Climate Literacy for Business: The Four Intelligences

Climate Literacy

Right now I’m participating in the En-ROADS Climate Ambassador Camp with Climate Interactive. En-ROADS is “a freely-available online simulator that provides policymakers, educators, businesses, the media, and the public with the ability to test and explore cross-sector climate solutions,” and is an eye-opener regarding the real-world impact of multiple climate actions.

In the camp, a group of us have been focusing on the subject of business: not just how En-ROADS can be employed, but the more general impact of climate change upon businesses both today and in the future. My camp-mate Peter du Toit proposed that just as businesses previously had to develop digital literacy, they now need to develop “climate literacy,” which he describes like this:

“The ability to understand the basic principles of earth’s climate system, which is made of air, snow, ice, living things, water and the solid earth. Having the ability to find and evaluate scientifically credible peer-reviewed information and using this to communicate accurately about climate change. It also includes knowing how to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example, opting for car-free mobility, limiting long-haul air travel, switching to plant-based diets and making buildings more energy efficient.”

Undoubtedly, climate literacy will be essential for the long-term viability of all businesses, so I want to unpack Peter’s proposal into four different elements: Climate IQ (intellectual intelligence), Climate EQ (emotional intelligence), Climate AQ (action intelligence), and Climate CQ (commercial intelligence).

Climate IQ (intellectual intelligence)

A good deal of climate discussion exists in the mode of what I’ll describe as “intellectual intelligence.” This is the classic academic data-driven understanding of climate with facts, figures and evidence. It can refer to traditional climate science, as well as all the other related disciples such as sociology, economics, politics, and the like.

Climate IQ is essential for understanding what is happening with climate change and imagining technical solutions, but it doesn’t necessarily result in the implementation of solutions (after all, we’ve known about climate change for decades and haven’t done much about it).

Climate EQ (emotional intelligence)

One of the explanations for inaction on climate is a lack of understanding about how people feel about and in response to climate change, and this requires what I’ll describe as “emotional intelligence.”

Climate EQ has really exploded in recent years thanks to books such as Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall. There are also numerous communities emerging that provide emotional support to people as they grapple with the traumatic prospects of climate change such as the Deep Adaptation movement. Just as it’s possible to have a high Climate IQ and low EQ, it’s equally true in reverse.

Climate AQ (action intelligence)

If you have a high Climate IQ or EQ (or even both at the same time), that does not necessarily mean that you’re going to do anything practical with your knowledge, which requires what I’ll describe as “action intelligence.”

Climate AQ is (at last) starting to emerge at scale and can take many forms, whether it be developing carbon capture technology, or engaging in acts of civil disobedience with Extinction Rebellion. Again, just because someone might have a high Climate AQ, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a high Climate IQ or EQ: some people just like causing trouble!

Climate CQ (commercial intelligence)

Business is a real double-edged sword when it comes to climate, and embodies what I’ll describe as “commercial intelligence.” While it is true that business can justifiably be considered as a villain in the story of climate change, it also has an unprecedented ability to drive change and be the hero, and we are slowly starting to see this happen.

Climate CQ simultaneously has a selfish and altruistic character. It is selfish because any business that does not develop Climate CQ within a relatively short period of time, simply will not exist for long: it will be put out of business either by consumer sentiment or government legislation. It is altruistic because it enables the financial sustainability of all the hopes and dreams of people with high Climate IQ, EQ and AQ.

Putting It All Together

Needless to say, my concluding point is that none of these four types of climate intelligence can achieve much in isolation. And the solution to integrating these four types can be found on both the personal and collective level.

On a personal level, I suspect most people will resonate more strongly with one type of climate intelligence than the other three. The trick, of course, is to try and strengthen the weaker types into a holistic form of climate literacy.

On a collective level (whether that be a team, business, or society as a whole), we need to make sure that we have people with different types of climate intelligence working together to solve our biggest problems (or else, quite frankly, it ‘aint going to happen).

And here’s where it may get tricky for some: this may require working with people that make you feel quite uncomfortable, whether due to their cognitive style or political ideology. Now I’m going to ask you a final predictable question. What’s more important: you working in your comfort zone, or course-correcting climate change? You know the answer 🙂


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