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Transcript: Urgency, Action and Ethics
This week's interview with Joseph Merz, available to everyone
[00:03:17] Joseph Merz: There are so few organizations taking a novel approach to tackling these issues. And it's quite remarkable, really how we just are quite happy to go and put in all this work. I mean, you spoke to Simon and even that you look at there's just so much focus getting, getting everybody on this train. And when we don't even take the time to check whether it's the right train to get everyone on, that's pretty worrying.
[00:03:47] Rachel Donald: Yes, completely. The that's sort of the theme that comes up in so many of my conversations, I don't think I've had somebody on to discuss carbon dioxide because the experts I'm speaking to are like that's not the main issue. It's a very small part of the problem.
[00:04:04] Joseph Merz: We spent a long time trying to sort of work out where to start. I think it took me about three years to find out where to start with these issues because they were just so huge. And at the end of the whole process, it was just very clear that it all came back to a behavioral problem.
And I remember talking to, I think it was Hugh Possingham, who's one of my advisors about it. I rang him and I said, I think it just all stems back to behavioral issues. And he said that some organization got him and a whole bunch of other scientists to spend a day together in the room on these issues, and at the end of the day, all they got to was that it was all a human behavior issue again. Which might seem obvious, but I think that all of this is obvious now, and for me, anyway, in hindsight, I look back on it all and I think, how did it take that long to get there, but it's just really complex.
[00:05:15] Rachel Donald: Yeah, well, I think there needs to be a certain more awareness in the public dialogue of—and I really dislike using this phrase because it creates like a blameless echo chamber whereby there's some power hungry elite that are doing what they want, like some sort of conspiracy theory—but nonetheless, there are powers that be that benefit from the world being in this way and benefit from this sort of behavioral maladaptations that we've created as an industrialized modern society.
I saw something actually on Twitter just this morning, somebody had created a thread about their disillusionment in government when they'd realized that, yes, government is letting this happen all over the world because it's beneficial to them on some level to those individuals. So the dialogue needs to be so much richer in terms of how to tackle the problem and what the problem really is, because I would agree with you that it is behavioral, but that responsibility of changing our behavior goes all the way, top and bottom. It's a symbiotic effect that needs to happen.
[00:06:30] Joseph Merz: Yeah, I agree. I think the worrying thing for me is I don't think we have much time at all. I genuinely, I mean, I probably sit in a pretty depressing camp as far as where I think this is going.
Anyway, what I was going to say was because of the time constraints we have, I don't think we should go down the route of trying to make people aware and actually get the—not everyone, anyway, I just don't think it's possible. I mean, I was reading a survey today from Ipsos where they found only 67% of 22,000 people surveyed thought that it was unlikely that aliens were going to visit earth this year. So, the remaining 33% thought it was either likely or didn't know. And it was actually a pretty fair split between those two as well for the remaining 33%.
So, what I'm getting at is that I don't think we have time to bring everyone through the organic kind of understanding of what's happening and then rely on their perseverance and their dedication and their interest and all of these things that come into play for them to actually make the necessary behavioral change because we even know when it comes to behavioral change, even when people want to do it—how many people make new year's resolutions and all these sorts of things, and then don't do them because it's hard. That's kind of what the program's about, that Backfire one that I mentioned to you, about bypassing the entire understanding and education side and going straight for the behavioral change.
[00:08:45] Rachel Donald: Which is extremely difficult to do by bypassing the education part as well. Normally behavioral changes, they take generations, unless there's some kind of new technology that's introduced that improves the quality of life. And I think this is part of the equation that's so difficult. Like in order to the best way to enact change is to promise people something, right?
That's how religion sort of take hold: theologically change your behavior and you'll get to the afterlife or whatever. There's been a lot of religion talk on the podcast recently.
[00:09:15] Joseph Merz: It works.
[00:09:16] Rachel Donald: It does work, pretty scary. But if there's no new piece of technology, whether it's actual physical technology or sociological technology, and you're asking people to change in a way that seems quite frightening to them, without a guaranteed hope or a guaranteed better life afterwards, then I guess I struggle to see how you could do that without education.
