After Paris, Climate is A Question of Freedom

Achievement of the Paris agreement on climate change leaves those against effective global action on climate positioned as alongside ISIS.  It effectively brackets fossil fuels with tobacco and slavery.  Climate campaigns must now hold politicians to account and drive home these moral imperatives in simple terms.


At the 2015 climate conference in Paris, the world’s governments shifted from being uncommitted to doing the right thing, to commitment.   It was historic and it was positive but as Kumi Naidoo and many others said, it was a lifeline not a rescue for the planet.   There is no agreed package of measures which will achieve the goal of limiting the human warming of the earth to an average 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, only a political acknowledgement that this should be done, 23 years after governments adopted the UNFCCC, a mechanism designed to do just that. As the UN states:

The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.” It states 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.”

That meant and means 1.5.C and 23 years is quite a long time to take before deciding to acknowledge that and to pick up the tool and use it, but it was always a big ask.

Whether or not political commitment has come too late or not to achieve this, campaigning will have to continue, and now it means closing the gap between a political intent, and political action.  Campaigns can play a role in the host of efforts required to ratchet the change needed: technological, regulatory, behavioural, perceptual and others. Deciding where to place the efforts is a mind-stretching task in itself.  What happened in Paris is the the only factor that should guide this but it is worth considering, as politicians seeded a powerful new ‘narrative’ in Paris.

Using What ‘Paris’ Did

The Paris outcome has left governments as a whole facing in the right direction, unlike what happened in Copenhagen in 2009. It has changed the political weather on climate because it was not possible to go along with the general consensus while remaining even ambivalent about the science.  Scepticism is effectively dead: the centre of gravity in media and political discourses has now fallen into line with the perceptions of publics and those of the business world outside the fossil fuel industries.

Fossil fuel companies realize they are now tobacco-like pariahs. A friend of mine who recently gave a talk to Shell executives told me that he found them a ‘company in the midst of a nervous breakdown’. Brian Ricketts, Secretary General of the coal industry’s European lobbying association Euracoal responded to the Paris agreement by saying coal producers “will be hated and vilified, in the same way that slave traders were once hated and vilified”. He fears that Paris positioned fossil fuels as “public enemy number one”.

It is plain that the fossil fuel industry has lost a huge amount of political equity that can never be regained. Campaigns against it need to continue. It is fatally weakened.  As John Kenneth Galbriath said: ‘all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door’ but it still needs kicking flat and quickly.

The tobacco analogy has long circulated in the ambitions of campaigners against fossil fuels, de-socialisation of fossil fuels is something that campaigns can leverage if not fully deliver, and now it will be harder for governments to stand in the way or just stand aside.   Even in backwaters like the UK where our antediluvian Chancellor George Osborne bizarrely promotes fossil fuels and tries to sabotage renewable energy, because of Paris and social-market forces beyond his control, the tide will run still faster against fossil fuels.

Of course we cannot afford for ‘tobacco control’ to become the model of delivery: it was decades too slow. But we should use similar signals of what needs to happen. Why, for example, should fossil companies any longer be allowed to advertise, without even any ‘health warnings’ ? How can that be in the public interest ?   As Euracoal’s Brian Ricketts might fear politicians will say, why should consumers remain enslaved to fossil fuels ? Politicians must be helped, encouraged and made to break those chains. Being free from the threat of worse climate change means being free from fossil fuels.  It’s a question of freedom.

So why did governments pull together in Paris when they did not before ? Was it to make good on their failure in Copenhagen, or because renewables are now more plainly the viable alternative and vigorously embraced by China and the US, or because they had discovered that scientists were right all along, or that their voters have noticed the world’s weather is going haywire ? All those things helped but in Paris there was one acute political need, lacking in Copenhagen, and that was to show that international state level politics can still ‘work’.

The leaders who gathered in Paris were spooked by the horror of the ISIS attacks, and US President Obama made it a case of rejecting-terrorism-by-saving-the-climate, asking “what greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it” ?

What greater example is there of the power of context ? On one thing though, Mr Ricketts was wrong.  For political leaders the number one public enemy was not climate change but ISIS. It’s just that the need for international action brought them together.

