many, many decades. So an example of where that is happening right now is some of the work very relevant to this conversation around tipping points. So there’s a whole part of the University of Exeter doing some fascinating work around tipping points in the climate system. And a lot of that is looking at ecological tipping points and generally negative ecological tipping points of, okay, so glacial melt or deforestation these points where systems haven’t collapsed yet, but we’ve gone past the point at which collapse is pretty much inevitable because of the cascading impacts of certain things happening, et cetera. And these are things that there’s some really interesting work being done into how do we model and predict those things. There is also, however, work looking at positive ecological tipping points and reforestation, things like that.

[00:24:59.810] – Peter Lefort
And so how do we better understand those? But alongside that, there’s a large piece of work around sociological tipping points. So not just ecological, technological as well, but sociological is one where it is very hard to really get into that space as a researcher. And there’s some really good work being done. But, yeah, the technological, the ecological, they’re more comfortable is not necessarily the right word, but traditional ways of looking at it, where you can much better model how things will happen, because you can predict them and you can look at what’s happened over time, whereas soon as you bring people into the equation, things get even more complex than they were before. So part of what I’m trying to do with that bit of work is very separate from the academic research is I’m running another community of practice, looking at positive tipping points. And there’s ten of us from different types of organizations across the world coming together to say, okay, so how do we translate this framework into effectively change makers? So people who are working at a grassroots level for change, for positive social change, and so learning from what’s been done in the academic space but not having to do it in that same way.

[00:26:25.530] – Peter Lefort
And with that, you can then bring in so much more nuance into storytelling, into not just data and not just a framework of, okay, so how do we measure the conditions for change that are in place? What are the feedback loops that are going to lead to change? What are the trigger mechanisms that are going to lead? So all of these things that come from the research, but how do we pick those apart and not feel like, as kind of you said, restricted by an academic output? Because the output here is something that people who are working in this space already can use to enhance their work and think more systemically about what they’re doing. Because one of the key bits of feedback that’s coming out of that is that this could be a way to circumnavigate some of the challenges with social movements. Community action, whereby you are judged on the things that you can measure and you can see rather than actually. We are laying the conditions and the foundations for systemic change, but we can’t necessarily always measure them. And it’s certainly very hard to get funding for them. But if we can work with this framework to create something that enables those people to tell their story in a more engaging way, both to themselves, to recognize the genuine impact they’re having, but also to others, funders potential partners, wider communities, et cetera, there could be a really strong potential output from that.

[00:27:55.020] – Peter Lefort
So it is one that will then feed back into the academic space. But crucially, that’s not the only place it will go. It will also go to anyone else who wants to use that and run with it and make it their own.

[00:28:07.930] – Mike Boyle
I have one question, but I need to make a statement tied to what you were saying. Dealing with the ecological seems to be a much more comfortable domain for a number of individuals due to not necessarily the predictability or the certainty, but the comfort level tied to these elements. And we have historical precedents. I believe it’s one of the advantages, one of the few advantages, I guess, in getting older, that you could actually remember some of the things that took place in the past. And there was a time in the early 70s where there was a switch taking place going from the pure ecological to you had certain individuals that did come to the conclusion that the problem is not solely ecological and perhaps maybe it’s not the real driver. Sometimes I would argue most of the time, but it’s more of a social issue. And interestingly enough, going back to the Club of Rome and the reaction that was coming from the grand populace within this community, they were looked upon as being heretics back in the early 70s due to the fact they said, well, we’re back to the anthropocene and we’re concentrating on the human being.

[00:29:18.850] – Mike Boyle
Not really understanding that unless we are able to come up with equitable solutions, equitable solutions, we are never going to be able to solve the other ones. Sorry, I couldn’t hold myself back. I needed to interject that one. But let me go back to my question, going back to the following the path that you described. To what degree do you see our tendencies towards following linear models or linear progressions? And our fixation on dichotomy being perhaps elements that get in the way of us coming to actually meaningful results, especially knowing full well if we work with these models, especially linear model or this idea of everything’s either yes or no, it’s nothing in between, goes directly into your ambiguity question. To what degree do you see these models as being one of our major stumbling blocks?