[00:09:46] Joseph Merz: I think it needs to be more of a subconscious thing. It needs to be something where you're almost fracturing society or creating a new version of society that people want to be a part of, whether that's a physical place or whether it were, were more virtual — I’m not talking about Metaverse, I know we've been seeing all that everywhere.
Basically, imagine if it was, if it was suddenly popular to be poor or if suddenly those things were coveted in the same way as being wealthy or having excessive amounts of things. That's what I'm talking about. And I'm talking about using the same tools that we know work with these things. If you look at the consumer psychology that happens by these commercial organizations and you look at the data and analytics that go into it, and these people, the masses are being manipulated with very intricate tools into the desired behavioral change.
And it's been so successful that it's actually created the problem and all of the issues that we face, from environmental contaminants to fertility issues and population. A lot of that from the success of the marketing communications industry.
So I think the tools are there and I think they can create the level of change that we need. They're just all funding in the wrong direction at the moment.
[00:11:49] Rachel Donald: Let's take your example. We make X popular, whether it's being poor or consuming less, when you don’t have the education behind that as well, which I understand we really are running out of time to give, then the danger is that when the next trend comes along, people will hop on that. It still doesn't tackle the problem of having people disconnected from the natural world or deeply misunderstanding the impact that we have on the planet.
[00:12:26] Joseph Merz: And I think that's absolutely spot on because it's something that I was very concerned about in the beginning, that it's kind of just a superficial shift, right? You're moving a whole population into a place and they don't even deserve to be there. I mean, I look at this from a species perspective, and I think we don't even deserve to be here right now.
We're a species that doesn't know how to exist in our natural state. We’re primates that are basically living in this self-created zoo. I find that terrifying – even at this point, I don’t think we really deserve to be here. And I think if we were to artificially shift that in that same way, in the same fully superficial way that the advertising industry is doing, then we wouldn't deserve it even more.
So what I'm actually suggesting, and what we've been looking into, is how we can do that, but trigger some deeper sort of almost psychological and positive feedback loop that people get such an immense amount of life satisfaction—the term that they use in psychology circles is life satisfaction, the way that I would put it is more fulfillment—because all of the advertising relies on creating the opposite, and so that's why I think there are a number of benefits that we have in our favor here: the fact that the earth actually heals itself. I mean, that's incredible. All we have to do is stop doing the damage. That's a huge thing in our favor.
Another one is the fact that capitalism doesn't breed happy people. And I can say that firsthand, I've made good amounts of money from it, and beyond a certain point it didn't make any impact on my happiness. So I think that's what we're aiming to try and exploit is how can we move people away from this unhappy state into something that they're not even going to want to look back at it anymore. And maybe that involves some level of recognition of what's going on, although I'm not sure there's much value in that anyway, because you see the popularity of something like the social dilemma and people might go off Instagram for two weeks, but then they're right back on it.
[00:15:25] Rachel Donald: Yeah. I mean, the neurochemistry of those things is just so addictive. Let's get into the background then of Merz before we get into crunching some of this data that you guys obviously have about advertising. When and why did you set it up?
[00:15:46] Joseph Merz: It started off as a conservation fund a few years ago. I was still living in the blue mountains in Australia at the time, and I very much miss the blue mountains. I'd already been well aware of the issues with the capitalist model for a long time and had been operating businesses as ethically as possible. And then I just felt like I couldn't do it anymore and I needed to actually be working on these issues. So I thought, well, I could start a fund and I could just put money into good things. And I started doing that for a few weeks – and I just thought the problem is the money. I just hate money, which is an incredibly privileged thing to say, but I just realized that it was the money that I wanted to get away from.
And so then it became, okay, well, what, what do I want to do? I spoke to you about Mike joy. Mike's one of the trustees for the Institute, and one thing him and I have in common is that neither of us can stand working on the periphery of anything. We have to kind of be at the core of where the issue is. And so that was when that pursuit, or the focus, became, okay, how do we get to the core of this?
