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Life by a thousand cuts?


Photo credit: Mer de Glace glacier is shrinking - newscientist.com

Anyone who has been involved in manufacturing and logistics will know of the Kanban methodology which implements continuous, incremental and evolutionary changes to improve efficiency. It was the same philosophy that led to the tremendous success enjoyed by the British cycling team at the London Olympics including Sir Chris Hoy's multiple gold medals. Improvements were driven by minor, incremental changes until the effect was one that produced an overall substantial gain.


I started thinking about this after watching a rerun of the Rebellion Extinction protests in London this year and reading yet another report on climate change.


Apart from dinosaurs and/or those who simply don't care about the future (other than their own future) like the current leaders of the USA and Brazil, most everyone has accepted that we are experiencing climate change caused by human activity and 'something' needs to be done about it. For example, in 1988 it took just 3 steps to reach the Mer de Glace glacier from a lift stop near the Alps' highest summit, Mont Blanc. Today, it takes 580 steps to reach the melting glacier. Think about it – in just 30 years.


Scientists predict that Greenland ice loss alone could add 33 centimetres or maybe even 100 centimetres to the global sea level by 2100 (ref: New Scientist). Recent studies have now further confirmed that melting and refreezing in Greenland is turning the absorbent surface into solid ice - this means that more water is draining straight into the sea instead of soaking into the snow and refreezing deeper down. It's estimated that this effect will cause an extra sea level rise by 2100 of 2 to 7 centimetres. (However, if there is good news it's that it's not too late to stop this – per Michael MacFerrin at the University of Colorado (whose team discovered this effect), if you stop the warming, you stop the effect).


Which brings me back to the kanban philosophy. Yes, we need governments to step up to the mark and take meaningful action but there is a role for every one of us to chip away at the problem. Anything we do to reduce our carbon footprint will help. If millions of people do something, do anything to contribute to a reduction in global warming, it will have an effect.


The Rebellion Extension protests this year mark a sea change in perception. But protests alone will achieve very little. We need a local, national, global movement to harness the goodwill of millions of people on this planet and, as basic engineering practices tells us, you don't get improvements unless you start measuring the individual impact of individual actions.


Creating technologies (an app for example, a way to measure individual impact) and communicating this and collecting the data would be a worthwhile goal for all activists to consider. Maybe even governments could use this to provide tax credits? Far more effective than obstructing traffic by sitting down in Trafalgar Square.

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