[00:30:27.050] – Peter Lefort
Hugely. Yeah, all the time. And that’s part of this work is trying to move away from those and not abandon them. And sometimes that’s absolutely the right way to do things. And as I said, with complexity and complication, sometimes you need a complicated linear process to get you started. But I think the tipping points work is a good example of acknowledging change is not linear, it doesn’t happen in straight lines and if we think it is, then we’re missing something. It might be something small and missable and that’s fine, but it might be something huge that would lead to unintended consequences. So an example, a few examples, maybe giving different perspectives. One might be plant based diets. So there’s a system of the food system and people’s choice and diets that there’s a clear sense of we need to get closer to this different model, we need more people to have more plant based diets and we’re not talking absolutes at this stage, but it’s easier to see that as well. We’re here and the endpoint we’re looking at is where everybody has a plant based diet or maybe it’s a case that that’s the majority or something like that.

[00:31:49.840] – Peter Lefort
It’s really hard to sit down and work out the steps to that point and there’s so much complexity in there that if we do it, there are going to be other things that happen along that process that really threaten that strategy or whatever it is we’re trying to do. But if we step back and look at it in terms of tipping points, then the interesting. Point is not that end goal. It’s the point around sort of the 20% mark where, okay, there’s still a lot more people who haven’t engaged with that lifestyle or that diet. However, the resistance to it is starting to tip into momentum. And that’s the point at which if we can aim for that moment, then the momentum means, well, there’s going to be all of these cascading impacts whereby it becomes cheaper, it becomes better quality. The marketing for it changes all of these other conditions that push that ball down a hill effectively. It might not definitely get to the point we want it to be, but clearly the system is tipping into a new state. That point is much, much closer down the road. And so we can aim to that with a lot more clarity.

[00:33:09.590] – Peter Lefort
And that’s when we can start to bring in complication and say, okay, well, let’s turn this into a complicated problem. How do we get to that tipping point and then the rest of it we don’t have complete control over and we don’t know it’s definitely going to get to where we want, but we know we are shifting the system. And so that is, I think, a really useful way and an interesting way to almost have your cake and eat it in terms of not just be thinking about linear progressions, but also be thinking about complexity. Where it becomes slightly more interesting or more problematic is when you bring in the social elements. So let’s apply the same model to social movements or political change and focus on the tipping point. A lot of the work extinction rebellion other groups are doing is about cultivating the right conditions for change. We can see you don’t have to be a political expert to step back and see this current state is going to collapse at some point or it’s going to change at some point, and there’s a lot of work being done putting towards that change.

[00:34:15.490] – Peter Lefort
However, when that change comes, what is the dominant system that’s likely to replace it? And I think at the moment, you could make the case that that dominant system is fascism. That’s a lot of what we’re pushing towards. And so there’s a real risk of if we just focus on the tipping point, it could then lead to a kind of cascade impact where we have an even more kind of hardline fascist society and this could be nationally or internationally or whatever level of scale you want to look at. So we need to be looking at both things at the same time and thinking, okay, so let’s focus on rolling the ball to the top of this hill at which point momentum will carry it. But there are infinite number of directions that that ball could roll in and so there are infinite number of new states that this system could end up in. And what can we do to focus that momentum into the new state that we want. And this is the very live tension that we’re looking at right now, is how do you do that? How do you articulate that? How do you create that challenge whereby you’re letting go of control and acknowledging that you’re not going to be able to completely shape where that ball ends up, but sometimes it’s more useful.

[00:35:31.210] – Peter Lefort
Maybe now, for example, in terms of social movements, let’s stop focusing on pushing for change because that is happening. And now start focusing on building the scaffolding or the tracks or the runway or whatever language you might want to use that will carry that ball to where it needs to be when it has reached the top of its hill, when that resistance has shifted to momentum. This is all quite new, so I’m possibly not articulating it in the clearest way.