[00:17:56] Rachel Donald: But that was when you guys landed on advertising as the core?
[00:18:01] Joseph Merz: Yeah, after a long time, and consumption, really. Consumption being just so efficiently driven, and my first organization that I started when I was in my teens, actually, was a marketing communications agency. So it was an industry that I was somewhat familiar with, and I still own a stake in a data and analytics company, because I wanted to keep an eye on how that industry worked. Interesting space.
[00:18:33] Rachel Donald: Yes, indeed. Lots to learn from it. All right. So you started up the Merz Institute, you got your trustees together, decided to focus on consumption. What was it that led to the Backfire problem? And can you give more detail on that for listeners?
[00:18:53] Joseph Merz: In the beginning, I thought, look, I can either try and sift through all this data myself and find okay scientists and just work through it and see what happens and take even more time. Or I can just go for the top scientists I can find in the world and just see what I can do.
So I tracked down the mobile number of all these fantastic scientists, and I just called them straight out and said, I'm doing this, and would you want to be on my advisory board? And they all said yes. So I was really fortunate. I told them what I planned on doing, and it was probably quite extreme, but we ended up with – Will Stephan's been on our advisory board for a long time, Hugh Possingham, Phoebe Barnard, a few others.
That allowed me to start to straight away get to the heart of the issues and try and start working out where what needed to happen. And one thing that became very clear very early on was this disconnect between information and behavioral change and that there's lots of information out there, actually quite a lot of awareness too, but I don't think information is always a good thing. I really don’t—
[00:20:34] Rachel Donald: Oh, hang on. Hang on. Let's stick on that. In what context is information not a good thing?
[00:20:42] Joseph Merz: Well, we're really complex beings and, and our perception is our reality and our perception is formed through our experiences up to that point in time. So you can't give one piece of information to 10 different people and they'll take it the same way at all.
I think one of the big problems we have in the world right now is the fact that information is so cheap and readily available. I think there's lots of benefits to that, and I'm not saying that we should stop it, but it's brought about a huge amount of problems that I don't think we're ready to handle. And I, in honesty, I don't think we'll actually get through. So, does that make sense?
[00:21:37] Rachel Donald: Yeah, I would like to counter it, though.
[00:21:39] Joseph Merz: Yeah.
[00:21:40] Rachel Donald: One of the things that gives me hope in this very scary stage of our history is that there is so much information readily available. And of course we all know that there are disinformation and misinformation campaigns and all this sort of stuff, but, with the internet at your fingertips, it is possible to educate oneself.
I would counter that maybe information isn't necessarily the problem, but language is: how information is communicated. I mean, look at how what's coming out of the academy – unless you have a PhD or a Master's in a topic, it's extremely dense. It’s deliberately kept within its ivory tower in order for the authors to stay relevant and discuss it amongst one another. So I think it's how information is communicated and what bits of it are emphasized. I'm a journalist – you swap out a few words in a headline and you have a completely different story.
[00:22:48] Joseph Merz: If we had more journalists like you, then I don't think we'd have the problems that we do, but unfortunately we don't.
But yeah, I see what you mean. It's a very difficult route to go down, to try and make change in people through information and rely on them to understand that. If you look at the number of data points that are used in campaigns to make them efficient and effective, you'd have to write an article 5,000 times in a whole lot of different variations.
Maybe the future is some sort of journalism that knows you so well, it actually rewrites articles for you based on your tastes.
[00:23:43] Rachel Donald: Hh, my god. You’ve just blow my mind. That probably is the future.
[00:23:53] Joseph Merz: It might be, it might be. I remember saying to my parents many years ago that I thought misinformation was going to be one of our biggest problems, businesses and misinformation, because it's just – look at how rampant it is..
Anyway, my point is I think, yeah, you're right, language is a big part of it, but information as we have it at the moment, I think, is a problem.
