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  • Writer's pictureKrista Kurth, Ph.D.

Change Your Mind to Change the World

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

3 Key Mindsets for Sustainable and Effective Climate Action

(According to the architects of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement)

Image of the back of a person wearing a hoody with the words Changing Mindsets written across the back

The year 2020 has clearly shown us that we bake unconscious beliefs into all of our social and economic systems. For instance, we base our global economy on the unspoken idea of perpetual growth. We endlessly extract resources, use them wastefully, and then discard them carelessly. This mindset has led us to take more from the planet than it can replenish. We also pollute more than we can clean up.

Our underlying attitudes have also steered towards designing systems over time that put low-income communities and people of color in harm’s way. These groups bear the brunt of impact from pollution and the climate crisis (and other racial and social injustices) while contributing the least to the situation.

While there are many actions that we can and should take to address these twin crises, if we really want to transform our current social and economic systems, we must also change the mindsets that created them.

Scrabble tiles spelling the words Pause, Breathe, Ponder, Choose, Do

As Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, architects of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, state in their book The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, as we enter the most significant decade on the planet who we choose to be (how we think about our world) will affect what we do.

They believe, and I agree, that systemic change is both a collective and a deeply personal endeavor. They state that “the most powerful thing you can do is change how you behave in the complex landscape (which you can’t control)." We can become a catalyst for overall change and transform our minds by reflecting on the state of mind we bring to our climate action.

Figueres and Rivett-Carnac say that, “To survive and thrive, we must understand ourselves to be inextricably connected to all of nature. We need to cultivate a deep and abiding sense of stewardship. This transformation begins with the individual. Who we are and how we show up in the world defines how we work with others, how we interact with our surroundings, and ultimately the future we co-create.”

Banners at a climate protest stating Climate Justice for All

They posit that we need to cultivate three specific mindsets to move toward an economy that operates in harmony with nature:

  • Stubborn Optimism

  • Endless Abundance

  • Radical Regeneration

I would add a fourth: Equality and Justice for All.

While the authors include ‘building gender equality’ on their list of 10 key actions, I think we need to go further. We need shift from the mindset underpinning racial and social injustice to create systems that support everyone, and most particularly, those who have been long disadvantaged. Equality and justice should be the lens through which we look at all of our climate actions. I’ll be writing a blog post devoted to Climate Justice soon.

Stubborn Optimism

With the climate crisis, most of us feel like the situation is too complex and overwhelming and we throw our hands up, helplessly. The authors say we need to change this mindset to one of unwavering optimism. Optimism empowers us. It drives our desire to engage, contribute, and make a difference.

Scrabble tiles spelling Shift Happens
“You are not powerless. In fact, your every action is suffused with meaning, and you are part of the greatest chapter of human achievement in history…. remember that every fraction of a degree of extra warming makes a big difference, and therefore any reduction in emissions lessons the burden on the future.… Every time you make an individual choice to be a responsible custodian of this beautiful Earth, you contribute towards major transformations.” Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

They outline 3 characteristics that we can develop to make optimism transformative:

1. An intention to see beyond the immediate horizon. Amidst all the challenges, we need to see that a different future is already happening in small ways. By focusing on the positive news around solutions to the climate crisis, we actively draw the desired future closer.

A road through the desert leading to a mountainous horizon

2. A comfort with uncertainty about the outcome. We need to develop a steady confidence that allows us to “face reality with a fierce belief that change can happen.” Even amidst uncertainty, we persevere.

3. A deep commitment to working to make the current reality better. We need to be tenacious in working to solve the enormous challenges facing us. If we want humanity and the earth to thrive together, then we must do whatever we can now, and consistently over the next 30 years, to cut emissions steadily until we reach net zero by 2050. We must make major changes in all areas of our lives and economies.

“Our collective responsibility is to ensure that a better future is not only possible but probable, and then not only probable but foreseeable.” Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

Endless Abundance

We have created scarcity in our world and in our minds by focusing on zero-sum competition, extraction, and being a single-use throwaway society. When we allow a competitive mindset to dominate our decision-making, we lose sight of possibility, and see scarcity where it may not exist.

a woman blowing lit up sparkles into a dark background

But the authors also remind us that with the technologies we now have, we can create abundance. To do this, we must let go of thinking we need to win at all costs and take our piece, keeping it from others, then using it and discarding it. Instead, we must focus on creating situations where everything thrives.

“The state of the planet no longer allows for a competitive mindset because we have reached existential scarcity: limits to the survival of many of the ecosystems that sustain us and help to maintain safe greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere…. We will all win or lose together.” Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

Figueres and Rivett-Carnac invite us to enhance a collaborative and abundance mindset by:

1. Realizing the perception of scarcity is of our own making. Then we can shift our minds away from perceived scarcity to what we can collectively make abundant.