[00:35:57.090] – Mike Boyle
Oh, no, you’re very well, very well.

[00:35:59.620] – Peter Lefort
This is where it’s really coming up, the challenge of linear thinking.

[00:36:04.400] – Mike Boyle
Although I do need to make a slight correction. When we talk about the populism, we are talking about the current state and in fact, it has everything to do with the subject matter because you have certain politicians that are talking gobblygook, but they do it with such conviction. It eliminates this problem for a number of people of the dealing with uncertainty because they’re getting a certain message. Nobody even cares if it takes place. Nobody even cares if it’s true. They’re just being very definitive, which of course, if we look at the antithesis, our subject today is the antithesis. If you ask me, then the real problem is moving hearts and minds away from what seems to be a natural progression of human beings to go back to that Ellsberg Paradox. So they want to grab onto something because at least they can define it instead of those things that they can’t define. You triggered something else that I would like to expand on, if possible. And you mentioned 20%, which of course leads us to the Pareto principle. You talk about complexity and ambiguity, but of course there’s another phrase that we use quite often.

[00:37:20.210] – Mike Boyle
It’s called VUCA, which would be the volatile and the uncertain. If we look at this as being one package, so to speak, looking at it from various aspects, do you see a concentration on the complexity and the ambiguity as being unique to perhaps bringing the other two components into the discussion?

[00:37:47.590] – Peter Lefort
Possibly, yeah, I would definitely welcome other perspectives on that and people who are holding those things in different ways. This work is the only work I’ve seen from my experiences being in the climate movement, campaigning, that kind of work that does create a way to talk about that volatility or the liminal space is the way that I think about that. That moment when the current regime becomes unstable and you can sense that change is coming. And that is, yes, potentially the most important moment, because that’s the moment when you stop pushing and you start cultivating or you start navigating that Ball is now rolling, that system is going to be in a new state. I don’t really see other ways of acknowledging that because it is so difficult and it’s quite antithetical to the way we are taught to think and taught.

[00:38:50.660] – Mike Boyle
To be completely I need to go back to conversations that I have had recently that mentioned that we were going to have this conversation. Of course, I’m sure this wouldn’t surprise you at all that these types of subjects are very near and dear to my heart, that I was explaining to an individual that there’s a clear difference between uncertainty and ambiguity. And I got a little bit of pushback and I think that it had nothing to do with my assertation per se. It had nothing to do with a difference, which is not always clear. But the difficulties that we have are perhaps based on assumptions that if it’s complex, then it’s got to be volatile. Your thoughts on that?

[00:39:41.130] – SPeter Lefort
I don’t know.

[00:39:45.370] – Mike Boyle
It’s an assumption, right?

[00:39:47.710] – Peter Lefort
Yeah, it’s an assumption, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not right.

[00:39:53.890] – Mike Boyle
But it doesn’t have to be an absolute, right?

[00:39:56.750] – Peter Lefort
No. I would always in this work encourage where is it useful to bring in absolutes and frameworks and models and where is it not? So the tipping points framework is not an absolute, but it is a model that says, here’s how you build towards a tipping point. And these are the parts of it and it’s a model. So it’s only so useful. But I recognize that it is useful. This comes back to the complicated, complex thing of if it’s useful to say there’s always going to be volatility with uncertainty, then let’s use that as a way into something that we need some kind of construct around to even understand. But I think the only thing I would come back to is that if you are having that assumption, you need to be willing to let it go very quickly. So do what feels useful for you is, I think, always my viewpoint in.

