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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The changing times of climate change politics

This blog is re-posted from Tom Burke’s blog at E3G and was originally published in Green Business.  If you want to understand what’s really going on in the climate and energy arena, this is a very good place to start. 


The politics of climate change is changing. Astonished listeners at a recent conference in Paris heard the Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, announce ‘one of these days we are not going to need fossil fuels’. He went on to make it clear he was thinking in terms of decades not centuries. Then he said, ‘I believe solar will be more economic than fossil fuels.’

This cannot have been comforting listening for oil industry moguls already disturbed by the accelerating momentum of the global divestment campaign. Just how disturbed they have become is clear from the report that Shell, BP, Statoil and Eni are about to announce the formation of new industry body. Its purpose will be to get the industry speaking the same language.

They have always deeply believed that governments would promise much and deliver little on climate change. Now they are beginning to wonder.

This follows a series of speeches from oil industry leaders around the world on the theme of getting their voice ‘heard by members of government, by civil society and the general public’. The idea that their voice is not already being heard, loud, clear and often, by governments is laughable. So what can they possibly mean? A seam of doubt is starting to run through the industry’s innermost councils. They have always deeply believed that governments would promise much and deliver little on climate change. Now they are beginning to wonder. They have also believed deeply in their dominance of energy markets. That belief, too, now looks under threat.

Governments are fickle friends at the best of times. The early politics of climate change were driven by scientific knowledge. By 1992 governments at the Earth Summit in Rio agreed there was a problem. Then they quickly put off taking effective action. By 2008 action was unavoidable. Something really would have to be done. The two degree ‘threshold’ of danger was accepted by global leaders.

At Copenhagen politicians looked closely for the first time at what avoiding danger would mean for their economies. They baulked again. By this time the dry analyses of science had been given dramatic political life by validating events. Most people in most countries now believe that human beings are changing the climate.

Experience has now replaced knowledge as the primary political driver of climate action. As Harold Macmillan replied when asked what he feared most, ‘Events, dear boy, events’. Or, as we might say in these more vernacular times, ‘Stuff happens’. ‘Stuff’ is now happening to the climate.

Politicians are skilled at ducking the facts. Events are more difficult. It is just beginning to occur to oil industry leaders that governments may do more than they expected. Not enough to solve the problem, perhaps, but a lot more than would be comfortable for them.

Unilever Paul Polman Paul Polman of Unilever

Furthermore, other voices are beginning to compete for the ear of government. Unilever’s Paul Polman told a recent conference that extreme weather had already pushed up his costs by £316 million. The dominant business voice in the climate debate, however, remains that of the fossil fuels industries and their customers.

This leaves governments facing a choice between today’s winners (oil companies) or tomorrow’s possible winners ( renewables and efficiency). For governments this is a no brainer. You back today’s winners. Polman’s intervention implies that this comfortable asymmetry may come to an end.

The real costs of climate change are already falling on tens of thousands of businesses around the world. But they are not being captured. The high level aggregates used by economists to estimate these costs conceal more than they reveal. They significantly underestimate the impact of a changing climate on business. As global temperature climbs inexorably beyond 1°C towards 2°C over the next decade these other business voices will grow louder.

Tomorrow’s winners are becoming today’s winners far more rapidly than anyone forecast

This will present governments with a different political equation. The choice will be today’s losers (the non-fossil businesses) plus tomorrow’s possible winners or today’s winners. This equation does not resolve so favourably for the oil industry. In any case, they may not be winners for as long as they think.

Tomorrow’s winners are becoming today’s winners far more rapidly than anyone forecast. Deutsche Bank recently published a report on solar,  pointing out that it is now at grid parity in more than 50% of countries. They are not alone. Citi has announced the establishment of a $100 billion fund to invest in renewables. The fossil fuel consultancy, Wood McKenzie pointed out that solar farms were already displacing gas-fired generation in the US. Renewables compete directly with gas putting the oil companies’ balance sheets under further stress.

Climate events on the one hand and accelerating deployment of renewables on the other now threaten the political support the industry has assumed. Governments will not abandon the oil industry. They rely too much on it for taxes and dividends. But the industry fears they will bend too far. The point of raising their public voice is not to tell governments things they already know. Its real purpose is to muddy the waters of public debate to reduce the danger that governments will act soon enough to keep the climate safe.