The political imperative to stand alongside France, and especially the show support for bloodied Paris, was turned into an imperative to reach agreement on climate action. By all accounts the French diplomats excelled themselves in negotiation and making best use of the counter-ISIS dividend.

So it is, that through the taking of sides, those against an effective international agreement on climate now find themselves counted alongside the oil-funded terrorists of ISIS. Politicians need to be constantly reminded of this.

 

 

 

 

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Trouble With Stories

Chris Rose

(You can also download this blog as a pdf)

I have to confess that for the past several years, something has been worrying me about stories. Not stories in general: like everyone I guess, I love stories. It’s only human to do so.

It’s stories-in-campaigning that worry me but not even just that as such. I’m a ‘believer’ in their power and have my own pet lists of useful things campaigners ought to know about stories[1]. I’ve long tried to emphasise to would-be campaigners that the two most important things in communicating for campaigns are to use stories, preferably involving real people, and to communicate through pictures.

It’s more about the contemporary fashion for stories, or rather for adopting techniques of ‘story-telling’, which to me at least, sometimes seems to have become more than a tool and almost grown into a belief-system. When I hear that ‘great story-telling will lead to ‘great campaigns’, something shouts at me that this isn’t right. Not on its own.  So great is the vogue for having a campaign composed of great story-telling that I have seen almost any sort of campaign communications which campaigners are proud of, described as ‘great storytelling’; from linear videos, to photo-calls, to print adverts to physical actions, to infographics.

Asking for Help

Some readers of Campaign Strategy Newsletter may remember that a couple of editions ago I asked for help. Did anyone have evidence of where story-telling had actually produced results in campaigning ? I didn’t really doubt that they had but I wanted to know how they had, and how we knew they had.

Thank you to those who took the time and trouble to write to me[i].

This wasn’t the first time I asked, and I’ve been sent lots of links to some of the mountains of evidence of how stories work, or how story-telling works although rather little evidence of how it made a difference in campaigns.

For instance people sent me examples of using personal stories to give a voice to immigrants in Belgium (at festivals); how the World Bank tried pitching itself as a ‘knowledge bank’, which was unsuccessful until it started using stories to show this; how Medi Tech did something similar with individual stories of benefit; how NGOs such as Oxfam used human stories to help lobby on climate, and how WWF deployed stories about the impact of climate change on individual business to make a greater impact in lobbying on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme; and how by collecting personal testimonies about how ‘ordinary’ people got involved in locally opposing fracking, this helped others realise they could do the same.

You probably know of many similar examples. So I am sure it does make a difference if you switch from ‘information’ to ‘stories’ and from impersonal to personalised stories. Yet even as I asked for help I knew that I wasn’t really asking right question.

I tried committing my thoughts to ‘paper’ and circulated them to some friends, with very mixed results ranging from ‘hugely important – if you publish, can I repost it ?’, and ‘this troubles me too’, through ‘what you are missing is …’ to ‘this is so important that we need to sit down and talk about it’ (which never happened).

Still it nagged at me, or as they said in one of my favourite stories, ‘it called to me’.

Things That Troubled Me

It troubled me that the current vogue for ‘story-telling’, might accidentally become an end in itself, in a similar way to that in which ‘publicity’ for campaigns and media coverage once often served as a proxy for getting results in terms of change. But it wasn’t only that.

It also seemed to me that skills or formats of story construction (such as The Hero’s Journey) were being uncritically imported into campaigning when these worked just fine in other contexts, for example film or theatre, books or indeed, face to face ‘traditional’ tale spinning but didn’t necessarily do what was needed in campaigns, and certainly didn’t constitute campaigns.

It concerned me that campaign groups adopting story-telling so enthusiastically seemed to have been influenced by the fashion for personal-story story-telling in ‘movement making’ in American politics (eg Marshall Ganz and the ‘story-of-me’, the ‘story-of-us’ etc), and in the corporate world, which has invested heavily in story-telling as a way to gain brand penetration in ‘digital’, including in social media networks, or for making a pitch to a face to face audience (such as the six stories ‘you need to know’ by Annette Simmonds[2]).