[00:40:55.830] – Mike Boyle
That, yeah, I think that applies to various realms, not necessarily this one that we’re talking about. But of course, going back to the question of models, George Ball has been quoted to say that all models are wrong and some are useful. That being said, we need to have a place to start. And I think if we look at it if I can briefly go back to the sociological part where we have this tendency to blame individuals or blame groups within society for the ills that we have, not thinking that very possibly the systems by which we are currently performing our activities could be the root cause of this behavior. Meaning that we all have a little bit of the devil and a little bit of the angel in us, if I can put it as such. And if we acknowledge that, which is usually the first step towards any type of improvement that we need to create structures that allow for that angel part of us to come out. To what degree can that fall in line, especially looking at the outputs that you are trying to create. Do you see any analogy between this idea that I’m espousing right now and perhaps maybe one of the desired outputs you’re looking for?

[00:42:18.510] – Peter Lefort
Yes, I think so. If I’ve understood correctly, certainly this issue of blame comes up. And it’s another example of a nuanced idea that can be adapted in a very binary way in terms of it’s quite hard to apportion bits of blame to lots of different people, including ourselves. We much prefer apportioning all of the blame to someone else. So a good example of this would be, again, thinking about tipping points and thinking, well, let’s take the idea of we want more of the population to be aware of the urgency, the risk and the importance of the climate emergency. So let’s just take that as a statement that I think most people would agree with. Okay, so let’s say we work on that in quite a linear way. We’re working on increasing education, awareness, et cetera, then if we step back and think, okay, well, what’s likely to happen when we’ve rolled the ball to the top of the hill for that? And let’s look at what are the other conditions for change that are being laid by the status quo at the moment. And so let’s look particular at kind of governments and media. You don’t have to do too much work to look at the kind of language and the discourse that has always been there, but is really ramping up around blaming other people for climate change.

[00:43:37.530] – Peter Lefort
So in the UK, when Cop 26 was happening, huge amount of newspaper headlines blaming India, blaming China, blaming other countries as holding up progress. So if we do roll the ball to that top of the hill, let’s say that happened tomorrow, and suddenly the vast majority of the people in a particular country were aware of the importance of climate change. Now, okay, yeah, maybe that’ll lead to some good outcomes and maybe some political mandates, et cetera, but it’s also likely to lead to, okay, so who do we blame now? We see there’s a problem. We want to blame someone. Okay, well, who have we just been subtly being taught to blame over the last five years? Right? That information is there, and now we’re going to go there and we’re going to see a huge rise in climate, racism, colonial attitudes. These things are already there, but a huge increase in notes. And so this is one of the reasons why complexity is so difficult, because as we’re pushing for change, we need to be aware of all of this and think, well, what are the counternarratives? What are the things that if we do get this change, we want, what are the other conditions that that will exist in?

[00:44:49.930] – Peter Lefort
So it’s not just enough to raise awareness of climate change, we also need to raise awareness of, well, where has this problem come from and what are the solutions to it, because there are going to be so many social impacts of that. And so, yeah, this question of blame and the nuance needed for it and how difficult that is, because there are people who are providing much more comfortable answers to those questions of oh, it’s not your fault, it’s their fault. That’s going to be incredibly difficult to overcome, not impossible, but we need to be doing all of these things at the same time.

[00:45:27.030] – Mike Boyle
And I’m afraid that we are again talking about the current state. I have some examples coming from the UK, but it’s not to say that the UK is unique. We’re going through some of these same tendencies as well. You had three by elections recently where one of the candidates from the Tories was able to win using some of that populism element. That was the impression I received and I think it’s directly related to that of what you were exactly talking about, Peter, that being who is to blame. And so if I got it right, and please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m looking this from the outside that the politician was saying, no, you are not to blame for these things and this is not your problem, quote unquote. Again, getting back to this dichotomy, either you’re on the right side or you’re on the wrong side, which is really the issue. But we see other tendencies. I’ve picked up in this, in following your press, that there is a backlash against the Greens to be found in the UK right now. And of course, we had an election where also decided as far as clean areas, I’m probably using the wrong terminology, where I think you’re probably trying to create auto-free zones and there was a backlash coming out of there.