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It’s A Prospector World

Surveys of 15 countries representing the majority of the global population, show that it’s a predominantly Prospector world.  (To understand more about the ‘three worlds’ of these three ‘Maslow Groups’ see my book What Makes People Tick: The Three Hidden Worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers, opposite).

Taken together, the 15 countries make up 59.3% of the global population (they are Kenya, China, India, South Africa, Russia, Thailand, Philippines, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, UK, Australia and the US) .  Each survey included over 2000 people, nationally representative for age and sex, and was fielded by GMI. The surveys were conducted by CDSM (Cultural Dynamics Strategy and Marketing) between 2011 and 2015 as part of a larger study with Campaign Strategy for Greenpeace.

world pop chart

The average proportion of Prospectors (Outer Directed) across the 15 samples is 55%.  An average 20% are Settlers (Security Driven) and 25% are Pioneers (Inner Directed).

MGs average 15 csworld av 15 cy pie

Above: ‘global’ population by Maslow Group – it’s mostly a Prospector World

As has been discussed in previous Three Worlds blogs, the predominance of Prospectors in many societies has important implications for campaigners, most of whom (especially in developed countries) tend to be Pioneers and to make intuitive Pioneer-type assumptions about other people.  Pioneers have a high sense of self agency, like complexity and debating issues, and some disapprove of people for being aspirational, even for wanting to have fun.  But that’s the way most of the world is and for their ’causes’ to have mass appeal they need to communicate them in ways that offer success, fun, looking good and achieving the best, and positive action rather than self-denial, if they are to attract what in most countries is ‘the mainstream’.

MGs bar chart 15 countries by Prospector

Above: proportions of Maslow Groups in 15 countries (ranked by Prospector).

The CDSM model splits out four distinct Values Modes within the Maslow Groups, each with a distinct motivational profile.  (See home page links to explanations of the Values Modes).

The survey results and global averages of the Values Modes are shown below:

Global 15 cy VMs table

global VM avs bar chart

Across the sample average, the two largest Values Modes are the GD Golden Dreamers and the NP Now People, both Prospector.  The former have recently transitioned from Settler World and are still quite conventional in their aspirations, although they are very motivated to find a quick route to acquiring the symbols of success.  The latter are much more confident and more interested in what Pioneers are doing, and exert the greatest influence over the other Prospector Values Modes, including the GDs.  The Now People are the arbiters of fashion.

Now People tend to look favourably on many ‘good causes’ but are often put off from engaging by the way that campaign groups try to approach or treat them.  Pioneer campaigners may even inadvertently drive Prospectors out of their own organizations by trying to make them more ‘worthy’, when it is often these people they need the most in order to engage the public.

The third largest Values Mode is the TX Transcenders.   This Values Mode tends to dominate amongst those actually taking action on ‘good causes’, especially where they are ‘global’ or challenging.  It is the Values Mode with the highest sense of self agency, and has greatest potential to act as a bridge for Pioneer ideas to the Prospectors but this is not always realized.

This is the first time these data have been published in this form and it is believed to be the only survey of its kind.

There is only one European country in the series above and CDSM plans to conduct a survey of more European countries in the next twelve months.  For more on that and for any methodological enquiries, contact Pat Dade at CDSM.

Thanks to CDSM and Greenpeace for permission to use these data.

Chris Rose

Want to know your own Maslow Group and Values Mode ? take the free CDSM online survey

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Make Hay not Verge Rage

Is Verge Rage breaking out in East Anglia ?  BBC’s Look East is tweeting about people in dispute over whether to cut flowery road verges for ‘safety reasons’ or to let them grow tall and flower for wildlife and beauty.

verge rage

Part of the problem and part of the solution is better management, which would mean more but smaller flowers and grasses. In short, cut the verges for hay rather than gang-mowing them, which stifles and kills off most flowers under a mulch of decaying veg’, and encourages a tall rank growth of a few grasses and one or two plants like cow parsley.

As I discussed last May in a blog Blander Britain. No primroses at Primrose Corner,  sadly most roadside verges contain far fewer flowers than they once did, because they are over-fertilized by both modern farm fertilizer pollution and gang mowing.