These story-doctrines come with their own high caste of practitioners, who may have found a new market in campaign groups wanting to be ‘professional’.   But also it worried me that this worried me ! After all, I am an advocate of eclecticism, ‘being a magpie’ and borrowing or stealing any good ideas that work (see my book How to Win Campaigns, as a compendium of stolen ideas). Plus I’m a consultant too. Was I suffering from a case of sour grapes or contract envy ?

Then I wrestled with the fact that whenever I tried to pin down the elusive ‘problem’, digital or new media kept comparing itself in my mind with the age of mass media, which I grew up with as a campaigner, and is undoubtedly passing, if maybe only transmuting into new forms. This transition seemed somehow central to whatever the problematic ‘thing’ was, and yet I was painfully aware that I didn’t want to pour cold water on ‘digital’ just because I am a campaigner with roots in another age.

Sure enough one friend, an arch-exponent of digital story-telling, commented on a draft that it “sounds a bit like pining for the old days of corporate-controlled but mass-audience media, my friend”. Ouch. That’s what I was afraid of.

So this is why my Newsletter output got rather thin. Every time I sat down to try and write about ‘stories’, the problem eluded me like a fish that got away in a dream.

I now think it boils down to:

  • Campaigners should primarily be story-makers not story-tellers
  • Real-world experience is fragmentary – most often the audience makes the story from fragments: most do not see, hear, read or experience any complete story created by the campaigners, so being trained in story telling techniques designed for audiences who consume the whole story, is not a training for real life campaigning
  • Audiences are at a premium in the digital age: those made by mass media are draining away, so there is a strategic need to create audiences that stories can be told to, whether through ‘digital’ or in real life, and whether as fragments or in complete form
  • Most campaigns have to use stories to get where they want to go: stories to motivate, to explain and to organise but campaigns also have to ‘make stories come true’, and story-telling itself is rarely sufficient to achieve that.

Put these together, and you have the source for my disquiet, my trouble with ‘stories’ as a centre-piece of campaign making.

Good Skills To Have, An Important Process to Understand

Stories are without doubt the oldest form of advanced human communication. “Come this way” to find food, shelter or avoid enemies, must have been a very early form of story. “Go this way” and “this is how to do it” might have been next. Add in explanations for things that puzzled people, such as why the sun went up and down, the seasons changed or animals came and went, and how to anticipate such things, and you have many of the basics of human society. Include why we exist and what happens when we die, and how to treat each other, and we have much of the rest, including creation myths, religions, moral tales and fairy stories.

Not surprising then that our brains are ‘hardwired’ to deal in stories, and that stories are the ‘stickiest’ form of communication: easier to recall and process than facts and figures, logic, argument or analysis. A welter of neuroscience and other psychological research confirms this in scientific terms. Eg [3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10]

Because you can ‘see it happening’ on brain scans, and boil some if it down to the role of identifiable molecules like that of oxytocin in generating empathy, it’s all very exciting to communicators. But essentially science is explaining, unpicking and most often confirming what story tellers have known for millennia, for example the power of stories to ‘transport’ us, to ‘take us there’, to inspire and to get us to identify with a character.

The many powers of stories come about because we are more like animals than machines but that also applies to why ‘pictures work’, and experiences work, and how framing, heuristics and motivational values[11] work.

These things interact. Many of the story formats most popular with movie makers and analysts of stories for instance, such as those in which a hero overcomes obstacles to do what is morally ‘the right thing’, are firmly Settler stories. For Settlers right or wrong is decided by morals, social rules given to us by others, by authority (eg god, parents, ancestors).   They speak to our most basic needs, and they predominate in the stories we tell our children.

In Prospector World right and wrong is no longer subject to universal rules: what’s right is what works, for me, for us, and us can be a changeable category. There are probably fewer pure Prospector stories which we turn to for entertainment, certainly ‘family entertainment’.