I'm all for I'm all for people being informed. There's some sort of global consciousness that's missing for it to be meaningful. Everything's so fractured. I'm very pessimistic about, about this whole thing, and I know that we've got plenty of optimistic people within the Institute or involved in the Institute. But I, personally, based on the data—and the whole point of the Institute in the beginning was to pull all the different scientific disciplines together so that we could get a big picture—I knew it was bad, but I just don't think that we're going to get through this. I really don't.
[00:25:21] Rachel Donald: Well, I suppose it depends how we define getting through it because I also don't believe we're going to get through it, but I do– and actually, I'm so glad to have you on the show because I've been thinking so much about this question of advertising and I've actually invited a really celebrated professor of marketing onto the show in the summer to discuss this.
[00:25:43] Joseph Merz: Oh, cool.
[00:25:44] Rachel Donald: Part of the problem is the marketing behind climate change. I spoke with Jason Hickle, a de-growth scholar, and he was saying, you know, if we want to reduce consumption, we reduce working hours. We get people to spend more time at home with their families, making things with their hands, a post-carbon world can be a happier world, it can be a better world, we can lift people out of poverty. And I think that this is the marketing message that is so missing when we discuss climate change: the fact that it could offer everybody a better life, that we're not going to get through it, but whether we hit a state of collapse or whether we hit a state of adaptation that, after a painful transition, will lead to a greater source of satisfaction, those options are still on the table and it baffles me why they're not being discussed more. There's still an element of choice here. We can still choose the better option if we act very, very, very quickly.
[00:26:44] Joseph Merz: I agree with you from a marketing perspective that that's been lacking, but I think we missed the boat 30 years ago. I really do. I don't think we're going to be able to avoid a hothouse earth. And I think that most of us are going to see—and I hope I'm wrong, I would be the happiest person alive to be wrong on this because it's something that I've had to really come to terms with over the years—but I don't see us going through a small patch of difficulty at all. I think what's most likely to happen based on the science that I have seen is it's just going to be one event after another, after another.
People look at COVID and they think, when’s COVID over and we get back to normal and all of that sort of thing, and what they don't see is that all of this is just part of a degradation that has been happening for a long time. When you look at these convoys and the mandates — and I'm not saying that one side is right at all because I'm the first person to say that it's just incredibly complicated—but I think all of these things that you see, and all the crazy stuff that's happening, is part of the collapse happening. We sit there and we have this view of it happening, that we’ll wake up in the morning and suddenly everything's turned off. I don't think that's what's going to happen.
What I'm getting at is that I think this decline has been happening for a long time and it will continue to happen until maybe there's some major collapse, but I think the issues in the earth system are we've pushed them beyond what we can survive. And so I think we're going to be looking at all of the tipping points going. I don't hold much hope for us. We need to stay under 1.5 degrees and it's just not happening. It's just not going to happen at all.
There's some data to say that we're already kind of locked into moving past it by 2050. I
[00:29:32] Rachel Donald: Yeah, one of my guests explained that we're gonna overshoot 1.5, not because of continuing industries, even though obviously industries will continue, but just from the damage already done. The heat's already there and it's going to continue to exponentially grow even if we switched everything off tomorrow, the overshoot's still there.
[00:30:00] Joseph Merz: Yeah.
[00:30:01] Rachel Donald: Can I ask you a personal question?
[00:30:04] Joseph Merz: Yeah, sure.
[00:30:06] Rachel Donald: Well, I mean, you're a father with two young kids, right? How do you, how do you deal with this on a personal level?
[00:30:17] Joseph Merz: That is a very good question. It has not been easy and as much as I've kind of wanted to jump into almost tricking myself into believing that it's going to be okay and, you know, we've got this and blah, blah, blah. I went through probably about nine months of depression a long time ago, I reckon, five years ago or something, when I realized what was actually happening.
And I thought I was out the other side, but the other day it hit me that I haven't actually looked forward. I suddenly remembered this feeling of looking forward and actually being excited about something in the future, like “oh, that'd be nice if” or “maybe we'll do that”.