A change in County Council management policy could help resolve this problem and avoid it descending into Verge Rage.  So if you are on the verge of raging against overgrown verges, please think instead about asking for this win-win solution.  ‘Old fashioned’  hay cutting means allowing plants to grow, flower and set seed which is great for natural diversity, and then (most important), lifting and taking away the cut vegetation.  Each year this is done, reduces the rank vegetation, allowing smaller flowers to multiply and live side by side, supporting more insects and other wildlife, and even reducing the overall need to cut verges.

Modern machinery such as ‘forage harvesters‘ is used to do this on nature reserves.  It does not need large scale hay making equipment, just a bit of imagination and organizing.  From a conservation point of view, verges are incredibly important as they are some of the very few ‘natural’ spots left in our intensively farmed countryside.

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Warnings of the Splatometer: the New Desert

wendlebury converted to barley ed sGUEST BLOG by Phil Rothwell (

Phil Rothwell is now a consultant biologist who worked for many years for the RSPB, Environment Agency and other organisations.  His story reminds us of how dangerous it is if campaigners simply adjust their ambitions to a ‘new baseline’.

Chris – your mention of the Splatometer used by the RSPB to inject a bit of citizen science into the agriculture and conservation debate brought back a flood of memories of agriculture campaigns and debates in the 1990s.  Unfortunately, it seems we may not have heeded the grim findings of that simple campaign device.

It was Karen Rothwell (my wife, and then Head of Marketing at RSPB), who organised a number of focus groups to test opinion and seek triggers help us energise  and popularise the CAP reform campaign that we in RSPB ran at the time.  We wanted to find a way to motivate the public to think abut the impact of cheap food and agricultural management on wildlife.

The focus groups were really insightful and helped a great deal. But one participant stood out in capturing, in a sentence, a very graphic example of his experience of the countryside.  He was in his sixties and from High Wycombe.  He professed to have been a cyclist all his life.   He said that biggest difference between cycling in his youth, and cycling in the 1990s was that he could now cycle through country lanes with his mouth open and not have to swallow or spit out insects as he recalled doing 50 years previously.

This insight triggered memories in all of us old enough to remember when petrol was 4 gallons to £1, and any trip out in the car required regular stops to wipe insect debris from the wind-screen.  In those days (the 1960s), petrol stations kept scrapers and  squeegees in buckets of water next to the pumps for that specific purpose.

The ‘splatometer’ was invented by the RSPB research team as a way of gathering data and raising awareness of  one of the impacts of changes in agricultural practice over time.

The insect splattered windscreen or lack of it became a bit of a symbol of the declining abundance of our wildlife, alongside the skylark and grey partridge.

This was powerfully reinforced by a trip that we took to look at farming in Poland and Eastern Germany.  Not only were we struck by the diversity and richness of the agricultural landscape, and the variety of habitats that folded around the farmscape but the insect splattered windscreens in the region brought back the memories of past travel, and the truth our High Wycombe cyclist reminded us of.

A a couple of well traveled birdwatchers, who had driven across the continent from the Channel, also reported that you could almost measure the increasing intensity of insect strike as they drove through Holland to Germany and on to Poland.  Stops to clean the windscreen came with increasing frequency the further east you went.

Pondering on this today, it is clear that an insect less windscreen has become the new norm and for anyone under 40, a countryside without insects is situation normal, just as it is usual not to see skylarks or any other agricultural wildlife.  It’s been mostly  lost along the way.

A 1990s trip to a see Suffolk farm with the farmer and his father, sticks in my mind.  The older man who had passed management of the farm on to his son some years earlier.  As we stood in the middle of a wheat field looking a dry, hard soil, with cracks in it that you could lose a 12 inch ruler down, the young farmer said that he failed to understand the fuss.  The land as far as he was concerned, had always been like this, and for him a skylark- free field was normal and always been so.   It was his father who corrected him and confessed that much had changed, the soil seemed less alive and the farm had changed its cropping patterns significantly.  He recalled that when his father had passed the farm on to him there were lapwings and skylarks in the same fields.   There were also sheep and cows and pasture, now all long-gone as the once mixed farm had given way to a winter- sown monoculture.

