Jeremy Corbyn: What The Media and Political Classes Don’t Get

There seem to be some big things that Britain’s media and political classes don’t get about the new Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his ‘kinder politics’.   One is that they are judging him as a politician but he’s acting as a campaigner. Another is that his weakness is seen as ‘not being electable’ and therefore not a threat to the Conservatives (the party in government) but there’s no election for a long time. Instant electability is not a requirement. If he sticks around, all sorts of things may change.

Unintended Consequences

For non-UK readers let me try to summarise. In a classic example of unintended consequences, two weeks ago Corbyn was elected by a landslide after the Labour Party enabled almost anyone to become a member and get a vote in choosing the next leader. (Ed Miliband, his predecessor, resigned after a heavy defeat in a General Election earlier this year).

A long term campaigner as an obscure back-bench MP on (mainly) universalist ‘causes’, a left winger and serial rebel against the ‘Party line’, Corbyn was seen by 90% of Labour MPs as unelectable in any General Election, should he be put before the British public.  Thanks to the change in rules, the unthinkable has happened and amidst much internal chaos, Corbyn is now presiding over his first Labour Conference as Leader. Thanks also to a relatively recent change in UK rules, we have fixed term Parliaments and the next election won’t be until 2020.

More Popular Than Expected

I make no great claims to prediction but right now Corbyn is winning far more public approval than many media commentators and politicians expected. People from all shades of opinion and degrees of political interest or disinterest have warmed to his ‘difference’, his patent authenticity, his emphasis on ‘principles’, his refusal to be packaged and spun as a ‘professional’ politician, and a series of small but significant gestures of political unconventionality. At his first Prime Minister’s question time he read out questions sent in by the public. He looks ‘badly dressed’. He makes a virtue out of differing views, publicly stated, in his Shadow Cabinet.   He came on stage at the conference modestly, and without fanfare. In a society where politics is hidebound by Parliamentary tradition and convention this is a big deal.

So like many other ‘populist’ politicians making a virtue out of playing to a ‘non-mainstream’ values base, Corbyn looks and sounds ‘different’ from those who play to the ‘mainstream’ or the ‘centre’ because media and research professionalism says that’s the only way to win, and end up all ‘looking the same’ (something many people in the UK claim to hate) . In motivational values terms Corbyn is at the Universalist polar opposite to Nigel Farage of UKIP (authoritarian, appealing to the Power/ Materialism base).

Conventional wisdom may have it that this will simply drive the Labour Party into a smaller political ghetto (in values terms, mainly Pioneers – see this previous blog for data), leaving the middle ground (mainly occupied by Prospectors who Labour critically failed to retain support from at the General Election) free for Conservatives such as George Osborne. But I think that Corbynism could do real damage to the Conservatives, and partly because he has five years in which to do it, even if he himself doesn’t last that long as leader.

Damage to the Tories

Here’s why: simply because his victory was so unexpected, Corbyn is receiving huge media attention. This means that his ‘radical’, ‘left wing’ and ‘progressive’ views are receiving huge exposure in mainstream. Lots of people, especially young people too young to remember the politics of say the 1960s – 1980s, are hearing such political ideas for the first time. This is generating an air of excitement and youthful energy around a political leader in his sixties whose views the labour Party had long buried as political suicide because they would alienate the aspirational middle ground, or ‘Thatcher’s Children’ (as values research shows, mainly Prospectors).

Should these views become almost in any way fashionable, Corbyn’s newly acquired star status might even start to attract these ‘aspirational voters’. He’s not much talking to them or at them but more to his base yet simply being a ‘star’, a political celebrity, could be enough to win some over. It may well not be enough to win a General Election but very few people (not least Prospectors) vote by analysis and calculation, much more by intuition, Kahneman’s System One. By being the first prominent politician who has made many of them interested in politics, it is likely that some will vote for him on that basis alone.

Social Mobilisation

If he and his allies succeed in pulling of the accidental ‘trick’ of social mobilisation that brought him to power as the leader of a party, and use it to build an army of activists prepared to campaign in a General Election, he could reverse the ‘hollowing out’ of British politics.

If that still seems impossibly unlikely, what is much more probable is that the ‘airtime’ the views of his team will receive, for example talking about renationalising the railways (something polling shows many Conservatives even approve of), and policies essentially designed to redistribute wealth and increase fairness and reduce inequality, will lead to these ideas re-entering the mainstream of British politics.   For decades Labour didn’t talk about them, leaving an opportunity for the Greens and the Scottish National Party to do so.

What could really hurt the Conservatives though is that Corbyn could be recalibrating British politics. Last night I saw the editor of The Guardian pointing out on tv that Corbyn is talking a lot about changing how British politics is done (for example by ruling out personal attacks) and not about changing how Britain is governed (once you are in government).  In so doing Corbyn is aligning himself with the public.

If there is wide public resonance with this ‘narrative’, Corbyn could force the Conservatives to compete on his terms not theirs. If his proposals come to frame the questions that the media put to all politicians, as the media do not like to be out of step with popular opinion, he could shift where ‘the centre ground’ lies. If Government v Opposition debates start to be run about ‘fairness’ as well as ‘affordability’ for example, the Conservatives may find it harder going.

Part of that public opinion is simply about liking. There are quite a lot of people – I have no idea how many – who say they quite like this strange man Corbyn because he seems different, authentic and honest, even if they disagree with many of his views. The Conservatives, not Tony Blair, will look out dated.

Finally, if he continues to talk pointedly and openly about wealth, privilege and abuse of both, Corbyn is likely to alert many people to the reality that the current British Conservative Government is indeed run by a highly privileged elite of landed aristocrats and very rich men and women, who do not appear to be experiencing the austerity they impose on the rest of the country. If their authority is also weakened by being seen to be on the wrong side of improving how politics is done, Corbyn could make the Conservatives look a lot less socially attractive.

For generations British political analysts have puzzled over why many British voters seem to vote for parties whose policies seem to disadvantage them, especially economically. Corbyn could win back some of those (the ‘lost’ Old Labour vote especially) but if his star continues to rise in terms of simply being liked and receiving a lot of attention, he really could change British politics.

Side-Stepping the Ghost of 1976

Generations of Labour politicians have been haunted by the memory of the 1976 ‘IMF crisis’ when confidence in Sterling collapsed and Britain had to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund. It paved the way to the emergence of Thatcherism and then New Labour and the political conventions of pitching to the ‘middle ground’ of voters that Corbyn seems to reject, in a style he definitely rejects, and with fiscal conservatism that (like Syriza)… he appears to accept.

Since that time the London media has used business or market opinion as a yardstick of credibility against which to instantly ‘measure’ government economic policies. Conventional wisdom says a Corbyn programme would instantly fail such a test. Yet it may no longer be so simple, because the wisdom of the markets (think Banking Crisis) and the authority of Big Business (think VW) are themselves diminished. That might not count for much once in government but that in turn might not worry voters who simply want to see a different type of politician being given a chance to ‘have a go’.  At least for the time being, it’s campaigning, not politics as you know it.



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Suggestions for Paris – Part 2 – Time To Put Fossil Fuels ‘Beyond Use’

In Part 1 I suggested green-lighting renewables, a ‘demand side’ suggestion.  Here’s a supply-side suggestion.

There’s something very big that’s not going to be on the table at the Paris climate talks but which cries out for action, and that’s a political mechanism to get rid of fossil fuels.

In the process of talking armed groups down from conflict, as in Northern Ireland and in the Basque region of Spain, politicians and combatants spoke delicately of ‘putting arms beyond use’.   In the long running process by which the world stepped back from the brink of nuclear armagedon in the Cold War, negotiators in SALT, START and the CTBT traded and talked away some of the ‘nuclear stockpile’.

Terrifying as the prospect of nuclear war was – and I remember lying in bed in London and hearing my parents talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis and asking why they hoped ‘Kennedy’ might save us – the lines of responsibility were clear.

Mad or not, M.A.D. had a relatively straightforward logic and power was concentrated in a very few hands, whose fingers were available for ‘the buttons’.   So far that form of M.A.D. hasn’t happened but climate change is happening, and a host of politicians are still pushing the buttons.

Yet we have no equivalent process to reduce the carbon stockpile, no political process to set aside fossil fuel reserves, to stop turning geological carbon ‘resources’ into reserves with an economic value once ready to be burnt, no trade-off structure, no exercise of diplomacy, no political action to match the social imperative of avoiding catastrophic levels of climate change.   It’s something of a shortcoming and one that should worry anyone participating in the forthcoming Paris climate summit.

