This week’s coverage of the new IPCC report cranked my anxiety up to 11!
Reading endless news stories and tweet threads, while frantically texting with my environmentalist friends, has left me feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed.
But it gets worse. Climate change isn't the only problem constantly circulating the media and Twitter-sphere.
Canada's kind of like an all-you-can-eat buffet of systemic problems that threaten to push my blood pressure to a breaking point:
- Home prices have surged far beyond average earnings despite the pandemic crisis
- Rent prices are also skyrocketing, with seemingly no affordable options
- Wages have stagnated for many since the 70s, and lost ground especially for younger Canadians
- Young families struggle to afford child care bills the size of rent or mortgage payments
- Government debt has exploded (partially due to much needed COVID-19 relief) and governments seem disinclined to do much to avoid passing the debt onto young and future generations
(Inhale...Exhale...Try to calm down...)
I wouldn’t be surprised if most people stopped reading after the first bullet point. Or, if you're like me, perhaps you thought of 10 more problems that feel impossibly big and just want to curl up in the fetal position...
I get it. We're so inundated with knowledge of problems that it’s hard to balance anxieties they induce with the hope and motivation to change the world for the better by fixing them.
A better world is indeed possible and it’s still up to us to keep pushing for solutions.
But as I try to focus on learning about solutions, I catch my thoughts veering back to concerns about the problems. This got me thinking about how we, as a culture, tend to focus on discussing the problems we face so much more than the solutions to those problems.
There's a lot of focus on problems
Our focus on problems makes sense for a couple reasons. News coverage of problems is compelling and rhetorically interesting. It makes for emotional, click-bait-y headlines and great conversation starters when we're out for beers with like-minded friends. Discussions of solutions, however, remain weirdly un-sexy and relegated to the background.
Just look at how some news outlets framed this week's IPCC publication on Twitter:
The focus is on the devastating reality of the problem of climate change. What's worse, it frames the problem as if there's nothing we can do about it.
Within the context of these tweets, there is only doom.
Many conversations I have with friends and family also tend to focus on the problem-side of the equation. We wallow together in news of climate disasters. We express concerns about the unjust treatment of unhoused folks across Ontario. We share anxiety wondering if we’ll ever be able to afford to have kids or save for retirement as everything becomes more expensive. And so on.
We've mastered describing problems of affordability, injustice and inequality. But, as soon as the conversation shifts to what we do about it… words begin to fail us.
We suck at talking about solutions!
Why is it so hard for us to imagine solutions to these problems? It's unfortunate, but also understandable.
Issues like climate change and the housing crisis are tied to vast systemic processes that are deeply ingrained in our social, political and economic fabric. So ingrained that the only solution some folks espouse (particularly on Twitter) is tearing it all down and starting fresh.
Of course, that's unworkable for many reasons. But the point remains: Imagining solutions to problems of this magnitude feels impossible.
The housing crisis, for instance, is exemplified by an incredibly large system that incentivizes rising home prices:
- Housing policy transforms homes from primarily being a place to live and raise a family into wealth generating machines for those lucky enough to have bought in many years ago
- Canada's economy is more dependent than ever on real estate, with residential investment representing 9.43% of GDP in Q3 2020
- A recent study by Angus Reid uncovered a rift where homeowners tend to want home prices to rise, while renters tend to want prices to fall
The result? Individual homeowners, banks and governments become inadvertent cheerleaders for rising home prices in a game where the opposing cheer team (renters and aspiring owners) isn't even allowed on the field. Rising home prices are the protected status quo while the prospect of home prices stalling or falling is left out of the conversation, except as something to avoid.
Furthermore, discussing how to solve systemic crises like housing affordability is particularly difficult because they elude simple solutions. To paraphrase Generation Squeeze founder Dr. Paul Kershaw: “There’s no 'silver bullet' to fixing the housing crisis. We need a 'silver buckshot'!”.
The "silver buckshot" is a complex suite of policy solutions that work together to adjust political-economic priorities and incentives to better support the health and wellbeing of all Canadians. In the case of housing, the "silver buckshot" would adjust Canada's priorities over time to make housing about homes first.
So, let's talk about real solutions!
It’s much easier to point at simple, individualized solutions that focus on one element of the crisis (or aren't workable solutions at all).
“Just build more houses!”; "Recycle!"; "Buy fewer lattes!" "Can't afford it. Then move!" We've heard them all. The reality is that these are complex problems that require more than simple, individualized solutions.
But talking about complex solutions is very difficult. But we can (and must) get better at it.
Recently, Generation Squeeze launched a series of detailed solutions frameworks outlining complex game plans to fix four systemic issues facing younger generations:
- Housing affordability
- Family affordability
- Climate and environmental health
- Intergenerational fairness in budgets
These game plans are a little in the weeds. They get a little technical at times and might be difficult for the average person wanting to learn about solutions (myself included).
But we’re working to fix that.
In the coming weeks, months, and years, Generation Squeeze is embarking on a mission to ensure anyone interested in solutions can more easily understand and communicate about them.
We want to break down the knowledge barriers and make it easier for you to confidently discuss solutions in conversations that veer into “doomer” territory.
We want you to be able to know what solutions to bring up with your elected representatives during a town hall, debate or in a letter.
If we as citizens, voters, community members, parents, friends, and colleagues can get better at talking about solutions, then we can all start pushing for a Canada that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of everyone.
We’re committed to creating more space for real solutions. You can be first to learn more about solutions and ways to make them reality by subscribing to our email list.
Join us and let’s get better at talking about solutions together!