Thus the new desert has become the new norm.

Notably, at this time the NFU (National Farmers Union)  tried to have the start date for the (now annual) farmland bird population surveys brought forward to reflect the new reality, and so conveniently lose the declines of the 1960s on the way.  A practical example of how shifts in perception to reflect new and impoverished norms can come about.

(See also in a similar vein, No Alarm, No Reaction. No reaction, no action.)

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The Great Thinning and The Moth Snowstorm

Book Review of The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy, Michael McCarthy, pub John Murray, May 2015 (reviewer: Chris Rose)

“it’s the loss of abundance itself I mourn … people over the age of fifty can remember springtime lapwings crying and swooping over every field, corn buntings alert on each hedge and telegraph wire, swallow aerobatics in every farmyard and clouds of finches on the autumn stubbles; they remember nettle beds swarming with small tortoiseshell and peacock caterpillars, the sparking pointillist palette of the hay meadows, ditches crawling and croaking with frogs and toads and even in the suburbs, song-bird speckled lawns and congregations of house martins in their dashing navy-blue elegance … but most vividly of all, some of them remember the moth snowstorm” (p 100)

moth snowstorm pic

All campaigners for Nature should read The Moth Snowstorm.  The title refers to an experience which few young people have ever known, if they live in a country subject to industrial farm chemicals.  It’s both a warning and a benchmark: it should help re-set our ambition to safeguard Nature where it remains, and shows the abundance and quality of Nature that we should recover, where it has been lost.

It used to be that people had to stop their cars at night to clean the windscreen of squashed ‘bugs’. Likewise moths used to gather around lights at night or beat their wings on the windows of lit rooms. Now that is rarely seen by most children in a country like the UK.  It still happens in the movies.

‘The Moth Snowstorm’ refers to the way that at night on a dark road, you sometimes saw so many moths caught in car headlights that it resembled driving into a snowstorm.  No longer.

As Michael McCarthy recounts, this ‘Great Thinning’ of nature took place gradually, and hardly anyone noticed how bad it was, or at least nobody counted it.

I was a Countryside Campaigner in the early 1980s, and we were fighting the outright ripping-up of old meadows and ancient woods by farmers backed by government subsidies. Then as a Pesticides Campaigner, I could see that the countryside was bathed in poisons that had to be damaging but there were no surveys to draw on.  Next our most pressing concerns became tropical deforestation, ozone depletion, acid rain and climate change: such happy days.  As a result I have several of what my partner calls ‘the Suicide Bookshelves’.

McCarthy has not written one of those doom laden prophecies but as he says, it was not until around the turn of the century, when scientists at Rothamstead Research Station in Hertfordshire published data from a long running survey, that it became obvious that something horrible was happening. That survey showed 80 species of moths had declined 70 percent or more between 1968 and 2002, and 20 of these had declined by over 90 percent.

Since then we have become aware that this is all part of the same massive decline in insects that includes bees, butterflies and many other creatures. The main cause is undoubtedly pesticides (including herbicides which kill ‘weeds’ that insects, and thus birds, depend upon). Could factors like car pollution play a part ? Possibly, though there is no data I know of but we know for sure that insecticides kill insects (and though most people don’t realize it, so do many herbicides, fungicides and other -cides).

In 2004, in perhaps it’s best ever public engagement project, the RSPB ran a ‘splatometer’ survey. 40,000 people British drove around with a cardboard grid on their car number plate on a routine journey in June, and recorded the number of insects killed and distance traveled. The result was an average one dead insect every 8km. A similar project in the Netherlands found one insect every 5km. That’s a long way to fly for a mouthful if you are an insect eating bird trying to feed the family.

‘Rare’  Becoming the New ‘Common’

Thus many birds, flowers and insects still described in book as ‘common’ are now ‘scarce’ or ‘rare’. Indeed, ‘Rare’ is becoming the new ‘Common’, and if allowed to continue, Nature as our parents knew it, is finished. Like Nightingales: declined over 90% since the late 1960s, and even Song Thrushes, declined 51% from 1980 – 2009.