Trying to Row A Boat With an Egg Whisk

We know what the problem is: primarily we need to stop using fossil fuels. Legions (and now generations) of officials, diplomats, NGOs, scientists and politicians have laboured mightily at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But the mechanisms they have invested such effort in, bear hardly at all on the critical machinery of fossil energy systems, and not at all on the stockpile issues of carbon resources and reserves.

Negotiations are conducted about ‘commitments’ to reduce emissions, or proxies for emissions but not about the energy generation systems. There is nothing that requires countries to commit to forgo the development of carbon resources, nor any mechanisms to compensate them for doing so or incentivise them to do so, beyond a vague background hope that market forces will solve that problem for us, as renewables become cheaper and cheaper. That is indeed the trend: renewables are spreading fast and fossil fuel stocks are tumbling which is great. But as in dozens of other cases, unless the problem is bounded and controls are inclusive as in the Montreal Protocol (on ozone depleting chemicals), global disaster can still follow. Even France, Britain and Germany are still burning large amounts of (ever cheaper) coal, and there is nothing to stop poorer countries from doing so.  The fossil fuel system needs to be dismantled and stood down but the UNFCCC has no tools to do so.

The time has come to change this and Paris is an opportune moment. We need an alternative, additional political process which deals directly with energy systems (eg commitments to convert to renewables) and the set-aside of carbon reserves and resources.

Trying to move the flotilla of world economies towards a fossil free future by using the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is like trying to row a boat with an egg whisk. There is splashing but no meaningful traction.


Campaigns ?

Governments will need to start this process for real but they are both distracted and fixated on the UNFCCC as the climate mechanism, despite the obvious truth that it is not capable of delivering.  The scientific community’s contribution is led by the climatologists who by historic serendipity are built into the UNFCCC woodwork (via the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change).   NGOs and media amplify the ‘circus effect’ of the Conferences of Parties because … because they are there. They provide almost all the very rare moments when global media and political attention focuses on ‘climate’.


If the UNFCCC enjoys such pre-eminence and yet is not able to deliver, what psychology can explain this ? Is it planning fallacy, a belief that the UNFCCC will deliver in time when it plainly won’t ? Is it lock-in and the commitment effect ? Is it sunk-cost bias in which people, especially those who feel responsible, are overly optimistic about their investment reaping dividends ? Or group-think ? Or maybe none of these things but a monster version of the bystander effect, in which those involved in the UNFCCC realise that it’s not going to do the job but all assume ‘someone else’ will do what’s necessary ?

Whatever the reasons, it seems that it falls to ‘civil society’, if anyone is to do so, to blow the whistle and point out that the emperor has no clothes.

Carbon Logic Requires Carbon Politics

The problem of ‘unburnable carbon’, that there’s too much available for the atmosphere to cope with, has been known for a long time. In 1997 Dr Bill Hare of Greenpeace International published a report about it called the ‘The Carbon Logic’, drawing on work done by the Stockholm Environment Institute dating back to 1990. I was Programme Director of Greenpeace UK at the time and asked Bill to do that because we were launching a campaign (Atlantic Frontier Campaign) on grounds of the Carbon Logic, to try and stop further licensing of oil reserves by the UK Government.

That was nearly two decades ago.   We had the attention of the oil industry, following the 1995 Brent Spar campaign, through which public opinion forced Shell into reverse on ‘decommissioning’ policy for redundant oil facilities. It was a huge thing for corporate-public politics but a relatively minor issue compared to oil development, as ‘reserves’ are the market lifeblood of oil companies.


On May 12th 1997 we (Greenpeace UK) published a report Putting The Lid on Fossil Fuels: Why the Atlantic Should be a Frontier Against Oil Exploration. It called for a phase-out of fossil fuels. Hare’s analysis showed that we could only burn 5% of fossil fuels thought to exist below ground, and only 25% of known reserves, and stay within safe climate limits.

Putting The Lid on Fossil Fuels began with a quote from a British politician, Dennis Healey: “When in a hole: first, stop digging”.


It stated ‘Only political action will check the expansion and begin a phaseout of fossil fuels’, and called for the June 1997 UN General Assembly Special Session on the environment, and the Kyoto climate ‘summit’ in December 1997, to focus on setting a carbon budget.

The oil industry knew all about the science and understood the potential politics. A week after that report was published, Heinz Rothermund, then Managing Director of Shell UK Exploration and Production asked a gathering of oil company executives in Aberdeen:

“How far is it sensible to explore for and develop new hydrocarbon reserves, given that the atmosphere may not be able to cope with the greenhouse gases that will emanate from the utilisation of the hydro-carbon reserves discovered already? Undoubtedly there is a dilemma.”

Of course governments were also well aware of the reality.  I was later told that the IPCC had even prepared a chapter on the ‘carbon issue’ for one of its reports but it had to be shelved when a very large country with a very large amount of coal, had objected.

What HappenedGreenpeace activists occupy Rockall in 1997

Part of the campaign involved occupying Rockall, an Atlantic islet strategically important in conflicting national claims to develop oil in the region. (Photo: The Guardian)

The Atlantic Frontier Campaign failed to stop the oil development although it did increase EU protection of undersea habitats in the region, and put ‘fossil fuels’ and oil companies into the frame of the climate debate*.

It also exerted leverage on both Shell and BP who invested more heavily in renewables, which was part of the intention (by 2013 both had again abandoned renewable energy). We blocked seismic testing and exploratory mobile drilling rigs, and in retaliation, and at the UK Government’s suggestion, BP tried to freeze our assets (as the Indian government is now doing to Greenpeace) and to sue me and others for millions of dollars.

All this is ancient history, not much of it is online so I have posted some extracts from a book that deals with some if it here and a 1999 presentation to the Royal Institute for International Affairs which briefly explains the strategy, if you are interested.

Greenpeace has doggedly continued to oppose oil development in areas such as the Arctic ever since.   More recently, a series of other campaigns (eg 350, Keep it in the Ground) have taken up the ‘logic’, calling for carbon to ‘stay in the ground’.

What Did Not Happen

What didn’t happen was any concerted attempt to create a new political mechanism for negotiating away the carbon stockpile.

Putting A Lid on Fossil Fuels stated:

‘… logic dictates an end to fossil fuels. They will not ‘run out’ – they will have to be closed down. Given the size of the oil, coal and gas industry, it is clear that governments have never before had to face such a task and are not giving it serious consideration’.

Even in Greenpeace not everyone agreed with me that we should take the Carbon Logic into the politics of the UN.  Down at that ‘coalface’, my colleagues were engaged in a pitched battle over the Kyoto Protocol which had been signed in December 1997 but did not attract enough signatories to come into force until 2002 (it did not actually come into effect until 2005).   Huge campaigning efforts were needed every step of the way so I don’t blame them for maybe seeing it as a distraction but unfortunately no-one else tried to turn the Carbon Logic into political action either.

Starting the End Game

How might this be done ? Obviously not without difficulty.

The aims of the Climate Convention could, conceivably, be used to provide high level ‘cover’ for Protocol or other legal initiative.

They were written in a way that provides for action on the ‘Carbon Logic’ because the Convention states that its ultimate objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations:

“at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.” It says that “such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

This enables you to relate rates of warming to ‘carbon’ concentrations in the atmosphere and hence to allowable carbon budgets. So in theory Parties might adopt a new ‘Protocol’ about carbon reserves and resources but the politics of the Convention have proved glutinous at best.

Negotiating away the carbon stockpile is less a legal problem and more a diplomatic and political one. On the political side it requires individuals and countries with vision, prepared to act on that vision. Just as Herman Scheer did on solar in Germany in 1998 and the government of Sweden did on the environment in 1972.

But campaigns need not start by trying to thread a hugely controversial proposal through the sticky workings of the Climate Convention.

Campaigners could catalyze change by finding the first country prepared to lock away carbon reserves and resources underground, forever.

Grass roots campaigners could start it with the first community prepared to do the same, if they can find one with any real control of its own resources. Or even a very rich individual.

Such precedents usually precede any hope of ‘higher level’ action but the UNFCCC should at least be made to acknowledge the need for such action.

And of course campaigners, better than governments, could use their social and cultural reach to engage concerned ‘culture makers’ who are always of huge interest to politicians.

For the renewables industry and investors, it would finally send the signal that we are starting the end game on climate and closing the fossil fuel era.

For diplomats it could be the challenge of a lifetime.


* At the time, the term ‘fossil fuels’ was almost entirely missing from the debates on the ‘climate issue’. This had a lot to do with the Global Climate Coalition, a front group for the oil, coal and gas industry. They were present at the climate talks, whereas the companies themselves were usually nowhere to be seen. The GCC’s work was mainly to keep the words ‘oil’, ‘coal’ and ‘gas’, or ‘fossil fuels’ out of Convention discussions.  If you listened to them they made it sound like “the problem” was the Convention, as if climate change emanated from disagreement rather than from burning fossil fuels. This was ‘the issue’: a problem of political disagreement, not a problem of chosing which energy source to use, or of pollution.

