Two months ago I started Impact Makers – a community for tech people to help prevent climate breakdown. Ever since I’ve been thinking about how to assist makers to take action. The desire to do something is there in abundance, but it’s still difficult for the majority to get to the point where they act. Why is that?

You need an idea of how you can help

Climate change is the biggest, scariest problem we’ve faced in our lifetimes. What makes it especially frightening, is that solving it feels entirely out of our control. How can we as software developers and product designers help in a meaningful way beyond reducing our own carbon footprint?

How can we convince governments worldwide to put the planet above all else? How can we help change how we travelchange how we eat or change the world’s energy sources with software?

As makers, we are first and foremost problem solvers. While the climate emergency may seem like a problem we can’t impact, when you drill down, you discover that it’s a wide-ranging issue composed of hundreds of smaller contributing problems that we can help with.

To form an idea of what you can do to help fix the climate, try to identify the high-level problems and work backwards, for example:

High-level problem 1: we rely on energy and food sources which contribute dangerous amounts of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere. These emissions are now causing our climate to breakdown.

High-level problem 2: We’re deforesting the planet, destroying ecosystems which help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, speeding up climate breakdown.

The high-level solution to both of these problems is actually very simple – stop.

Unfortunately doing so is anything but simple… Yet don’t lose hope! Now that we know where to start we can dissect these problems to identify opportunities.

How? Ask the question ‘why’ until you hit upon a problem you can help fix. Let’s use the harmful energy sources issue as an example, and repeatedly ask the question why:

Why can’t we stop using harmful energy sources?

One reason would be because historically renewable energy sources have been more expensive than harmful non-renewable energy sources, though this is fast changing.

Many governments around the world subsidise fossil fuels. Plus, the cost of renewable energy sources have not dropping fast enough due to lack of investment from governments.

In addition, fossil fuel companies donate billions to certain politicians so they will carry out their money making agenda. A transition to renewable energy will put them out of business unless they change their product offering. Fossil fuel companies make their shareholders a lot of money and they likely want to maintain their fortunes above all else.

So what have we identified here? First, some people in power will prioritise financial gain over the planet. Second, fossil fuel companies want to maintain the status quo rather than change.

What could we do to help?

To make politicians who take money from fossil fuel companies fear they will lose power if they don’t prioritise the planet, we could create a tool that helps constituents contact their local politician to let them know that the climate emergency is their number 1 voting issue.

To raise awareness of politicians who are prioritising the planet over profit, we could build a website that highlights the views and voting records of parties and politicians in different countries, or an app that asks you for your political views and location and suggests which politician(s) in your area aligns best with your point of view.

To help humanity to not value money and power above all else, we could increase education of how becoming rich doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, and draw attention to resources which highlight the path to living a happy life.

To pressure fossil fuel companies to change, we could increase awareness of their actions so their customers no longer wish to be associated with them.

These are just a few examples, if I was to continue I’d likely identify many more issues and be able to spot further opportunities. By repeatedly asking why, we can identify smaller problems that have more obvious software solutions which could help fix the climate.

A new incentive to fix the climate

Even if you have an idea to work on you’ll still consider if it’s worth sacrificing your time to bring it to life. While it would be nice to think that the dangers of the climate emergency are enough to entice action, for the vast majority it’s likely to still come down to the question of ‘what is in it for me?’.

So what would you get out of launching a product to help fix the climate?

It depends on your idea.

You could identify a problem that has a solution people will pay for and potentially make a living from it — which is the ultimate goal for most indie makers.

Or you could focus on a non-profit idea. While this may not lead to a direct financial benefit, it usually feels great, and you never know what new opportunities might arise tomorrow based on your sacrifice today.

The incentives to work on a climate action project might still not be as strong as developing a straight-forward product idea with a clear business model. That’s why @JP_Aulet and I have conceived of an event which we think will make helping to fix the climate more appealing.

Introducing The Climate Fixathon

We’ve teamed up with Makerlog and Makerpad to launch The Climate Fixathon. The world’s first online hackathon for makers to help fix the climate.

Full details will be released on 10th July with the event running from 2nd to 30th August. Subscribe on fixathon.io to get updates.

Having an impact that helps restore a safe climate for our planet might seem like an impossible task. But if we directed our problem-solving abilities and technical skills to this life-threatening problem who knows what we could achieve?

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