This almost nostalgic kind of feeling came back of when I used to do that all the time. And I realized that for five years or more, I've had basically no hope, which was quite, quite interesting, cause I always thought I had hope. So I've been working to really come to terms with that without becoming a catastrophist or anything like that. I don't want to be that because there are a lot of variables in this and Will would be the first one to say the Earth system is the most complex system known to man. So what else is lurking there that might help us? We don't know. I mean, I was reading that the ozone hole that we were so worried about has actually been contributing to cooling, from my understanding.
So, you know, there are things that could work in our favor. But, yeah, all I do is just focus on the now, really. I think that's the only thing that's effective is to bring myself back to the now. And kids are really good at that. They are always in the now, so they're always bringing me back to whatever's happening at that moment.
[00:32:57] Rachel Donald: All right. Let's get into the data of Backfire then. What is it that you guys are studying and what is it that you're trying to implement, and on what scale? Let's get into the nitty-gritty.
[00:33:09] Joseph Merz: So we're looking at basically how we can use consumer psychology and data analytics to, as I said, bypass all of the educational and awareness side of making behavioral change, and just triggering that change itself on its own.
I reached out to a very well-known consumer psychologist who is probably the best in the world at this, who I won't name. I rang him on his mobile and I said, you're probably going to hang up on me cause I'm trying to bring about the demise of capitalism. But he didn’t, he was very interested in it.
And obviously with the data and analytics company that I'm involved in, that's different, we've got data scientists and people like that working in that. But in the ad industry, he was telling me that it's changed and become so easy now to do this that you can basically put in the the desired behavioral change and then put it into this, I'm assuming some kind of a platform online, and it will just spit out all of the different things that you have to push in order to achieve that in different demographics.
So anyway, there were some issues with being able to work directly with him, but he's put us on to someone else who won't have the same issues who he believes is just as good. So, we're in the process of getting them up to speed on what we're actually trying to do. Um, so it's very early days, but we've got a really fantastic experimental social psychologist as well who I've just been talking to recently.
[00:36:04] Rachel Donald: But what is it that you're trying to build? Are you're trying to build an algorithm? A platform?
[00:36:09] Joseph Merz: No, we're trying to build a series of campaigns. So, over a number of years, the idea would be to try and gradually almost create a pathway for a whole chunk of humanity to get out of this state, and into some more fulfilled state, or some way that we know that they're not going to be as susceptible to the way that marketing communications goes.
I know that sounds absolutely bonkers, but Cambridge University's best plan at the moment is to refreeze the Arctic to buy themselves enough time to put huge emissions capturing technology out there that doesn't even exist yet. I think the closest anyone's got to it was some oil and gas company that they've found out is still emitting more carbon than it's actually capturing.
[00:37:14] Rachel Donald: Yeah, of course.
[00:37:16] Joseph Merz: So I think we need to try. At least we know that the technology works.
We're part of the Stable Planet Alliance, we were one of the founding organizations of that, which was founded by Phoebe Barnard and a few others. Phoebe was the lead author on the scientists warning into action paper and one of the leads on the scientists warning to humanity papers.
And so we've kind of been about different ways of approaching funding for things like this because obviously it’s gonna take a lot of money, much more money than anticapitalist me has.
[00:38:37] Rachel Donald: So the idea is a series of campaigns, it's pushed out over a number of years, and I'm assuming pushed out over social media, television, the platforms that the majority are in front of each day?
[00:38:51] Joseph Merz: Yeah. So it would just be treated the exact same way as a commercial campaign. I really think that it needs to be on a level playing field with commercial campaigns. So that means if they're utilizing influencers for some, then it would be using all the tools that they have.
And the only real difference is that some not-for-profits have collected this kind of behavioral issue and they've started exploring using these tools. But none of them that I have come across yet have actually moved away from the education awareness side. Because that affords you this huge amount of creativity that you don't have otherwise, otherwise you're stuck operating within the constraints of educating people basically.