Chris Rose

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Two Climate Strategy Suggestions for Paris

Politically, you could say things look terrible for the December Paris Climate Summit.   Europe is looking the other way, towards its refugee crisis. Germany, in most ways Europe’s model for what can be achieved on climate change, is at the centre of that maelstrom. Britain, in a tantrum of domestic politicking by George Osborne, has thrown its policies into reverse, subsidising fossil fuels and slashing government backing for renewable energy.

The international council of ‘Elders’ has warned there are only five negotiating days left before ‘Paris’ and despite Obama’s new found enthusiasm for climate action, the draft agreement is still as much holes as substance. NASA has announced that 2015 looks like the hottest year on record and ongoing climate change is boosting weather impacts such as El Nino and ice melt but that has done almost nothing to prioritise climate action on political and media agendas.

hottest 2015

Campaign groups will continue to put effort into the formalities of Paris event but the political plumbing of the Framework Convention machinery is so dysfunctional that the actual text may deliver very little.

But just having the ‘summit’ will create a moment of international attention for climate change, and it’s what goes on around it that can make a real difference. To do so campaigners should aim to galvanise support for what’s needed, not what appears to be possible within the ‘Framework Convention on Climate Change’.    For what they are worth, I’ve got two suggestions that are within the scope of what campaign groups could achieve, one on the demand side, one on the supply side.

Giving A Green Light To Renewables

I don’t mean rhetorically but literally. In a nutshell, I suggest a global campaign to put green lights on renewable energy technology: solar panels (pv and thermal), wind and other tech, including electric vehicles.

Why ? Because real change on a huge topic like climate always results from a resolution of two forces, a sense of need or urgency, and a sense of feasibility. This is about increasing the sense of feasibility by simply making actual change much more ‘present’ and visible.

Why is that important ? Because as has been said countless times, to have a hope of constraining climate change within livable limits we need a much faster move out of fossil fuel use. To do that we need universal renewable energy. To get that we need policy action as well as technological innovation. To get that we need citizen and consumer backing and confidence, so that fossil fuels become psychologically and thus politically disposable.

Consider a ‘filling station’. Prominent petrol or ‘gas’ stations adorn every highway. They register on our unconscious map of what-is-real and what-is-true and how-the-world-is (through Kahneman’s System 1 intuitive reasoning which dominates our lives). Every time we use fossil fuels and see its symbols such as oil company brands, that reinforces the idea “we still need oil”.

The assumption of ‘need’ is the emotion that keeps politics, and hence policies and economies, shackled to coal, oil and gas.

Most oil, coal or gas PR and advertising does its best to maintain this lockstep. It plays on basic Maslowian security needs for safety, security and certainty.

In Britain, British Gas airs thousands of tv ads which subliminally equate being a good parent and having a safe home for your kids, indeed keeping the whole world a safe place for them, with burning gas. “At British Gas we understand there is no place like home. That’s why we offer products and services to help you look after your home”. Technically, it’s a great ad (watch it). Campaigners could attack such ad’s but until politicians see promotion of burning fossil fuels in the same way that they see promotion of burning tobacco, the rules governing advertisements mean it is probably a waste of time.

Instead, we could do something to begin to redress the balance.

A huge amount of communications research shows that such below-the-radar (intuitive, System 1) signals have a massive contextual effect and are wide open to influence.  Social proof of change is one such effect.

When people, be they voters, officials or politicians come to process the question “do we still need fossil fuels ?” then social proof is one of the first reflexes that will kick in.  If it looks on a daily basis that we do, then it’s business as usual with fossil fuels. If it looks on a daily basis that we don’t, then it’s easier to think ‘no’, and ‘let’s change’.

‘It’s time for a psychological makeover of the UN’s climate communications’

In many previous posts and Campaign Strategy Newsletters, I’ve argued that this is where the chief proponents of climate action (climate scientists) have repeatedly fallen flat on their faces: by trying to apply Kahneman System 2 (analytical, supposedly ‘rational’) arguments in order to get behaviour change and policy change, which depend fundamentally on the intuitive System 1.  I summarized it in a contribution to the United Nations Association’s recent report on climate change politics Climate 2020; conclusion: ‘it’s time for a psychological makeover of the UN’s climate communications’.

To me, it seems highly likely that the greater uptake of, and political and social belief in renewables in countries such as Germany and Denmark (as opposed to say the UK) has a lot to do with the fact that they were visibly shown to work.  Seeing-is-believing.  German politician Herman Scheer first called for 100,000 solar roofs in 1998 and it was achieved in four years. “But does solar work ?” died out as a question in Germany long before it did in most other countries.

In Denmark, wind energy was developed on a community-buy-in basis starting with single turbines owned by 20 – 40 families in the 1980s. By 2001 over 100,000 families belonged to wind turbine cooperatives, which had installed 86% of all the wind turbines in Denmark.   In contrast the UK went in for a least cost approach, prioritizing large offshore wind farms which hardly anyone can see, and with effectively no community involvement. Public acceptance of wind energy in Denmark arrived far earlier and is much more embedded than in the UK.  If you’re looking for a ‘theory of change‘ in this idea it’s simply: do what worked before.

Now Germany has over a million solar roofs, as does Bangladesh. And despite the anti-climate postures of its political leaders, 1 in 5 homes in Australia have solar power (1.4m), and the UK 750,000. The US has over 645,000 systems on homes and businesses and its solar sector is growing at over 30% a year. The entire Dutch rail network is expected to be powered by wind energy by 2018.

Nobody seems to know how homes have solar power worldwide (?) but it must be many millions and is growing rapidly.   This is a big platform and a huge potential constituency yet it plays no part in the Climate Convention process which reflects a world-view dated around 1992.

Each solar installation visible to a passer-by is a piece of social proof but it could be amplified.

green lights

So I just propose putting green ‘pilot lights’ on all renewable energy installations. Look over any city with tall buildings at night and in many countries they are covered in a twinkling forest of lights but mostly red lights to warn low flying aircraft. Imagine what night-time roof-scapes could look like if every solar panel, be it pv or thermal, had a small green LED pumping out a visual signal “I am renewable energy”.

Green Light People

Green lights for ‘renewable’ could be retrofitted but they could most easily be built into new solar panels and new buildings.  Nearly 60% of all new homes built by major suppliers in Japan now come with solar pv as standard.  If the Catholic Church then put solar on every building in line with the Pope’s Encyclical, there could be a green light for renewable energy on hundreds of thousands of church steeples. It would be a signal that would be noticed by the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, and many others. If every household with a solar panel was showing a green light, it could say to every member of that household, and to their neighbours, ‘this is part of the solution, change is happening’.   And of course you could put them on buildings which imported their renewables through the grid; maybe in the corner of a window ?

Perhaps the Green Light People would become a category usable in advertising, campaigns or politics, defined not as ‘protestors’ but as mainstream game-changers.

Likewise if all electric cars had a green light visible to other drivers, they would create a constant stream of small reminders that going electric is not just a theory for tomorrow but a reality now. Who could make such a change happen ? Manufacturers and designers could.

People like Elon Musk CEO of Tesla and the bosses of Asian tech companies.

tesla + muskPicture:  15 Business & Startup Lessons from Elon Musk

Could campaigners and climate advocates reach such people and would it be worthwhile ? My guess is that the effort would be at least as cost effective as mounting yet more demonstrations urging politicians to do more of what they don’t want to do, or feel they lack support for, at the Climate Convention.

This great article in Vox by David Roberts (Tech nerds are smart. But they can’t seem to get their heads around politics) describes how Elon Musk called Tim Urban, uber-rationalist mega-blogger, and got him to write an explanation of energy, climate change and politics. As Roberts shows, just like climate scientists, geeks and nerds don’t get politics.

Mr Musk, you’d be helping more by green-lighting renewables than by paying for even the world’s most eloquent blog on the ‘rational case’ for why we should all use them. After all, the first Tesla was a talking point because it was a red, sexy sports car, not because of the technical specification.

A Daft Idea ?

You may think my idea is daft but at least it wouldn’t be too hard to do. After all NGOs sometimes get rock stars and celebrities onside, so why not rock-star technologists ? And green-lighting Paris would beat putting lumps of melting ice outside the conference centre as something for a President or Pope to play with. Maybe to switch on ?

Oh and by the way, the Eiffel Tower does have its own solar panels and wind turbines.

To give the climate a reprieve we need to speed up retirement of fossil fuels. Retiring fossil fueled thinking is a necessary first step in the carbon end game.