Few fairy stories or popular movies end with the protagonist becoming far richer or more successful than his or her contemporaries and simply or ‘selfishly’ enjoying themselves. We tend to prefer other versions in which they return to Settler values, or maybe transition to the wisdom of Pioneers and see the bigger picture. In James Cameron’s Avatar, a movie so transporting that it was said some people sought psychological help for the distress caused by not being able to actually move to planet Pandora, the space warrior (Settler hero format) earns his place in local society (more Settlers), and leaves the Company (Prospector exploiters), succeeding where the Concerned Ethical type Pioneer scientists fail. It’s a fantasy which paints in strong values colours and only shows the good or bad side of Settler or Prospector values to suit the story.

Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story and the values mix is more complicated. At times we empathize with Jordan Belfort and although he gets his comeuppance after mindboggling hedonistic excess and selfishness, time and again it shows the inspirational nature of aspiration (Prospector values). Even at the end, the human appetite for bettering themselves in material terms, is not extinguished.

In real life, aspirational, mostly Prospector stories abound: for example in business and other places where success and power are good and the audience does not want to question that, because it’s a success or power seeking audience. Sport too has many such stories.

The Baker’s Adventure

At least one Hollywood screen-writer is said to use Cultural Dynamic’s motivational values to breathe life into characters. Have a look at this basic guide to communicating with the three Maslow Groups. One important way they differ is in things like resolution and change. Imagine for instance that your story involves a baker and bakery. Calamities befall them and adventures ensue and challenges are overcome. As the dust settles, how should it end ? Obvious options might be:

After all that, the bakery is still there, the baker has come home and is baking the same bread, which is as popular with local customers as ever. (Settler – getting back to the centre, not losing the past, maintaining continuity).

And the baker ? He went on to build a business that now supplies bread and rolls right across the country. You probably ate some for breakfast. (Prospector – it all got bigger and better).

And the bakery ? It’s still there baking the same bread, and as popular with local customers as ever. But as to the baker, he was never seen again, although there are rumours that … [fill in something which hints at a wider version of the ethical or universalist out-take from the resolution] (Pioneer – pulling it together for everyone’s benefit but also open ended).

That’s a rubbish example and lacks any story content but maybe it helps make the point. Here you can also find the more detailed differences between the four Values Modes of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers.

Pioneers will accept, indeed quite like, an unresolved story. Here’s an example from an RSPB mailer which broke fundraising records. It was designed to appeal to Pioneers and written to cover as many Pioneer ‘hot buttons’ as possible.

rspb fen mailer

It’s a story but with no ending. It is told by a fen (a sort of marsh). That wouldn’t work well for Settlers (fens can’t talk ! not in definitive Settler world). Nor for many Prospectors: it’s ‘weird’. But for Pioneers, why not ? Let’s imagine, that’s interesting.

It’s also lyrical, poetic and has no ‘facts’ (Prospectors: “where’s the proof ?”, “where’s the target ?”). It’s just values and emotion, open questions, mystery, beauty, and indeterminate: many Pioneers love this sort of stuff.

Deception

Stories can also powerfully deceive us because they can make things ‘true’. When Prophecy Fails[12] is a famous example of the capacity of human beings – in this case a cult group who believed in an impending apocalypse – to rationalise evidence in order to reinforce existing beliefs rather than change them. The cult began with a story in a newspaper, about a housewife who had accessed supernatural powers to reveal an untold truth transmitted from Planet Clarion. When it failed to arrive after they stayed up all night, the followers retained their belief but persuaded themselves that their life of example had saved earth, and now they had to urgently spread the message wider. (The cult leader’s husband was a non-believer who slept through it all).

As Daniel Kahneman[13] and others have shown, and as countless propagandists have exploited, ‘cognitive ease’ exerts such a pull on our critical faculties, that we have a bias to believe whatever is easiest to understand. Of all the things that makes a story a ‘good story’, the truth hardly ever registers. Or as the old journalistic cliche has it:  “This story is too good to check”. We mostly like to believe what ‘feels right’.

The Enlightenment challenged the acceptance of stories which had previously been accepted as absolutely true. It increased empiricism, paving the way to the scientific method, evidence based policy and analysis. Campaigners now have to be able to deal in both worlds: the evidence-based realm of Kahneman’s analytical ‘System 2’ , most elevated in science, and the animal communications of intuitive processes (his System 1), easier and far more persuasive.