McCarthy’s book should be a wake-up call for anyone who cares about Nature, and a warning for those in European countries like the Baltic States where an inadvertent side-effect of decades under Communism meant the onslaught of agrochemicals was delayed, and more nature survives, or for brave little Slovenia which is something of a European role model in restricting farm chemicals. Even more, should it ring alarm bells in the less developed world, the current big market for the agro-chemical companies selling substances like Neonicotinoids.

Environmental Journalist

Michael McCarthy is a working class boy from Birkenhead, the town across the River Mersey from Liverpool. There he discovered wildlife and wildness, and this book is part autobiography, peppered with references to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and contemporary events like the ‘Earthrise’ photo taken from Apollo 8, that marked the emergence of environmentalism, and indirectly led to M J McCarthy, a leading environmental journalist at The Times and The Independent.

The sub-title is ‘Nature and Joy’ and McCarthy describes how at the age of fifteen, at a very troubled time of his life, he encountered Joy through discovering nature. It is he says, ‘a wholly appropriate name for the sudden passionate happiness which the natural world can occasionally trigger in us, which may well be the most serious business of all’.

bluebells foxley wide

‘Each time I stopped at the gate, “I said to myself I know what is in there …” 

It was a blue.

It was a blue that shocked you.

It was a blue that made you giddy.

It was a blue that flowed like smoke over the woodland floor …’ (p159)

Three Books

If I have a criticism of this book it is that he has rolled three into one, and thus not had time to develop any of them to their full potential.

The McCarthy autobiography would be all the more interesting if there was more ‘inside track’ from his decades around the news system and politics.

The idea – and that is an inadequate term – of ‘Joy’ as a launch experience or launch-pad for campaigning for Nature, he has a good go at but is a big idea in itself that could be explored much further.

Finally, ‘The Great Thinning’ would not be so depressing or so ‘over-50’ for those under 50, if there was more on what can be done, and is being done.

The remarkable 3,500 acre re-wilding project at Knepp for example, described in a recent Ecologist article.

But McCarthy has done conservation and the environment movement a favour by writing this book, which deserves to be widely read, and acted upon.

traditional norfolk hay meadow at fritton common - Copy

(above: Fritton Common, Norfolk in 2014 – a traditional hay meadow – these used to cover much of England)

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A Strategy Sequence for Your Big Idea

Wizard with cabbage at Halloween 11

Got a big idea that should change the world ? That’s ok if you can make a better mouse trap but if it’s an idea not a marketable thing, and if it requires collaboration and cooperation, then it’s more difficult to promote. Here’s one suggestion, inspired by ideas that need to get the backing of political leaders or other ‘powerful’ people:

It needs to be taken up by

The authoritative

The connected

The charismatic

The rich

The powerful

Probably in that order.

 The Authoritative – need to endorse your plan/initiative first. It needs to be interesting enough in terms of who does the endorsing, to be newsworthy and a talking point (a must-know) to the next group.

The Connected – media owners and key media professionals, power-network, fashion-network, social-network, NGO-network, business-network, knowledge-network people. These must cover all the communities of interest who can see there is a reason for them to benefit but can also include social/ knowledge networks who just find it interesting. The purpose of this is to get it actively talked about, partly in order to make it possible to attract the next group.

The Charismatic – these are people others want to meet, see, hear, listen to. This is a much smaller group. One of them must be prepared to take an interest in and at least partly understand briefings from the expert group. One of them at least should be rich. Most importantly, a few of them must be able to become the face of the initiative. They are used to generate popular media etc, can help launch any mass social networking of support, and attract the next group.

The Rich – the rich mainly talk to each other so there needs to be some bridge for introductions from the previous group but the incentive is that they get to meet the charismatic. The price is that they are expected to contribute some cash for perhaps a soft and cuddly or particularly exciting part of the project. Not just because the money is needed but to help imbue the initiative with the trappings of influence and aspiration, so as to send the signal to the next group that this is supported by all types of important people.

The Powerful – politicians in power and others with power, eg CEOs and Chairmen of some large corporations. Despite what they may say, they do listen more to the rich. They also like to meet the entertaining and charismatic. This is the point where you try and close your case on a demand for them to support. It needs to be or lead to a ‘moment’ where all your forces of influence can be brought together.