A group of many arms and hands coming together in a circle

2. Deciding to step away from a zero-sum mindset of taking. We can become more conscious of our impulse to compete and redirect our energy to thinking about how we can all win. We can explore how giving can lead to other rewards. Or how my loss can become my gain. Or how my loss and your gain can become our gain. In doing so, we will become more aware of others, what we can learn from them and share with them. We can also show appreciation to others who contribute to joint tasks, share results of our labor with anyone who can use it as input to further their work, and see another person’s success as not our loss but a constantly growing collective success.

3. Cultivating and prioritizing collaboration. When we are inspired to collaborate, we free ourselves from the limits of focusing on ‘what I want, or feel I need’ and open ourselves up to more possibilities. We need to remember that in times of suffering and great need, humanity always rises to the occasion with mutual support. Today, as we are on the verge of many frightening and unpredictable atmospheric tipping points, shared winning is our most vital option.

Radical Regeneration

A long waterfall cascading onto a lake in a wide green valley

Instead of acting from the deeply ingrained attitude that we can take what we want with no thought of what that does to our fragile planet and the life that lives on it, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac remind us we can be inspired by another equally strong and intrinsic human trait: our capacity for supporting regeneration.

Regeneration refers to “the capacity of species or a bio-system to recover on its own, once humans remove the pressure they had been exerting.… if we remove the pressures we have wielded, nature tends to return to health.”

However, given the damage we’ve already done (via climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, desertification and acidification of the oceans), we are at a turning point where we can no longer depend on the Earth’s natural resilience.

a silhouette of a person crossing a natural stone bridge at the edge of the ocean at sunset

Now is the time to adopt a regenerative mindset that allows us to bridge the gap between how nature works (regeneration) and how we humans have organized our lives (extraction). We must use our creativity, problem solving and love for our planet to intentionally and consistently redesign how we live so that we can help nature restore itself at scale. We have no time to waste.

It begins by:

1. Deeply acknowledging that we are intimately linked with and a part of nature and depend on its functioning ecosystems. Our physical survival relies on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat that comes from our natural world. Our mental and emotional health is also tied to having regular contact with nature. It is the antidote to modern anxiety and stress.

Young African American girl sitting happily in a field of small yellow flowers

2. Cultivating mental discipline, and a gentleness of spirit, that allow us to recognize that, beyond getting what we want and need from our fellow human beings, we have the responsibility to replenish ourselves and help others to restore themselves to levels of greater energy and insight.

3. Understanding that personal and environmental goals intertwine and reinforce each other, and they both need our attention. We need to develop an understanding that is our responsibility and in our enlightened self-interest to both protect and enhance life on Earth, and to act from this mindset to redesign our social systems.

“We can restore the resilience of the land and communities while healing our souls.” Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

Luckily, even though there is less emphasis on regenerative thinking in modern society, we already know how to connect with nature, and care for ourselves and others. It is time to take urgent action to amplify our capacity. It is time to work diligently together to replenish what we use and make sure that plenty remains for future generations.

The authors say we can choose regeneration as the overarching design principle of our lives and our activities by acting in 3 areas:

1. Personal: Identify what replenishes us and then commit to doing it regularly and intentionally. As we work diligently for solutions to the climate crisis, we each must avoid burnout. When we take time to replenish and renew (through spending time in nature, or mindfulness practices, or creative endeavors for instance), it helps us handle the stress and grim news without being thrown or broken down. It also helps us to stand firmly rooted in our values, principles, and convictions. We also need to notice how and when we feel depleted and then actively support ourselves.

2. Our family and friends: Reaffirm and strengthen our collective regenerative capacity by inviting our family and friends to join us in replenishing themselves and learning about a regenerative mindset. For example, we can make our family reunions carbon-neutral and include regenerative projects where we put our hands in the soil or in the water, together taking actions to restore rather than degrade life on our planet.

3. Community and Planet: Engage those beyond our inner circles, and nature itself, in the process of renewal. For instance, together we can plant trees and shrubs, support the regrowth of coral in the ocean, implement regenerative agriculture practices, protect mangroves and peat lands, reestablish wetlands, and restore degraded land via rain harvesting, perennial grains, grasses, and agroforestry. We can intentionally work to scale these types of solutions globally.

“The Garden of Eden is no more. We now need to create a Garden of Intention–a deliberately regenerative Anthropocene. We must create it by design. With directional intent, we can shift our aspirations from our current extractive growth to a life-sustaining society of regenerative values, principles, and practices.” Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

Are you ready to:

  • Change your mindset and create a Garden of Intention?

  • Decide that together we can do this and that you will commit to playing your part?

  • Ask yourself, when considering an action, “Does this activity actively contribute to humans and nature thriving together as one integrated system on this planet?

I am. Join me in changing our minds to change the world.


I’d love to know what’s grabbing your attention or what questions are running through your mind. Let me know in the comments section. I’ll respond in one of my blog posts.

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All the best,

Krista / Eco-Omi

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