So, the other huge benefit to this approach is that you can tackle topics that aren't even socially acceptable to discuss, like population control, for example. You can't go out and say: we should all have smaller families, or how about one child or something like that. But through these sorts of things, you can make that look more desirable, without even having to use the word population.
[00:40:23] Rachel Donald: It’s, it’s, it's pretty… Yeah.
[00:40:29] Joseph Merz: I know it's a minefield. It really is, and I went through a massive ethical kind of thing with it.
[00:40:37] Rachel Donald: Yeah.
[00:40:37] Joseph Merz: But it's being done the opposite way to drive us into a place where the planet is uninhabitable and humanity is facing extinction. I know that sounds extreme to say but it's really true. And I think to mention the focus of this will be to create more fulfilled people. The way I see it is you're actually waking people up, getting people out of a state of an unnatural state that they're in now. I-
[00:41:19] Rachel Donald: Oh, hang on. I'll have to counter you there. If you say you're bypassing education and awareness, then typically waking up is going from a state of unawareness to awareness. But if the education, if the information, if the ‘why' isn't a part of that, then are you really waking people up or are you just changing their behavior?
[00:41:38] Joseph Merz: Very good question—and I probably shouldn't have said it like that. What I mean is they're kind of sleepwalking at the moment in this infinite loop of consumption that is not only destroying the planet, it's making them miserable. And so what I mean by waking them up is I mean getting them out of that state and into a place where they're healthier mentally and thinking the right things.
"The right things", I mean, that's a minefield in itself, but… It's a difficult situation. And this is another thing that I think is really hard. And I always say this to people, you know, there's no limit to the amount of suffering that humans can experience. We can literally die in the most horrifically unimaginable ways. And there's no limit to how fucked this can get. Sorry, I don't know whether I'm allowed to swear on this, but there really isn't and so I think we need to acknowledge that and realize there's nothing to say that this is going to be pretty, or this has to be pretty, or the solutions have to look perfect.
And as time has passed, that has got worse and worse and worse. And as more time passes, our solutions get worse and worse and worse as well, or the options available to us. So, you know, right now we might be able to use manipulative practices to bring population down. There might come a day where governments go, we don't even have time for that. And what's that gonna look like? So, you know, it's a really difficult place to be. And it's one where that's gotten me personally questioning a lot from a philosophical perspective about why is it important to remain an extent species? Like, does it matter?
[00:43:54] Rachel Donald: I think the other question that comes to mind, given what we've been discussing about information and education, is who makes the decisions about what behavioral changes need to be implemented? Because it creates a funnel, you know, where 1% of the population—say, just to use the same figure of wealth inequity—1% of the population have access to information and impact the other 99%. And, sure, I can believe that your institute has great intentions and it's data-driven and this is what science is saying needs to happen, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And I do trust that because I've interviewed some of your trustees. But, nonetheless, it's still a terrifying premise.
It’s like the beginning of a Bond movie, isn't it? You know, if this information or if this program fell into the wrong hands—but it is in the wrong hands. It's in the hands of the advertising industry already.
[00:45:10] Joseph Merz: That's the thing. We're not inventing anything new and we're not even using it for evil. We're actually using it in probably the best way that it can be used, but I completely agree with you, and this is a process that I have absolutely gone through over and over.
My father was a monk for six and a half years before he met my mother. So we grew up with philosophy and theology drilled into us every day. And sometimes I think it was definitely too much, but it's made me think a lot about everything that I do and the potential repercussions, negative and positive. I think, I mean, this is the heart, this is as close to the heart of the problem as you can get as far as I'm concerned. And it is the only viable solution that I think is actually known at the moment. And that might sound, arrogant, and maybe it's total naivety on my part, and if anyone knows of anything better, I would love to hear it because I'd love to throw energy behind it. But I think in the time frame we have available to even try and make change—when you've got to weigh up the likelihood of success and efficacy of what you're doing and the potential negative side effects, this has gotta be one of the best ranking things that I've seen.