Neuroscience is now revealing how and why stories work and no doubt bringing important new insights for practitioners, such as advertisers. It’s using System 2 to investigate System 1. But thousands of years of trial and error have also left us with a huge legacy of story telling techniques and formats. These are a treasure trove of ideas for story telling, including in campaigns.

‘Traditional stories’ and novels are an important source but as media students discover to their cost, dissecting the structure of stories and making up ‘rules’ about what’s right, has reached its zenith in theatre and film. There is a vast literature, such as Robert McKee’s Story[14] aimed at screenwriters.

And there is a huge store of rules of thumb such as ‘Chekov’s Gun’[15], a trope or plot device which says don’t put anything into a story which won’t serve a purpose. It’s a good general principle including in communications outside stories; less is more, don’t include anything in your motivational campaign communication which is not essential to getting the audience to take the next necessary step. Likewise a MacGuffin, or thing which the protagonist and maybe others seek, and around which the story turns. For example the ring in Lord of the Rings.

Then there are attempts at laying down general principles, such as Joseph Campbell’s ‘monomyth’[16] of the Hero’s Journey. It’s current popularity in story-telling training and amongst NGOs may owe something to the nice diagram of it apparently redrawn from a 1985 Walt Disney Studios memo. It was popularised by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers[17] and before him Bill Moyers The Power of Myth[18] based on tv interviews with Campbell.

heros journey

source: Wikipedia

Wikipedia reproduces[19] Voglers’ summary of the Hero’s Journey thus: 1. The Ordinary World, 2. The Call to Adventure, 3. Refusal of the Call, 4. Meeting with the Mentor, 5. Crossing the Threshold to the “special world”, 6. Tests, Allies and Enemies, 7. Approach to the Innermost Cave, 8. The Ordeal, 9. Reward, 10. The Road Back, 11. The Resurrection, 12. Return with the Elixir. It summarises it as ‘the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed’.

Not everyone agrees with its importance. Blogger on narratives James Hull writes[20]:

There is a sickness running through the world, a sickness that attempts to twist every instance of narrative fiction through the siphon of errors that is the “Hero’s Journey” story structure paradigm … The Internet teems with those who think every story is the same and that this similarity can be attributed to man’s need for mythic transformation.

There can be nothing more destructive to the world of storytelling than this compulsion for spiritual metamorphosis. Stories are about solving problems. Sometimes, solving those problems require the centrepiece of a story, the Main Character, to undergo a major transformation in how they see the world. Sometimes they don’t. There is nothing inherently better about a story where the Main Character transforms’.

It’s easy to get lost in the academic world of story analysis. For example in arguments about the differences between story, plot and narrative[21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[28] or whether as (I’m told[29]) Aristotle maintained, a ‘good story’ has an inciting incident, a climax, crisis or turning point, and a resolution.

A lot of the arguments apply mainly to particular forms, such a film. Given the literally linear nature of film or video, departures from linear storylines are of particular interest and many film students who took up the subject because they enjoyed films, are subjected to watching movies like Memento (a non linear film about memory loss) because it does so with such enthusiasm:

The film doesn’t start at the beginning and lead us through to the end though. In fact, the narrative is far more complicated than that. To be as simple as possible, the film is actually shown backwards in fifteen minute increments. There are also some scenes in colour and others in black and white. Those in colour are a reverse order scene and the black and white scenes are in chronological order. It’s complex but an interesting example because the film makers could have started at the beginning and kept it linear but they wanted to tell the story in a different way’[30].

After too much time reading about stories, my favourite exchange was this one online:

Puzzled student:

“What is the difference between a story, text and narrative in terms of literature?

Best Answer – Nihl_of_Brae answered 7 years ago:

“Your best bet is to ask your instructor, because that is the person who will be grading your test. My understanding may be different” (Nihl did in fact go on to give an answer[31]).

There’s lots more. For instance philosopher Tvzetan Todorov[32] saw narrative[ii] as equilibrium, then disequilibrium, and a new equilibrium while anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss [33] decided that the creation of conflict propels a narrative, until it gets resolved.   Others say more simply that plot or story is what happens, and narrative is how the story gets told, for example from whose point of view.