(first published in Campaign Strategy Newsletter 80, May 2012)

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My Theory of Change

The honest truth is that I don’t really have a ‘theory of change’, indeed I try to avoid the term. This is for the same reason that I try to avoid ‘message’: a debate about which is the right ‘message’, or which is the right ‘theory of change’, tends to make you go in circles. So my theory about theories of change, is that organisations or groups, or more depressingly, individuals, who spend time looking for the right theory of change, are probably wasting their time.

This of course excludes academics who teach or study theories of change. For them it is a necessity. After all, history would be awfully dull without the possibility of attribution error. Likewise, the companies who make a business of selling ‘Theories of Change’ as methods. You can find them via Google, although other search engines are available.

For “message” I suggest looking at components of communication that can be assessed more precisely and objectively – eg CAMPCAT. This is because when it comes to the sort of communication assumed by the term ‘message’ in change-seeking discussions, the important factors concern effectiveness, and the important factors are those which you can plan, control or at least influence, and most of those are not ‘the message’ itself.

There are endless ‘theories of change’ and the more general ones are the sorts of things Aristotle and Plato may have argued about. Does change come when elites lead, or when the masses move ?

Unless the purpose or other context is more specific – for instance these on peace-making – the grander theories of change are not really applicable to campaigns. The useful literature about change, including ‘theories of change’ used in a pramgatically wide way, is vast. For example this sample by my friends at Fairsay.

But if I did have a theory of change for campaigns it might be a bit like this: these things will help.

  • Experiment, test, learn, improve
  • Apply the learnings of others about what works
  • Do both of the above
  • Create a body of practice that works for your group or for you
  • Build a campaign around a Critical Path and ground-truth test it
  • Define your communications strategy (audiences, actions) from the Critical Path
  • Find your critical path by issue mapping to locate a single significant change
  • Create a relationship of trust so people can support the campaign ‘on trust’
  1. A campaigner or campaign organisation which learns from experiment and empirical testing, seeing what works and what does not, and trying to objectively measure or detect that, experiment and change it and observe the outcome, is more likely to succeed over time than one that does not. Break down your campaigns into testable bits: monitor, evaluate, analyse, improve and try again, like Dave Brailsfords incremental gains in cycling. But remember the “10,000 hour rule” – it takse time to get really good at campaigns, no matter how good the planning or theory, as it’s also about skills and team building.
  2. A campaigner or campaign organisation which applies the learnings of others about what works more often than it does not (eg heuristics, motivational values, framing), is more likely to succeed over time than one that does not.

This might sound like a statement of the obvious but campaign groups are often to be found repeating the same mistakes over and over. They try and try again, which is a requirement for #1 but for many reasons, which may include being very intuitive, ethically driven and otherwise mission focused and prone to the commitment effect, and indeed the influence of ‘theories of change’ which hold that they are part of an insurgent uprising against overwhelming forces, they learn nothing from failure. Rather it is taken as a validation that they are on the true right course.

Others do #2 and can become besotted with one methodology to the point that like the proverbial man with just a hammer, ‘every problem looks like a nail’. So my next point would be:

  1. A campaigner or organisation which does 1# and 2# will tend to be more successful than if s/he or it does only one of those things, or neither.

In addition:

  1. Rather than a theory of change, an organisation needs to establish a body of practice that works, and to identify its best tactic, and then build its strategies around that. (A Strategy of Tactical Positioning, as suggested by Sun Tzu, who was quite good at this sort of thing, and discussed along with the rest of these points in my book How to Win Campaigns: Communications for Change). This is because many of the learnings gleaned from general theory may not apply to the culture and social situation of the organisation (or individual). Moreover, the assets and resources needed to get really good at one thing, may preclude being really good at others: there are many zero sum games. This limitation really helps clear and effective decision-making.
  2. Campaigns built around a Critical Path of changes where one thing needs to happen, in order to make the next happen, leading to a single detectable final objective of change, are more likely to work than those without such a path.   Making such a path requires testing assumptions by research: ground-truthing it and testing assumptions. This reduces the wickedness of problems.
  3. Define audiences and changes from the Critical Path steps, (eg in terms of power, influence and control and necessary actions, ie behaviours) which makes it possible to apply general learnings and methodologies in an effective way. For example: applying framing-research or motivational-values techniques. Here you can make testable theories, for example showing X to audience A will make them more likely to do Y, eg in qualitative research. This creates your instrumental Communication Strategy.
  4. Finding a Critical Path requires understanding where a single change can have significant results, ie to change the issue at a point of intervention. This requires understanding the issue, not just as it is seen in other contexts (eg by the media, or in politics or academics or by other specific audiences) but in terms of actors and power and control and processes which inhibit or cause change now, and identifying possible interventions which themselves may change those (meaning that the actors involved may not even be aware of each other at present).   This requires situation or issue mapping, which identifies what is known, and what needs to be researched, in order to find possible new interventions. As a rule, the more maps of the same issue are made by groups of people with different expertise, the more new possibilities will emerge. Campaign planners need to be intelligencers: to acquire and utilise intelligence about the relevant situation.
  5. Campaigns are not generally required where money or power can deliver the desired change but only where public opinion and actions are needed to focus support and influence. Such influence is a weak force unless focused and unstable. Therefore it is generally in deficit, making it costly to focus, and so limiting opportunities to apply it.   A narrow focus is therefore required which prevents campaigns from being truly educational: they cannot work by explaining ‘the issue’ as it is usually ‘wicked’. Moreover the campaign plan cannot usually be the public story but has to be taken on trust. This in turn requires a relationship of trust built between the campaign brand and its followers, and the public supporters, and within the campaign community.

Finally, campaigns are a form of public politics, mostly operating outside formal politics. The boundary between the two is complex and contested – see for example the UK debates about the ‘Gagging Law’ which restricts NGO campaigning in the months before an election. At root, that controversy is about representation in political life – do people have a right to organise and represent themselves to exert influence over how their society works, or is this something that only the formal political class have the right to do ? In that case, the freedoms of NGOs have become entangled in the same issue that faced attempts to organise labour in the Nineteenth Century. This question of contested legitimacy is one that will face the “voluntary sector” in many countries.

Sometimes campaigns lead and initiate politcal change, especially where politics becomes a fight for ‘the middleground’, focused on fewer and fewer ‘issues’. By excluding other public concerns, such politics positively encourages the emergence of campaigns that address those ‘issues’.

The trend to politicians believing, or pretending to believe, that the public interest can always be best served by leaving as much as possible to the private sector, ie ‘the market’, is motivated by a desire to be ‘business friendly’, attract investment and promote economic growth.

This has two major effects on the context for campaigns. On the one hand it opens the way for campaign groups to exert more influence than before, by focusing consumer opinion and action on sensitive commercial interests (eg Greenpeace’s consumer campaigns on tuna and palm oil): campaigns and business change then lead, create norms and standards, and politics follow up behind, sometimes eventually making the standards statutory. On the other, it further marginalises formal politics, and will tend to increase public trust in NGOs, and some businesses, while politicians appear less and less relevant.

Politicians show some signs of realising that they must reverse this process. Remarkably, China may be where the primacy of economic growth is most bluntly curtailed in the public interest, incentivised by the need to control air pollution.  Problems like climate change though, everywhere require collaboration and cooperation that in turn need governance, and that cannot be delivered by a free market alone.

The media exerts a simplifying effect on this political-social-campaign interaction because it also focuses attention, especially its own. News media seeks out the biggest actor or loudest voice – a single actor bias – to tell a story. It has room for only one global threat at a time, and rationalises the downplaying of others in the same way that an individual is susceptible to single-action bias. Devices such as filters that identify what is ‘trending’ on twitter, and public opinion polls that identify a ‘no.1 concern’, exert a similar effect.

These interactions are too complex to be captured in any single ‘theory of change’ but for practical purposes, campaign groups can develop a model of achieving change that works best for them, taking into account their culture, community, brand, ambitions and the situations they face. I don’t guarantee that following my steps will lead to success but it might help tip the odds in your favour.

If it helps, I’ve put a pdf of an Outline Campaign Development Plan here, taken from How to Win Campaigns.

[First published as an article in Campaign Strategy Newsletter 89, 2014 – you can sign up at this website (free)]

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