[00:47:08] Rachel Donald: I mean, this is the question that comes up time and time again on this show. How do we get people to change? How do you get people in power to change as well? Because we've seen huge swathes of populations modify their behavior, oftentimes in the wrong way, like the whole plastic bag versus paper bag thing. It drives me mad because the life cycle analysis of the single use plastic bag is the most efficient and beneficial to the planet. Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. People are capable of change, certainly if they're in that kind of position, say, typically middle class where life is not so precarious that they have time to think about what needs to change and they have time to process
[00:47:53] Joseph Merz: Yeah. Yup.
[00:47:56] Rachel Donald: Still nonetheless, the entire population can change their consumption habits—it still has such a little impact in comparison to conglomerates, corporations the planet's wealthiest people who use an insane amount of resources.
Will this program get to them? Will it encourage them to maybe change their business models, their business styles, what it is that they want to achieve, the need for profit, because at this point in capitalism, in late stage capitalism, the vast majority of us are just rats on the wheel.
[00:48:44] Joseph Merz: Yeah. Yup, There's still a good portion of wealthy people who have a significant impact the planet. As far as the 1%—there hasn't been an objective to kind of target them specifically or anything like that. And I never really found it a compelling approach. I know it makes sense from an energy perspective, like, put all your energy into such a small number of so few and you could have a big impact with that. But when you're weighing up the likelihood of success versus the efficacy, seeing where something would plot on that graph, I don't think it would plot too well if it were just targeting those people, because there's too much going on.
But in saying that, some of them do understand these issues and want to do things about it, but they can't. We've been told through some of these organizations that we work with that a lot of high net worth individuals want to do things to counter a lot of this, but they don't want to get involved with, from a publicity perspective, topics that they classify as not socially acceptable.
I remember one day I saw the Bezos earth fund website, and then Amazon. And you just think you're literally just destroying with one hand and then giving back a fraction of it with the other hand.
[00:50:59] Rachel Donald: That's just PR.
[00:51:02] Joseph Merz: It is, yeah, it is. But I don't even think I want to put any energy into people like that.
[00:51:15] Rachel Donald: I think what's quite nice about your vision is that it leans into democracy as well. If you get the majority on board, then governments and and institutions will have to follow. Otherwise they'll lose their consumers. They'll lose the respect of their democratic citizens. They'll lose votes.
[00:51:37] Joseph Merz: That was definitely one of the considerations in the beginning, that they'll follow where the consumers are and that's something that one of these ad guys was talking to me about. He was saying how they've been working on this idea, and I hope I'm allowed to say it on here, but they'd been working on this idea of trying to get consumers to pay more for the emotional side of whatever they're purchasing.
So basically, I guess, extended out to kind of the most extreme version, you wouldn't even be buying physical goods. A lot of the time you'd just be buying an emotional connection to the brand, basically. And that was their way of trying to tackle—because he was very aware of the issues that were going on and was wanting to try and do something about them. And I think, you know, that it's really nice. It was really nice to hear that they'd even been thinking of it. And I think for something like that, they'd be the ones who could make it work if anyone could, and I could see something like that working actually.But again, I just don't think there's any sort of silver bullet.
[00:52:59] Rachel Donald: I mean, that sounds, I don't know which brand you're discussing there, but that sounds dangerous from a longer-term perspective where you're asking people to emotionally invest and pay a fiscal investment to match that emotional investment, then it buys into that sunken cost fallacy, doesn't it? Where people will keep investing in that thing, especially if they have an emotional tie, no matter what happens or no matter what that brand is then doing over a longer term. “We're asking them to just support us a little bit financially, without having to send them a product.” But eventually you're going to be able to douse them in products .
[00:53:41] Joseph Merz: Yeah, no, I think where wherever you kind of tease these situations out from here to try and see a likely future, there are no good ones. I haven't been able to find any good ones. And even if we achieve this, I'm not saying that the whole objective of this program is basically: the science might be wrong.