[00:46:48.050] – Mike Boyle
I saw it’s also happening in London and then of course, what came through from Richie Sunak recently concerning energy. So to what degree I threw a lot at you, so I apologize, but to what degree do you see a lineage between all of these components? And especially getting back to this question of blame and the political recourse which we cannot ignore.

[00:47:09.850] – Peter Lefort
Yes, it’s an incredibly difficult problem. And blame, I guess, is a that’s the word of what is happening compartmentalization. Yes, it’s taking all of these complex things and not even treating them complicated, it’s treating them simple and treating them as disconnected from each other. And so low-traffic neighborhoods, which is the language for them in the UK, is treated as an issue about control and power rather than about health care, for example, or anything else. And this comes back to a challenge that we’re finding with the tipping points work in that, okay, so we’ve got this interesting model that could be quite useful. How do you communicate that? And there’s a lot of suggestions that say we need to focus on the positives, so let’s focus on, well, if we do this thing, then we’re going to have better air quality, for example. And I totally get that, but it’s simple. And one of the problems with it is a lot of people don’t recognize the problems that are already here. So if you say we’re going to have better air quality, the vast majority of people will say, well, the air quality is fine now and it’s not.

[00:48:31.480] – Peter Lefort
And we know that it’s not. But unless you know that it’s not, why would you and you haven’t been personally directly affected by it, which is obviously really complicated, because even if your health, or someone you love’s health, is affected by air pollution, it’s very often wrapped up in lots of other things and you can’t isolate that one area. So how do you say air quality is going to improve without first saying air quality is currently bad? And so you have to bring in the negative before you can bring in the positive, which is really, really difficult. So it’s much easier to dismiss that, whereas something like power and control, nobody thinks they’ve got enough power, nobody thinks they’ve got enough control now. So there’s an immediate trigger for that kind of language. It’s much easier for the current dominant systems to simplify things and it benefits them if we simplify things. And so we’ve got to kind of really open those things up, which does happen, certainly with low traffic neighborhoods at a local level, because you can have conversations with people and this is the thing, and maybe this is a good thing to come to, as we’re coming to.

[00:49:42.410] – Mike Boyle
We are at the two-minute point.

[00:49:43.610] – Peter Lefort
Yes, but the hope the positivity is here is human beings. We are very, very good at holding complexity and holding uncertainty. The problem is we’re very good at doing it when it’s unconscious and we’re not thinking about it as soon as you bring it out in front of people. We struggle a lot, but every single day, whether it’s what’s the weather going to be like, what clothes should I wear, those kind of things. We’re constantly dealing with complexity and just processing it so that’s the hope is we can do this and we can do this very well. It’s just at the moment, we struggle to do it when it’s a conscious process.

[00:50:17.910] – Mike Boyle
Yeah. And I think with that, you described more or less the secret sauce and the approach that we need to take in not necessarily highlighting those things, where we know that we’re going to get an adverse reaction, but go ahead and work on more in a subtle, subliminal way that will bring us the added value which we’re really looking for. Peter, thank you very much for your time. I’m very thankful that we were able to get past our technical difficulties. And I’d like to thank all the listeners today, not only in bearing with us through our first couple of minutes, but I hope that you were all able to find some added value in that. Those things that we were talking about, I know that there was a certain level of complexity tied to the subjects, but I’m afraid that there is no other recourse. We need to be able to get into the weeds. And with that, Peter, I feel very blessed and grateful for the opportunity to have discussed them with you today. Wish you all a wonderful rest of the week and I will be back next week in some form to close the loop on the subject.

[00:51:24.400] – Mike Boyle
Not quite sure what it’s going to be, but we will find out by next Tuesday. And with that, thanks again and have a wonderful rest of the week and again, thanks again, Peter.

[00:51:36.850] – Peter Lefort
Thank you.


0 Kommentare

  1. Hello Mike, this is the first cba.fro podcast I have listened to and I found it fascinating. I’d love to hear the follow up you mention at the end of the podcast. Please can you send me a link when it becomes available
    Many thanks


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