So that’s my demand side suggestion. And the supply-side ? To start a political process to negotiate away the carbon stockpiles. I’ll do a blog about that next.

Chris Rose

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Anyone Got A Spare Room ?

Britain’s response to the refugee crisis seems under-pinned by the idea that ‘Britain is full’.  There are no rooms to spare for refugees.  Is this really the case ?  There do seem to be some places with a lot of spare rooms.  How about these ? (see slides for more)






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Labour Lost the Prospectors, so Labour Lost the Election

Of course it’s never quite that simple but … an essential truth is that the UK’s Labour Party lost the May General Election because it lost the support of Britain’s Prospectors.  Not all of them of course and Pioneers and Settlers played a part too but un-noticed by almost all political pundits and politicians themselves, as they simply do not pay attention to values data, it was the basically the Prospectors ‘wot did it’ for Labour.

One politician however has been paying attention: Jon Crudass MP, who has been conducting an inquiry into how and why Labour lost.  He commissioned YouGov surveys on a panel of voters segmented by values, along with the more usual socio-economics and demographics.  He’s written an interesting article about it on the New Statesman blog.

cruddas article NS Aug 15

Here’s the most basic data from the Cruddas survey:

values voting crudass diag 2015

He explains: ‘We conducted two polls in England and Wales, one in November 2014 and one after the May election. Each had representative samples of 3000 people …

… Over the period between the two polls Labour was weakest amongst socially conservative Settlers and strongest amongst liberal progressive Pioneers. It held its ground among both values groups.

The Tories improved their position among both Pioneers and Settlers but at the expense of the smaller parties. At the election Labour remained ahead among Pioneers (5 per cent) but among Settlers it ended up significantly behind the Tories (16 per cent).

However it was the pragmatic-minded Prospectors who dealt Labour its devastating electoral defeat. In our poll in November 2014 Labour was 6 per cent ahead of the Tories in this values group. By the election it was fully 19 per cent behind. Prospectors who had said they would vote Labour or who had considered voting Labour swung behind the Tories, who secured a phenomenal 50 per cent of all voters from this values group’.

(In Britain the three groups are of roughly similar size – see this earlier blog for data from the UK and other countries comprising most of the global population).

There are many things you can say about this but to the best of my knowledge, it is certainly the first time that a serious serving British politician has used mapping of motivational values to conduct a strategy debate.  Too bad for the Labour Party that it hadn’t taken values seriously before the election.

Here’s the CDSM/ YouGov heat-map or gradient map of Labour support in Nov. 2014:

Lab support Nov 2014

And here’s what happened in the Election in May 2015:

Lab support May 2015 Gen Eln

Campaigners from NGOs may recognize that it’s only amongst the high-self-agency Transcender Pioneers that Labour retained strong support.  Good people to run campaigns with but too few in society to win General Elections. (Unfortunately for Labour this now looks very like the LibDem values base from 2005 – 10)

At least in Britain, political affinities (especially Prospector) are more volatile than many other values-differentiated behaviours, as illustrated by the collapse of Labour’s Prospector support over this short time interval.

This is where the Prospector vote went (Conservatives General Election 2015):

Con support May 2015 Gen Eln

More Data, More Insight

Pat Dade from Cultural Dynamics (CDSM, operators of the values analysis system) has also recently weighed into the blogosphere with several pieces analysing the values dynamics and values-dilemmas that Labour now faces if it is to rebuild its fortunes.

Below is his topline breakdown of the three ‘values minds’ which Labour is now in, approximating to Settlers (‘Blue Labour’, a term coined by earlier political analysts such as Maurice Glasman for the old socially conservative Labour base, now mostly lost), ‘New Labour’ (Tony Blair’s achievement was to appeal to Prospectors), and ‘True Labour’ (the modern most reliable core, which is Universalist Pioneer, aka ‘Guardian readers’).  Of course because they mostly don’t see even their own motivational values (read my book What Makes People Tick) , the debates between and about these groups are often fabulously dysfunctional, as in the current Labour leadership contest.

new blue and true labour

Here’s Pat Dade’s latest version of his maps from his article RE-EVOLUTION 1.0
Changing a Failed Dynamic which show the beliefs of these groups in more detail:



Got all that ?  If not have a look at his piece.  Or email Pat

‘In representative democracies’ says Dade, ‘Political parties theoretically reflect the values of their supporters. When they don’t, their support falls away and they lose elections. For such parties with insufficient votes to form a government, the way forward is often not clear when competing values are battling to define a future vision. This is the territory the Labour Party currently occupies. It is reflected in the three ‘tribes’ which are trying to reconcile (or not) the differences between the upper echelons of the Party and the clearly emerging values of a frustrated membership’

In Power to the People ? another recent blog in the same series, Dade points out that three of the current Labour leadership candidates are promoting themselves on the basis that they can get into power, while one (Corbyn) promotes himself as the universalist.  These are polar opposites in the values maps and the surge of new voting supporter Labour supporters is clearly ‘based on a Universalism dynamic’.

So Is The Game Up for Labour ? 

Not necessarily.  The Party has often attracted significant Prospector support this century and it could do again.

Here’s some older values maps:

Labour heartland 2005

In 2005 Labour was still enjoying New Labour success with the Prospectors but was (post Iraq War etc) less popular with Pioneers.

Labour heartland 2008

2008: losing Prospectors under Gordon Brown.

Labour heartland 2009

A better spread in 2009 with support  in Transcenders (bottom) and (to their left) Now People Prospectors.

Labour heartland 2010

Looking good in 2010 with support from Prospectors and Pioneers, though not much with the Settlers.  (See also articles such as Dade’s State of the Parties in 2013, and here and here).

But for Labour to now attract Prospectors, who are not simply around a third of the population but also the majority of those in full time work in businesses, and the swing-iest of voters, Labour’s going to need to look good, feel good and out-shine its rivals. Prospectors like their politicians to be stars and a bit entertaining, whiler emaining popular enough not to be an embarrassment with friends (Trump probably teeters on that edge and if he splits the Prospectors he could plummet).

So could Jeremy Corbyn ever appeal to Prospectors ?  Not likely on rational analysis (Kahneman’s System 2) of his policies by Prospectors but then that’s not what happens.  Not if you look at his past, promoting a pick-n-mix of left wing universalist causes and not winning any of them (hence the New Labour conventional wisdom is that he’s a liability).

But what if fashion changes ? (The test of which is the opinions of the Now People).  Could Corbyn yet become a sort of political grunge retro fashion icon ?  Possibly if he looks popular enough.

He’s got a yawning gulf to cross from universalist ethical land to appeal to the power and material wealth brigade, and in the middle of that divide lies ground such as ‘showhome’, which at first sight looks impossible to traverse. And I am fairly sure, Mr Corbyn probably doesn’t approve of such calculation.  After all, a much cruder version of it was made famous by the late Philip Gould, New Labour’s ‘election guru’.

If he does become Labour leader, their best hope of winning back the Prospector middle ground probably lies in making the Labour Party fun and fashionable around him.  It seems unlikely that will be by design.  Unite and the other unions are not that sort of Party People.  But what if the surge of younger people attracted to Corbyn’s Labour, not all of whom are tactical Tories, Trots or other entryists, are themselves part of a social change that could float Corbyn’s boat even despite all the conventional Labour ballast ?  A tide of political New Political Beatniks ?

So don’t try to be the trendy vicar Jeremy.  Remain authentically unreconstructed and just hope that vicars become trendy.  If an interest in radical policy becomes de rigeur post-hipster, Corbyn could yet prove to be an electoral asset.  But maybe that’s too radical.

A Less Radical Strategy

In Pat Dade does offer a more conventional recipe (see New Blue, Or True Labour) , for Labour to build a strategy based on ‘the core of traditional British values post WW2′.

The current ‘True Labour’ (Pioneer) base is, he points out ‘Intrinsically opposed to the more extreme manifestations of New Labour –Two Classes, Unobliged, Patriarchy, Visible Success – they instead proclaim their support for Justice, Openness, Universalism, Self Direction, Caring, Benevolence, Global and Poverty Aware’. He adds:

These are the sorts of people who do not support austerity as a response to the desire to live within their means or cut the deficit. Austerity is seen as a strategy – and not a good one, even according to the IMF – to reduce a budget deficit. Ideologically driven cuts to taxpayer funded programmes to achieve the politically motivated goal of a balanced budget are an anathema to their values system.

This is at the core of traditional British values post WW2, and the platform upon which Labour had developed a body of policy and practice that had contributed positively to the rest of the democratic world. This is what was missing from the rhetoric of the recent election – Ed Milliband’s ‘one nation’ message may have been trotted out at Party conferences, but was missing from the everyday language of the party elites who defined the party narrative during the last election.

