It may come as a surprise to those of us who consider ourselves au courant with the state of the world, not to mention sane, that there are still people out there who would deny the reality of human-caused climate change. So imagine how you might feel upon encountering voices that say global warming is actually good for humans. Even if you were to ignore the apocalyptic scourges of flood and fire that have become an everyday reality not just in this country but around the world; even if you set aside the fact that the world’s top investment advisors are now telling their clients to invest in climate change-related technologies; you cannot ignore the collective findings of the world’s leading scientific bodies. You would think.
But as marketers, we don’t just huff and sigh, “Lord what fools these mortals be.” We ask: how is this possible? What quirk of the human brain leads us to continue to ignore a seemingly undeniable truth about our world?
And this is where I have to apologize for bringing Steve Jobs into the picture. As renowned as he was for exercising a “reality distortion field” — the ability to conjure up a world that was patently at odds with reality — he employed his prodigious powers in the pursuit of beauty and excellence and a range of products that would transform our lives, mostly for the better. In his case, the reality distortion field worked because of his unmistakable passion, insight and creativity.
And then there’s the “carbon fertilization” proselytes. The phrase refers to a notion, quickly adopted as a meme, that since plants need CO2 for photosynthesis, the more carbon there is in the air, the greener the planet. Even the least scientific reader will observe that this grossly over-simplifies the issue and ignores the other side-effects of more CO2, but then, the proselytes are not producing their feeble attempts at a reality distortion field because of genuine belief or passion. Instead, they’re taking advantage of an intellectual sleight of hand that their overlords perpetrated years ago and relying on a powerful bias in our brains to help them.
The sleight of hand happened when, somehow, the case for humans as the cause of global warming became one that had to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a phrase familiar to any aficionado of TV courtroom dramas. There’s just one problem. “Reasonable doubt” applies to criminal cases where it is imperative to protect the innocent: global warming, on the other hand, would more likely be a civil case, subject to the principle of “preponderance of evidence.”
But the bias in our brains is more dangerous: it’s our inability to really favor any course of action that pursues long-term well-being at the cost of short-term gratification. The Wimpy Effect, I call it, from Popeye: “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” This, our very own internal reality distortion field, makes it hard for us to look beyond today and renders us vulnerable to the “reasonable doubt”-mongers.
The solution? Beer.
Sydney-based WWF subsidiary Earth Hour teamed up with GPY&R and a local craft brewery to create a beverage designed to simulate what beer will taste like in years to come, if we don’t take action against global warming.
The forecasted high temperatures and erratic weather could negatively impact both the quantity and quality of hops grown in Australia. So the team set out to create an ale that reflected the effects of future farming conditions. Ingredients of the brew include dried-out malt, stale hops, and lots of salt. The result is a drink that brew-master Willie the Boatman describes as tasting “acidic, salty and a little bit funky.” Yummy.
The campaign consists of tastings across the country, as well as an online video that encourages viewers to write to politicians about global warming, if they care for their beer. Results are still coming in but the evidence shows that it penetrated the various reality distortion fields at work, obscuring the seriousness of climate change.
I’d wager that Americans would be just as concerned about the quality of their beer. So would Argentinians, Indians and non-vegetarians. So as silly as it sounds, perhaps we need to come off the high horse about climate change, and get down to where it really hurts most people: right in the beer gut.