Optimism in problem solving – like saving the biosphere.

Creating new and viable fabrics from waste fibres can be challenging, a large percentage of our work consists of problem solving, from technical issues to logistical problems. I have come to believe that optimism is a crucial tool in successful solving problems. As Nelson Mandela eloquently said “It always seems impossible – until it’s done.”

Psychological studies have identified optimism and resilience as key characteristics of creative problem solvers. Research tell us that optimistic children perceive failure as:
‘temporary’ (able to be overcome) and ‘specific’ (to the situation at hand).
They perceive successes as:
‘personal’ (achieved through their own effort) and ‘permanent’ (able to be achieved again). An optimistic problem solver perceives not knowing as temporary, that problems are only beyond their current capability.

Alain de Botton is a modern day philosopher and as a philosopher he does does a lot of thinking. In developing his “Manifesto for Atheists” he has devised “Ten Virtues for the Modern Age” Top of that list, number ONE of this ten virtues he believes are the foundations to a successful life is…RESILIENCE.

Resilience is an individual’s tendency to cope with stress and adversity, being able to bounce back after setbacks. Resilience is related to a combination of higher optimism, extraversion, openness to experience. Plus resilient people are less neurotic – which is great to know.

Taking our two key attributes of optimism and resilience we can apply them to the biggest problem we face today..

Scientists alerted the world to the grim outlook of global warming, it wasn’t news that anyone would be delighted to hear. The enormity of the problem and the calamity it can cause seemed insurmountable. The scientist were raising the alarm, they were ringing the bell as loud as they could to get our bottoms off our couches long enough for us to hear the crucial message that we are in danger. That the very earth on which we stand is facing an issue the size of which we have never encountered before and one that needs immediate attention. The scientists keep ringing that alarm bell.

We are slowly responding. Direction has not come from governments, so far the only cross government agreement is that a 2 degree increase in temperature is the outer limit of safety if we want to remain on this planet. Action has had to come from individual citizens as industry would appear to have an undue influence on Governments, outweighing the influence of citizens. Global warming is not just an environmental problem it is equally a social problem as savage storms decimate homes and droughts threaten crops, it is going to take behavioural changes from society to address this.

The magnitude of the problem can understandably make us feel impotent, overwhelmed even paralysed by the sheer enormity of the task.
But there is reason for hope. Recently Bill McKibbon on a speaking tour presented a solution to prevent us reaching the catastrophic 2 degree temperature rise. His solution is divestment in fossil fuels. Fossil fuel companies have in reserve 5 x the amount of fuel that would take us over the 2 degree redline. His divestment solution along with suspension of subsidies to giant fossil fuel companies is such a powerful tool it could sway things a little in earths favour.

Al Gore has Plan A and Richard Branson recently launched his “B Team” with the concept of putting people and planet alongside instead of behind profit. So that companies contribute to the environment and society, as well as the economy. Business can and should be a force for good. As the major consumer of resources in the world, businesses need to lead way and to be the major responder to resource and environmental issues.

We can be inspired by companies such as New Zealand born Lanzatech whose low carbon aviation fuel has the potential to provide 19% of the world’s jet fuel, with a reduction in greenhouse gases by 50 to 60% compared to standard jet fuel. This is just one example of companies doing awe-inspiring things to address the precarious situation we are in. We can be immensely proud of the new technologies coming through, the rate of their application and transformation is very positive news.

As society we have both the skills and the intelligence to solve the challenges facing our biosphere. We should take pride in our problem solving abilities and practice using them whenever we can and celebrate our successes loudly for that will give us confidence to tackle even larger challenges.
We can face the current environmental challenges with confidence that not only can we solve them but that we will solve them. So lets every single one of us pull up our sleeves and get on with it.

This article forms part of Bernadette Casey’s recent TED Talk.

TED Talk

TED Talk

TED Talk

TED Talk