So we might have more time. I'm sorry, not the objective, but the whole idea behind it is the science might be wrong. We might have more time than we think in which case we should do everything we can anyway. If that's the case, then what I was hoping that this would achieve, if it worked, would be just to buy enough time to take the pressure off the Earth system for people to organically understand the problem and actually shift consciously into the right place. But, I don't think there's any way of doing it with the time that we have is, and I've said that many times.
[00:54:53] Rachel Donald: I think, what you're proposing makes sense, and I'm thinking—I cannot, for the life of me, remember any actual concrete details, but in psychology there is that relationship between body and mind whereby the more that you practice a thing, the more it becomes real. This is why faith based teachings often have these ritualistic daily habits, so it ingrains the faith more and more. So if you get people to impact their behavior, gradually they might come to understand that behavior through the act of practicing it, perhaps over a generation. So there is still access to the education and awareness, which I'm very keen on, perhaps further down the line.
[00:55:46] Joseph Merz: Well, that that's very much where I think it needs to be. I'm not saying we should get rid of it completely because then I think we do end up a zombie, you know, what's the point anyway, it's pretty much the same as it is now. I want the world to know why they're doing these things; it really is that time constraint that's the only reason why it ever was considered removed.
[00:56:16] Rachel Donald: Understood. One key question would be: which changes do you want to affect? Which behavioral changes?
[00:56:26] Joseph Merz: That again is a very good question. And that's something that most of the time has been spent on actually trying to work that out. I think that's going to take a long time to even be able to answer that properly.
The closest we've got so far is to just increase life satisfaction or fulfillment. A good example of that would be, if the data said that people would get that from volunteering, for example, then, the campaigns would be trying to get more people volunteering. That's a very rudimentary way of putting it, but that's kind of the thinking behind it. The closest I've been able to get so far has been fulfillment because that's what is exploited by the ad industry for consumption.
[00:57:36] Rachel Donald: How do you measure what fulfillment is, or could be?
[00:57:44] Joseph Merz: I'm not sure — quantifying a lot of this as well has been something that we've been working on. Some of it will come from the tried and tested ways that the ad industry uses for quantifying things. But I'm not sure until we actually know 100% the things that we're going to be driving and they'll probably be different in different demographics too. It will really come back to what the data is telling us to do, and we haven't even gotten that far yet. The program, it was an idea of mine I had probably about five years ago or something, and it sort of just bounced around in my mind until a few months ago when I thought, okay, we need to start doing this. And we've made pretty good traction in that time, but it is huge. So I'm not sure when we'll have more clarity around this.
[00:58:39] Rachel Donald: Well, once you do, once the program's maybe up and running, or you find some key stuff, let's get you back on the show to discuss it, because it really is a fascinating proposition.
[00:58:48] Joseph Merz: Yeah. It’s interesting. I am concerned as you say about the ethical side, but we'll see how that works out too. But it's funny cause the reason I decided to move on it at this point in time, or one of the main reasons, was because of this other program that we'd launched, which was called Discover Success, and it was about trying to get people to consider what success was to them. To actually just think about it. And so we invited a whole lot of people to come and to sit down with this organizational psychologist regularly and just have a conversation about what success meant to them. And it was the rate of change in that that made me go right, we need to kind of cut out that organic process — and also it was really only people who had the interest in it. They had the understanding, they had the perseverance, they had all these things.
[00:59:53] Rachel Donald: That's part of the problem. So my final question for you then, Joseph, is who would you like to platform?
[01:00:00] Joseph Merz: The theme that I really wanted to get onto was energy and I know you've had Nate on there but I would say Mike Joy. I don't know whether you've reached out to Mike–
[01:00:18] Rachel Donald: Yeah. We’re setting it up for when he's back on land.
[01:00:22] Joseph Merz: Yes, he's out at sea at the moment. I'm getting these intermittent emails. "Sorry. All I could find on my phone."
[01:00:30] Rachel Donald: Excellent. Joseph, thank you so much for your time. It was a real pleasure speaking with you.
[01:00:35] Joseph Merz: Nice to talk to you. Thanks.