This core values deficit, evident in the run-up to the General Election of 2015, is also being ignored in Labour’s post-mortem research and among its mainstream leadership candidates. The Jeremy Corbyn offer resonates so strongly with True Labour values that its popularity should come as no surprise.

There is a potential political playbook waiting for Labour, drawing on values insights.  The problem is that with the exception of a few mavericks such as John Cruddas, most of Labour’s players probably can’t yet read it.


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Right Now, Divestment is a Great Climate Strategy

A lot has been written about campaigning for divestment from fossil fuels (for background see these excellent articles by Fred Pearce and Mark Gunther both at ) but in this blog I try to take a planner’s point of view, and explore why it’s such a great campaign strategy at this point in the long-running climate issue.

With the November 2015 Paris Climate Summit fast approaching, success after success on University campuses is giving the climate movement ‘the Big Mo’ it lacked at Copenhagen.

These divestment campaigns have some direct impact on the economics of climate and energy but a much bigger one on the political weather, and so, on the context for that Paris meeting. To the credit of campaigners such as Bill McKibben and 350, key to their success is where they are being fought, and their vertical integration from ‘grass roots’ to global finance. Equally valuable, they should allow the leaders of NGO climate campaigns to keep their strategy options open for what comes after Paris.

1. Motivational Momentum

At least since 2013 commentators have pointed out that divestment campaigns – particularly on University and College campuses – have grown with ‘record breaking’ speed. That’s good but not as important as the fact that they provide a steady stream of visible and unambiguous successes.

Divestment is one small element in a much bigger virtuous web of positive feedback loops on climate and energy. That nexus includes falling costs of renewables, clean energy tech innovation, the growing impact of carbon risk analysis in markets, investment in renewables rather than fossil fuels, and the psychological-political benefits of renewable energy being perceived as real and normal but all this is very hard to communicate in tweets, sound-bites or media-moments.

Until there are some simple headline indicators that capture the degree of carbon dependency, or conversely how ‘renewable’ a company, country or portfolio is, and these can be reported as easily as major stock indexes, the true scale of the ongoing energy revolution will remain largely invisible except to those who go looking for it.

But even small victories on a college campus can be compelling because they show ‘popular opinion’ (mainly students) exercising a decisive pro-climate influence over big players in the energy system (the target fossil fuel companies whose shares get dumped). Divestment campaigns are creating model actions of what bigger players in societies should do and can do, by successfully taking them all the way from awareness, through alignment, to engagement and action.

They demonstrate that it is possible to cross that magical gap from where society is, to where society should be. They communicate well because they are not about saying but doing. Their discrete, limited scope sends a pure unequivocal meaning which is frustrating their critics.

Consequently they are populating the social and political mind space around ‘climate the issue’ with can-do successes, in which fossil fuel interests visibly lose. They are giving the ‘Big Mo’ to the pro-climate side in a way that was missing at Copenhagen, where all the talk of ‘a last chance’ and mobilisation of ‘protest’ readily decoded as desperation and powerlessness, incentivising people to ‘switch off’.

Like the Pope’s moral pronouncement, divestment victories can exert a positive influence on the forthcoming climate talks in Paris, and what comes before and after them, by creating a supportive context.

2. Fought On Our Ground

Many campaigns fail because campaigners try to fight on ground where the enemy is strong. Simply changing the theatre of conflict can often change the outcome.

These battles are being fought on ground that is largely beyond the influence of the opposition (i.e. oil, coal and gas industries). I realise that divestment campaigns are not just happening ‘on campus’ but the university ‘public’ (students) and the university ‘government’ (academics and administrators) is by and large more ‘progressive’ and much less prone to adopt climate sceptic positions than those of many other institutions.

Academic investment portfolios may be relatively small compared with other investments in fossil fuels but by being won, they help potentiate a domino effect, or salami slicing.

In the ‘domino’ case, winning one battle instrumentally helps bring about a subsequent success. For example Stanford University’s May 2014 decision to divest from coal could well have had some effect on California‘s State Pension Funds’ decision to do the same in June 2015.   It is likely that with their extensive networks of Alumni, many of whom they regularly pester with news updates, the divestment actions of Universities will also influence people whose student days are way behind them.

By ‘salami slicing’ I mean campaigns that remove one part of the problem first, often the most winnable, and then another part (eg Foundations), and so on, rather than attempting change across a broad front.  This was famously used in the end-game on anti-smoking campaigns, progressively eliminating the social space for smoking, starting with places where it was an issue of health and safety at work and where the threat came from secondary smoking.

Campaigners sometimes argue against starting from the most winnable targets. It is true that in some cases, winning a ‘local’ battle can rob a campaign of momentum if the engaged audience then feels satisfied and stops there. But whether or not this happens, depends upon the connectivity of the audiences and the system being influenced. Given the fact that many students are shortly going to disperse and launch themselves into careers, and that the causes they adopt at University often ‘stay with them’ for the rest of their lives, it seems more likely that involvement in a college divestment campaign will encourage people to support the same thing again later. This is a campaign strategy that may be building new resources and assets and growing campaign capital, rather than spending it.

  1. Exploiting A Tight Audience-Power Loop

A potential pitfall with ‘climate campaigns’ is that both the problem and the system by which it can be influenced, are effectively unbounded. Failure to find a bounded ‘case’ to work on, leaves campaigns vulnerable to being ‘framed out’ by opponents. For instance where a retailer under pressure redefines the issue as one of consumer choice.   Or for example where a local politician is asked to take action on a source of carbon emissions, and they are able to displace responsibility to a national level. Or where a national government can frame it upwards to ‘international negotiations’. This is why city-wide climate campaigns aimed at Mayors with city-wide powers, have often proved more effective than those aimed at national governments.

In this case the loop of responsibility between those in whose name the shares are held (the students), and the power to decide the content of the portfolio (lying with the university governing body), is a short and tight one. The administration and the ruling academics are usually on campus in the same place as the students. They see one another regularly, they can talk to one another, and it’s hard to avoid one another.   In many ways they also share very direct inter-dependencies, so there is a social incentive to reach agreement. Nobody else is much involved.   This is very different from the relationship between voters and a national government.

As a result, there isn’t much ‘long grass’ to kick the decision into. If campaign appeals are rejected (and it seems many are not being totally rejected), there is a good prospect that it is worth having another go (values expectancy).

The audience is also available. Students may work hard but they are consistently socially accessible and have the time for such campaigns in a way that many other people do not.

Even better, it’s not “their own” money that is being moved, in the sense that they can’t convert it to cash and spend it. It’s an investment in trust, designed to help everyone in the college community , not money that could be released for other purposes such as a holiday.

4. Vertical Integration

Some ‘climate campaigns’ are conceptualised, delivered and communicated solely at the personal behaviour or maybe street or community level.   While very satisfying to some, especially if applied to something we have heavily invested in (eg our house), to those driven by the ‘big picture’, this can seem disappointingly small beer. (Universities of course tend to be full of people who love big picture thinking and students tend to have few personal assets to which they can apply their values). Others succeed in embracing and communicating the big picture problem and big solution (eg via mass marches or twitter actions communicating slogans) but fall dispiritingly short when they come to action that delivers real world change.

The divestment campaigns have vertical integration, from the grass roots of the lawn outside the University Administration, to the world of international oil finance. It’s a force-multiplier and a strong cocktail of self-agency.

5. Keeping Options Open

Finally, at this juncture, divestment campaigns help keep open the window for NGO campaigners to decide which strategies to adopt after ‘Paris’.

The politics, social and economic dynamics of the ‘climate issue’ are currently in such rapid flux that it makes little sense for campaign groups to make hard and fast decisions now, about what to do with their very limited resources after Paris. In conditions of great uncertainty, or rather ‘incertitude’ where not all relevant probabilities can be known, an important test of a strategy is whether it will do any harm by closing off future options.

However big or numerous the disinvestment projects get, there is little danger that the effort will be wasted as a result of what happens in the next months, and they can probably neatly segue into whatever else needs to be done, and not just in the area of energy finance.

An obvious short-term target is divestment by the Catholic Church. Just what is that organisation really doing to act on the Pope’s Encyclical, either in terms of greening its own electricity or divesting from fossil fuels ? So far it seems to have been given an easy ride by media and campaigners suitably awe-struck by the very existence of the Encyclical. It’s pretty much a ‘banker’ that the actions of the Catholic Church will remain full of campaign potential beyond Paris.

