Imagine cowboys in a standoff. Except instead of two cowboys pointing their guns at each other, there's an entire bar full of them. What are the odds that they'll all quietly put down their guns?
When it comes to sustainability, the world is in a standoff. If any one country cuts down on drilling for oil or making plastic, then some other country will swoop in and take over the industry.
"No nation could decisively reduce its carbon emissions unless virtually all other nations did so too because any nation trying to go it alone would only land its economy with increased costs and a competitive disadvantage," explained John Bunzl, a CEO at an international textile company.
In other words, politicians around the world need to agree to change simultaneously, an idea that sounded nice but impossible to me when I first heard it. But someone may have found a way to actually make it happen. Bunzl has been developing SIMPOL, a plan to pressure politicians around the world to fix the environment. Here's how it works.
1. The pledgeIt all starts with a pledge — a bunch of plans and policies that would fix the environment.
"They'll consist of a series of multi-issue global problem-solving policy packages, each of which is to be implemented by all or sufficient nations simultaneously, on the same date, so that no nation loses out," explained Bunzl.
2. The citizensSo now that there's a promise, it's time to get politicians on board. That's where voters come in.
Citizens who support this pledge "give strong voting preference in all future national elections to politicians or parties that have signed a pledge to implement Simpol," Bunzl continued. And of course, they'll be less likely to vote for politicians who don't sign the pledge.
"For citizens, you could say that joining SIMPOL is a bit like getting two votes: one that’s global, the other national," he added.
3. The politiciansPoliticians who sign onto the pledge know they'll get a voting boost from citizens on the same page.
"In this simple way, politicians who sign enhance their electoral chances, while those who refuse risk losing our votes to politicians who signed instead," Bunzl said. "Thus, in tightly contested electoral areas, failing to sign could cost a politician their seat."
Plus, the SIMPOL team doesn't reveal how many supporters it has in any area.
"So politicians are left to wonder – and worry," Bunzl said. "Conversely, politicians who do sign don't risk much because SIMPOL only gets implemented if and when enough other politicans have already signed up. So, signing is a win-win for them while failing to sign could spell disaster, especially as the number of supporting citizens grows."
4. The changeOnce enough politicians sign on, they can implement SIMPOL's policies. They don't have to worry about being outcompeted, either by other politicians, political parties or governments.
"What impresses me most about SIMPOL is that it’s 'good to go'," explained Nick Duffell, a psychotherapist working with Bunzl. "It uses existing structures in a smart way so we don’t need to wait for a world parliament or a reformed UN."
So, what do you think? Does this sound possible? Miraculous? Unrealistic?
Well, surprise: this isn't just an idea. It's already underway.
"At the last national election in 2017, we got over 650 candidates from all the main political parties to sign the Pledge," Bunzl said, referring to U.K. elections. "Of those, 65 are now Members of Parliament (MPs), which is about 10% of all UK MPs."
Politicians have been signing on in a bunch of countries, including Germany, Argentina, Ireland and Australia.
"Experience shows that politicians often need little persuasion to sign the Pledge," said Bunzl. "Even those in safe seats sometimes happily sign it simply because they see its common sense."
He also noticed an unexpected upside.
"In closely contested electoral areas, a kind of 'domino effect' occurred. As one candidate signed the Pledge, his competitors, one after another, felt obliged to follow, resulting in nearly all the competing candidates signing up as election day approached," Bunzl explained. "This meant that whichever candidate won the seat, SIMPOL was sure to gain another MP committed to implementing its global policy agenda."
To Bunzl, this meant that political parties might actually stop being such a problem. As he put it:
"For those who are fed up with the meaningless ‘ding-dong’ between the political parties, Simpol offers a way to cut through that, driving all politicians towards implementing what really matters: a sustainable and just world."