Under-estimating What’s Possible

Likewise, the clearest risk for ‘Paris’ is probably that politicians do too little because they under-estimate what’s possible. As governments prepare for the big meeting, the climate “maths” and the climate-realities look worse than the official versions.   At the same time, country commitments, actual emission reductions and decarbonization are all going better than many expected. Conventional political wisdom had it that changing our energy system would be a slower, more gradual, costlier and more painful process. So, by working on out-dated assumptions, politicians and officials may under-estimate what can be done, and then decide to under-state the risk and urgency to fit, and so do too little to be effective.

In so far as divestment can help change this by giving a sense of opening political space, it’s a plus. Divestment campaigns achieve this through by-passing the political system but an even bigger prize will be if they also create a body of financially literate activists who can help fix the politics.

Dismantling The Old System

As analysts like Nick Mabey of E3G have pointed out, decarbonization is now affordable and becoming cheaper. Who today would create a new energy system from scratch, based on fossil fuels ? Renewable energy is now the generation system of choice, and introducing clean energy is not a technical or economic problem. It’s dismantling the old system that is now the issue, and that is mainly a political problem. More and more fossil fuel assets may be become stranded but the influence of the fossil lobby is entrenched.

In most governments it is probably still Finance Ministers who get to draw the red lines that limit climate commitments and who are most wedded to the fossil era. Many may have deep political and even personal links to the oil, gas or coal industry. Political donations are one factor but social commitments can be just as important, along with the almost inevitable lag in understanding a fast-changing reality.   Some, such as the UK’s George Osborne, are even extending tax breaks to the faltering fossil fuel industry and impeding renewables, in order to play short term party politics.

Ignore the Critics

I’ll try to look at possible strategic choices for climate campaigns post-Paris in another blog but meanwhile, one thought for the divestment campaigners: ignore your critics. As Mark Gunther notes, these critics tend to argue that divestment efforts would be better used elsewhere, such as on ‘positive engagement’ with oil companies. They also deride the sums divested as not even a ‘blip’ in global energy finance.

Such moral hazard arguments (“if you put your efforts elsewhere they’d be more effective”) are a frequent refrain when a campaign starts to make serious progress. Sometimes it is naieve but honestly believed. In other cases it is disingenuous.

In this case, some of the naieve critics wrongly imagine that the efficacy of the strategy depends upon the step by step arithmetic of money shifted, rather than (a) the social and psychological impact of undermining the social licence of fossil fuels, and (b) demonstrating the feasibility and popular mandate for a shift to clean energy. Others assume that those participating would want to participate in a hand-in-glove relationship with the oil industry, and be available to do so. Most of this category of critics are rationalistic ‘experts’ or academics who understand a lot about energy but little about politics or campaigns.

The disingenuous critics understand the strategy perfectly well but hope to disable it by discouraging its supporters, such as with this piece of propaganda in Forbes magazine.   Both lots should be watched but otherwise ignored.

Positive engagement with the fossil fuel industry will no doubt continue but the real opportunity for those companies to convert themselves into leaders in the new world of clean energy is long gone. They closed that window when they gave up their investments in renewables (eg Shell in 2009, BP in 2011-13). Their next big negotiation will be over the terms of their own demise.

So the time to talk to the fossil fuel industry will return but only once governments clearly show that they have entered the end game, and organise some sort of negotiation to progressively close down fossil fuels, including action to put geological carbon resources ‘beyond use’, as they say in arms talks. That’s something politicians really are needed for, and if they aren’t up to the job, we’ll have to find another way.

Chris Rose 2 August 2015

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Strange Happenings on a Small Island Off Europe

[This post has also been republished at The Ecologist]

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a tale of strange happenings on an enchanted isle. It begins with a storm conjured by the magic of Prospero. His sorcery brings his enemies to him, and leaves them powerless. “At this hour” he tells his spirit-servant Ariel, “Lies at my mercy all mine enemies”.

Something similar, if less magical and more political, is happening right now in the strange little island of Britain. Here ‘green’ measures are being laid waste in the scorched-earth style once popular with England’s Norman Kings.

It’s not a would-be Duke of Milan who is calling the shots but George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister). Osborne is a lifelong political animal, an aristocrat, and would-be next Conservative Prime Minister.  Osborne is also seen by many as the deceiving wizard behind the Conservatives recent election triumph. One critic has called him, a ‘magician’, and a ‘genius at politics’ who now, is riding ‘in his pomp’.

Powerless Enemies

Osborne’s political enemies really do lie powerless. The Conservatives came to power this May with a slim majority but there is no effective opposition. The Labour Party is leaderless, demoralized and punishing itself with an agonizing internal election which is further alienating the public.

The Conservative’s former coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats (the two parties were massively divided by values), were almost wiped out in the election. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 50 British Parliamentary seats, while Labour lost 40 and the LibDems lost 10, leaving them with just one MP each ‘north of of the border’. As Labour and the SNP loathe one another, this helps rather than hinders Osborne. If and until there is another referendum (Scotland voted against independence in 2014), all that Scottish SNP support means little in practical terms. Finally, if Scotland splits away, the Conservatives are likely to be even more dominant in the rest of Britain.

Policies into Reverse

So Osborne finds himself unopposed and he is systematically putting Britain’s environmental protection policies into reverse.

The Conservative government has lifted a ban on bee-slaying neonicotinoid pesticides, and slashed support for wind, biomass and solar power, killed off its scheme for greening homes, cut incentives to chose cleaner cars, abandoned a plan for all new homes to be ‘zero carbon’, reversed a pledge to keep fracking out of nationally important nature sites, dropped plans for taxing environmental ‘bads’, announced it will start selling off its ‘green bank’, and is apparently casting around for more greenery to put to the axe.   It’s also supporting a ‘review’ of two key European wildlife laws, the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive.

Why ? Mainly because it is pay-back time for the Conservative base, donors and business lobbies. Only a few of these changes were put to the electorate (unlike the economic policies of Osborne’s recent budget) but amongst some British Conservatives, especially activists, there is a visceral dislike of environmental protections. Osborne’s political co-pilot, Prime Minister David Cameron, famously called it the “green crap”.

Former Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper recently said ‘the last few months mark the worst period for environmental policy that I have seen in my 30 years’ work in this field’ and I’d agree. He attributes it to ‘an anti-environment ideology based on the view that ecological goals interfere with the market, increase costs and are against the interests of people’. Again I agree with Tony but only up to a point because in the UK, a lot of the simmering resentment of pro-environmental action is not really ideological in an intellectual sense but social.

Fox Hunting

Strange as it may seem to foreigners, in class-ridden Britain one of the social fault lines is between the feudal land-owning classes and those who aspire to support them, and the rest. Even odder, the two symbolic issues that divide these tribes are blood-sports, especially fox-hunting, and bizarrely, wind turbines. (There is also some evidence that they probably also divide over climate scepticism).

Controls on fox hunting were introduced by the Labour government under Tony Blair (who later regretted it). David Cameron has pledged to allow a Parliamentary vote on changing the law back, to the disadvantage of foxes. Both he and Osborne would be likely to vote to allow more hunting and both move in social circles which are much more pro-fox-hunting than the population at large. The government tried to do this in July but pulled back because, ironically, of opposition from the SNP (the details are complicated) and will probably try again in the autumn.

Not all Conservatives or Conservative MPs support fox-hunting. Within the Conservative Party it comes close to dividing ’modernisers’ from traditionalists (and retros, neo-traditionalists). Right-wing journalist Matthew D’Ancona recently described it as part of the Conservative’s ‘gruesome past’. But by this instinctive emotional logic, renewable energy and even energy efficiency can get bundled with opposition to hunting foxes with hounds: it is about “us” and “them”. The nearest parallel that I can imagine for American readers, and it is not a very precise one, is gun control: in some ways the fox hunting lobby is Britain’s NRA (National Rifle Association) but associated with the liberty to enjoy inherited, rural, landed privilege rather than notions of self-made individualism.

To give you an example, a farmer I know of is a tenant of a very large, very aristocratic land-owner of the hunting-and-shooting variety. The tenancy still requires that the landowner has right of access to ride over his farm and use his farmhouse one day a year. And it is exercised: I’m told the landowner and his friends turn up on horseback, unannounced, stick their muddy boots up on the kitchen table and eat and drink as long as they like. It’s “a laugh” but it asserts a very feudal order.

While both Cameron and Osborne were members of the elite hyper-rich Bullingdon Club at Oxford University famous for anti-social behaviour, drink and drugs, Cameron comes from the landed gentry and has a foxhunting background, while Osborne’s background is more ‘metropolitan’.

Osborne is not as ideological as some assume. He is a clever, radical and calculating politician most interested in winning. His bonfire of green measures (and there is little doubt that the Treasury is behind the long-knives) may make little rational sense. Onshore wind and solar are cheap, and efficient and unlike nuclear, quick to deploy. Investment in energy efficiency is most cost-effective of all, and cleaner cars save the NHS money. There is no evidence that the Birds and Habitats Directives are impairing economic growth. In short, as many economists point out, environmental regulation tends to boost rather than reduce economic performance.  The renewables industry and Britain’s many greener companies will be alarmed. Thoughtful greener Conservatives have expressed dismay and puzzlement at his actions.

But Osborne isn’t trying to appeal to the thinkers. He probably judges that a slash and burn of green policies makes short-term political sense on a dog-whistle basis. He is stealing UKIP’s clothes and positioning, and most of all, scoring points with Conservative Party loyalists, back-benchers and loyalists who he will need in future.  He is also probably enjoying the moment. The Conservative Party, if not Osborne himself, are a bit drunk on the power to do what feels good.  He must calculate that there is very little political risk: certainly not from opposition political parties, nor also from Britain’s environmental NGOs.  And he’s about to go on holiday.

International Implications

Most of the time Britain doesn’t matter much on the world stage but it does on climate change because of its finance of carbon, the communications influence of the BBC, and because it has so far stuck to Mrs Thatcher’s legacy of attempting international leadership.   There has even been a cross-party agreement on the need to decarbonize the UK. Will that survive ?

The Paris climate summit is on the near horizon. Most of the rest of the world seems to be heading towards more effective climate action. To mention but a few, the Pope has issued his powerful Encyclical calling for more action; French MPs have voted to halve energy use by 2050 and increase renewables to 32% by 2030, Barack Obama plans to train 75,000 solar workers, Hilary Clinton wants enough renewable energy to power all the homes in the US within a decade, and China says it will ‘it will “work hard” to peak emissions earlier’ than 2030 target.

We don’t yet know how Osborne’s onslaught will affect Britain’s climate policy commitments but they are likely to increase its carbon emissions. Just some of wind and solar cuts are estimated to add 2.9-7.3mt to UK CO2 pollution each year.

Domestic and European Implications: Dirty Man of Europe ?

Is Britain heading back to the dark old days when it was known as the Dirty Man of Europe ? It’s more than possible. Germany is tightening controls on neonicotinoid pesticides, while Britain relaxes them. Britain ranks 18th out of 22 European countries for beach cleanliness and is facing two legal actions for sewage spills. It wasn’t just dire performance on water and air pollution which won Britain that title in the 1980s and 1990s but a state of mind, and Osborne seems to be talking up an anti-environmental mantra.

Writing in the current ENDS Magazine, environmentalist and Peer Bryony Worthington notes:

‘When energy secretary Amber Rudd announced in parliament that the government would cut off subsidies for new onshore wind she name-checked Conservative MPs in her speech. They then stood up in turn and called out for more, attacking offshore wind and solar power, with some calling for an end to all forms of renewable energy.’

It isn’t hard to imagine that an anti-environment drumbeat from London could be echoed in other Member States where it seems expedient to do things like continuing to burn coal. That is exactly what the Conservative’s right wing competitors UKIP want to do. They are pledged to to repeal Britain’s Climate Change Act, scrap the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), end solar subsidies, burn more coal and roll back emissions regulations for power plants. UKIP won just one seat at the General Election but got 13.6% of votes, against the Conservatives 36.9% of the vote and 331 seats.

Here perhaps is some of Osborne’s motivation: to out-UKIP UKIP before the referendum on continued membership of the European Union and minimise the damage from an inevitable Conservative split over Europe.

David Cameron promised to hold the referendum by 2017 but it could be as early as May 2016. Neither Cameron nor Osborne say they want to leave the EU but Osborne recently told the Daily Mail that UK membership should be based on ‘free trade’. The Mail explained that further Eurozone integration, which of course excludes Britain: ‘could provide an opportunity for the UK to start distancing itself from the EU and reset the terms of its membership’.

A common rightwing British view of Europe is of an interfering, socialist leaning superstate imposing rules and regulations. From this point of view, environmental regulation, renewable energy and ‘Europe’ are all rolled into one encumberance we are best shot of. Ditching environmental protection and policies associated with the EU, could therefore be part of a positioning exercise to “shoot UKIP’s fox” before the referendum. Or in a favourite phrase of the Conservative’s Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby, to “get the barnacles off the boat”.

Domestic: What Should Campaigners Do ?

Faced with the obvious threat to the Birds and Habitats Directive, 100 British NGOs got together earlier this year to ask people to respond to an EU consultation under the banner ‘Defend Nature’. 520,000 people responded, 100,000 from the UK. Not bad and three times higher than any other consultation response but it’s unlikely to have much affect on Operation Osborne. The European Commission responded that it ‘reaffirms support for EU role in protecting nature’ but what if that’s not what the UK Government wants to hear ?

Likewise on the day I’m writing this, a study found:The Birds Directive has had a “demonstrably positive impact” on threatened species, according to research by European wildlife NGO BirdLife International and Durham University’. But if the intended Osborne UKIP-sidelining meta-narrative is less-Europe-good, more-Europe-bad, then evidence that Europe works, just like the evidence that renewables or energy efficiency work, is simply not welcome.

Pro-European advocacy is unlikely to change the UK Government’s mind until after it has what it wants from the referendum, unless it is forced into a rethink by some external reality such as the need to negotiate with a political opponent, and that seems unlikely.

Instead campaigns need to build bottom up, and to be realistic. UKIP and his Conservative base aside, what or who do Osborne or Cameron care about ? What might have to happen for some of them to begin to doubt that throwing environmental protections and investments overboard, was such a great idea after all ?

The first objective probably cannot be to reverse Osborne’s changes but simply to sow doubt. After that might, eventually, come regret, shame, disownment, even disengagement.

What if, for example, the oil seed rape farmers who lobbied to use neonicotinoid pesticides found that they were losing markets for their products in favour of suppliers (from elsewhere in Europe ?) who could guarantee that their product had not been sprayed with the bee slaying neonicotinoids ?

What if the staff, friends, families, company directors and investors of renewable energy companies in Britain, were to make their feelings felt to Conservative MPs ? According to the Renewable Energy Association, there are over 100,000 people employed in the UK renewables sector (against about 150,000 full time farmers).

What if some of those 100,000 who took part in the EU Habitats and Birds Directives were also members of the Conservative Party or voted Conservative ? If they now had reason to invite their MP to see what protection means on the ground, it might help reframe the question as about our land and our nature rather than ‘Europe’.

What if George Osborne was to hear from the City that the smoke signals from his green bonfire were sending unhelpful messages about inward investment to the UK ?

What if the UK found itself dealing with a series of embarrassing court actions that spoke to the title ‘Dirty Man of Europe’ ? Or if tourists and Londonders started seriously worrying about the quality of the capital’s air ?

What if home-owners or businesses found themselves affected by changing weather and climate, and started to demand political action at a local level to keep us safe ? Fracking so far comes closest to this since it impinges on houses and potentially on property values but sea level rise and inland flooding also pose a threat which has yet to crystallise as a real political issue.

In the end all politics is local, geographically or personally, or both. “Issues” do not make campaigns, only topics that are debated. Campaigns need to start with a group, however small, of people with an unshakeable conviction that their case needs to be heard. They need to put something at stake, to make a difference that matters to someone.

This will mean campaigns that resonate with people that George Osborne cares about, for example his MPs, and that in turn depends on involving those who they care about – their voters not their critics. The failed attempt to sell-off some of England’s state-owned forests back in 2011 led to a ‘shires revolt’ which showed that a Conservative government can be vulnerable on an environmental issue.

In recent decades UK environmentalists have got used to operating in a relatively benign environment. Many UK NGOs are herbivorous beasts, browsers not bruisers, posing little or no political threat to any interest, political or corporate. Some have grown used to ‘satisficing’, looking after visitors to their sites and tending to their supporters.   Rarely do they really need to convince anyone outside their own ‘base’.

European funding for agri-environment schemes, the Landfill Tax, Lottery Funding, policies set through the EU on energy and climate, public-funded agencies working to monitor and enforce regulations, and the corporate-consumer-regulatory ratchet of sustainability have all reduced the requirement for NGOs to prove a need, or to demonstrate and mobilise a real-life constuituency. I hope I am wrong but this rather peaceful situation may be changing for the worse. Are Britain’s NGOs really ready for a fight ?

Chris Rose 29 7 15


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Is The Church Actually Going Green ?

Does anyone know which is the greenest Church ?

Is anyone measuring how renewable is the energy used by Churches themselves ?  Presumably Pope Francis would now be interested to know.  After all, an Encyclical is not much good if it’s not acted upon.

Various Popes have made ‘green’ utterances about ecology – John Paul II spoke of the ‘ecological crisis‘ and in 2008 Benedict XVI installed solar pv in the Vatican.

Pope Francis has made it pretty clear.  Catholics and the rest of us should be using renewable energy:

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

“Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread.”

So how widespread are they in the Catholic Church itself ?  One hopes that somewhere in the Vatican, someone is keeping track of progress ?

Catholic Potential

It’s not as if this idea is wholly new, even in the Catholic Church.  In 2009 an academic study available online,  Solar Photovoltaic Energy for Mitigation of Climate Change: A Catalytic Application of Catholic Social Thought worked out the potential impact on developing the solar pv market in the US if the  20,842 Catholic Parishes in the Continental U.S. put solar pv on their roofs.

And there are plenty of Catholic, Christian and other Faith initiatives on the environment and even specifically on renewable energy.

For instance in the US, for 15 years the California-based  Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) ‘has worked to turn people of all religious faiths onto the idea that addressing climate change by deploying renewable energy technologies’. Renewables ‘can not only deliver clean, affordable electrical power’, it says ‘but it can also address unemployment and spur socially beneficial development in communities nationwide’.

IPL works with 18,000 member congregations, and is running an online Solar Pledge campaign and can point to lots of examples of churches using renewables.  But does anyone have systematic data on progress ?  Now is the time for the bean counters of the Vatican and other faith institutions to do their ecological accounting with the same thoroughness that many devote to keeping track of their often vast financial resources.

Are The Germans The Real Leaders ?

It might come as no surprise if it turns out that the Germans, and maybe the non-Catholic Christians, are ahead of the game ?  Today (24 June 2015) it was reported by the website Power Technology that:

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a communion of Lutheran churches has decided not to invest in fossil fuels any further and has called on its member churches in Switzerland to do the same, in order to meet its climate commitment. 

As a part of its long-standing pledge to preserve environment, the federation has urged its members and associated institutions ‘to support energy efficiency and renewable energy companies’ instead.  The council intends to turn carbon neutral by 2050

More than 2,000 churches in Germany already have either photovoltaics or solar thermal.  Was this the first pv on a church building anywhere ?  Quite possibly.  In Germany of course, and as it makes clear, a Conservative project.

Which religions are most likely to convert words into action ?  I’m not a great expert in these matters but I do remember from working on the WWF Assisi Declarations in 1986 which brought together five of the world’s great religions and led to the ‘Network of Religions and Conservation’, that it was Islam not Christianity which seemed to find it easiest to convert theological commitments into practical action.  But let’s see.  Perhaps the Catholics will do something dramatic ?

Evangelicals or C of E ?

A friend of mine who is a prominently green Church of England Vicar, once told me that if you wanted actual action, it was not the C of E or the Buddhists to look to but the Evangelicals.  On the other hand even the fusty old Church of England has a good spattering of green projects underway, and its record on disinvestment from carbon is definitely improving, even if still a work in progress.

There are a growing number of ‘green churches‘ in England, and six dioceses partner with Ecotricity in energy projects   while ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ is the Church of England’s national environmental campaign aimed at helping the Church’s 44 dioceses and 16,000 churches reduce their carbon footprint.

St Silas Church Islington London ‘a lively church faithful to the Catholic tradition of the Church of England’ posted this video:

The US likewise has plenty of green pioneers in the Churches.  ‘In Stockton, Bishop Stephen Blaire announced that his diocese has joined forces with the Catholic Climate Covenant and Sungevity, a private firm specializing in solar power systems. The partnership allows Sungevity to offer new customers a $750 rebate while splitting an additional $750 between a participating parish, the diocesan Catholic Charities fund, and the Catholic Climate Covenant, which can then use the funds to assist other dioceses in doing the same’.

The Diocese of Honolulu and St. Mary’s Abbey in Massachusetts have also gone solar


Back in the UK, the non conformist Methodists The Hope in God’s Future report commits the Methodist Church to reducing its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050.

I’m not sure what the American Evangelists are actually doing but the Rev. Mitch Hescox Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) pulls few punches in advocacy:

Using sleight-of-hand statistical mumbo-jumbo, deniers have tried to pull one over on the American people about the recent pace of global warming. Don’t be fooled. Global temperatures have continued their century’s long march upward, with 2014 being the latest exclamation point and 2015 projected to do the same. And with the heat comes extreme weather like the California drought, flooding and mudslides in Washington that killed 43, and the fact that Anchorage, Alaska was above freezing all of 2014.

So does that mean the doomsayers are right? The end is nigh, we’re already toast, as 2014 portends?

Not at all! That’s not the moment we are in.

Here’s some solar pv from a Church in Northern Ireland (Belfast Ulster Temple Church):

See also this Baptist green project in the UK.

Some churches have been leaders in disinvestment from high carbon energy. IPL notes  The following faith organizations have divested from fossil fuels:

Not Just Christians

It’s not just the Christians of course.  The Guardian reports that ‘more than 300 rabbis signed a letter calling on Jewish institutions and individuals to divest from “carbon Pharaohs” or coal-based electric power, and buy wind power instead’.

Actions Not Words

This blog is not a serious review, more a whimsical survey.  You could go on and on recording the variety of religious organizations using solar or otherwise going green, such as these from many faiths in Canada.

No doubt thanks to the Encyclical and faith-adovocacy projects such Our Voices,  inter-faith lobbying will be a big feature of the forthcoming Paris climate talks.

But actions speak louder than words, so if anyone has any actual data on which are the greenest churches, or greenest faiths, as measured in converting to renewable energy, I’d very much like to hear from you (or post a reply to this blog).





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Bring Back Nature Tables

GUEST BLOG by Melanie Oxley.   A chance meeting with walkers who couldn’t identify a wren prompted this call to bring back the Nature Table, once common in British schools.

nature table parkroyal sch


Chris – Your campaign on peoples’ ignorance of wildlife has really got me thinking. It is true that through my voluntary work, I meet many more people than ever, who simply cannot identify common birds and flowers. Even the ecologists I work with need to go on identification course!

obs book birds

This was brought into sharp focus recently whilst I was bird-watching at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales. I was observing wheatears when a well turned-out couple in their 30’s asked what I was doing. I showed them the wheatear through binoculars and they seemed interested. After all they had come to one of the country’s famed beauty spots, presumably to enjoy wildlife. But then the guy said they had spotted a really noisy little bird with a short tail, so what was that? Rusty brown? I asked. OK, so they had never noticed a wren before and did not know its name. I was totally shocked about this, more so when I passed the unmistakable wren, but at least these people had noticed/reacted! At least they were there.

“The problem of no reaction”

I think the problem of no reaction does come from ignorance, which can only partly be blamed on our education system. It also comes from a failure to even notice, which comes from having our heads constantly filled thanks to mobiles and other devices. There is no space for noticing. People are shutting themselves off from the sights and sounds around them and instead either listen to their music or endlessly look at the responses to their comments. They are just not up to even noticing, let alone taking an interest.

How can this be fixed? Some apps are good, eg. bird song recognition and plant-finder, but for real immersion in nature, these devices should be left behind. Schools can help address this problem; for example, on Mondays each class could discuss what wildlife they spotted at the weekend. The nature-table needs to make a comeback too – Infant and Junior schools should be encouraged to bring in their findings and talk about them. They can be asked to take home and care for caterpillars in the school holidays, or keep a moss garden watered. This is definitely where my life-long interest was ignited. I loved the smell of the nature table!

Families can be encouraged by teachers to ignite interest by all sitting down together to watch Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter-watch when on, 8-9pm, with mobiles off (not on silent). Teachers will also have to watch it of course! This can be discussed the following day, perhaps at assembly.

The Wildlife Trusts could play a much larger part in getting information to children through schools (some do, I know). Badger and bat watching are great ways to get them interested – they are usually so excited to be out in the dark, I bet for that hour or so, children forget all about the technology available to them.

Families need to be encouraged to supply the information to children through books – Eye-spy and Observers (still going?) instead of apps, also cheap binoculars instead of games. All these things require only a little thought and a bit of imagination.

obs book wren

“quite unmistakeable” said The Observers’ book of Birds – but perhaps not ?

Melanie Oxley works for The Ecology Consultancy as a copywriter. Her voluntary work includes Friends of Clapham Common, Friends of Petersfield Heath and the Western Riverside Environmental Fund (WREF).

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Getting The Message Right – article in UNA Climate 2020

Here’s an article by Chris Rose from the UNA report ‘Climate 2020: Facing the Future’.

2020 cover

“I doubt that they teach much about
cognitive psychology, advertising, marketing
or politics at weather school. Things
like heuristics, framing and values. Not
surprisingly, the climatologists have proved
fabulously ill-equipped to deliver effective
climate communications”.

p1 UNA article

p2 UNA article

p 3 UNA article


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