But rather like the search for a Holy Grail ‘Theory of Change’, which once discovered will be a recipe to make your campaign successful, learning more and more about story-telling formats and methodologies is unlikely to solve many of your problems in campaigning unless you take much more into account, which is not about the structure of your desired story.

Stories You Can Tell and Stories People Make

In real life, very few campaigns can be won by only communicating with people to whom you can tell a complete story. For this reason, a great deal of the store of knowledge about the craft and theory of ‘good story’ structure is not very relevant to making campaigns in real life.

Nearly all of traditional storytelling practice, film-structure theory, academic analysis of what works in literature, even digital story-telling in immersive games, takes it as read that there is an audience who will ‘sit through’ the story. They can get the complete story.

This is true in a movie theatre or a live play. Not many people get up and walk out. Most see the beginning, the middle and the end, whatever the plot or narrative structure.

Even fewer get up, walk out and come back near the end, and then happily make up ‘their own mind;’ about what the film was about. But that’s much more what happens with most audiences you need to reach, and that’s on a good day for audience attention.

Traditional story-tellers can see if there is turnover in an audience but in the main, once you are ‘inside the tent’, the ‘teller’ has your attention from start to finish.  The beginning to them is the beginning to you. Not necessarily so with campaigns. People may only see the start, or hear about the inciting incident in Act 2. They may assume that it ended after that, and never be aware of what ‘finally’ happens. And that may not matter. Indeed for many of the most significant campaigns, by the time you finally ‘win’, even the ‘issue’ is quite often forgotten, or has ‘moved on’ and transformed out of recognition.

We may pick up a book and read it through at a sitting ‘cover to cover’ or do so in small portions before bed or while commuting but for the most part the author will be safe in assuming that anyone consuming his or her work, starts on page one and ends, at the end. If we put a book down and come back to it later, we usually mark the page to ‘pick up the thread’ of the story. If we read a book we want to follow-the-story. That’s not necessarily the case with a campaign.

You may well have had the experience of doing some research into what ‘the public’ or even a supposedly well-informed audience like your colleagues or your Supporters, actually know about your campaign. They will rarely even be aware of most of your attempts to communicate with them. They may be enthusiastic and supportive but completely wrong about some of the basics. Carefully drafted reports, blogs and mailings may have been wasted, although not if they have anyway done something useful.

All too often that’s not the case. I remember lying in Whitehall outside Downing Street, nominally dressed as a corpse for a Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaign. There being 600 such ‘corpses’, the police had to wait for reinforcements to arrive before dragging us away. I listened as two nearby policemen discussed our campaign.   “They should have gone to a shopping centre instead” said one, “a much better place to hand out leaflets”. “Yes” said the other one, “That’s how you get public awareness about things like tropical forests. My missus always gives a donation”.

In the sense of a ‘narrative’ being a consistent ‘story’ into which events (and bits of other stories) fit and which makes them make sense, this perhaps shows there was a ‘Greenpeace narrative’ of attempting to engage public opinion through ‘protest’. It was just that the two policemen had simply recalled the most recent and most salient campaign (the availability heuristic) they had come across, in order to make a ‘story’ about what we were doing at that moment, which to us was ‘wrong’.

No doubt what Greenpeace ‘sent out’ in the communications it controlled was a story that made sense and was about the nuclear issue in question (THORP) but that’s not the point. It’s what people conclude that matters.

Admittedly in this case it was done to try and get the news media to tell a story, and that did work in the sense that next day there were some newspaper pictures with accurate captions but even that’s not the end of the story. If people already think they know what you are trying to say, that’s what they will hear or see.

Those corpses lacked labels and campaigns often include their own captions in the form of banners or placards to try and make sure that ‘the message gets across’ but even that may not mean it is truly ‘installed’ in someone else’s head. Around the same time, early one morning Greenpeace climbed part of the British Houses of Parliament and hung a huge banner which did in fact say something about saving rainforests.   The TV showed the banner, and the newsreader announced we were conducting a protest about “Trident” (Britain’s nuclear armed submarines). So I picked up the phone and rang the breakfast TV news desk: “I’m calling from Greenpeace; your piece just said we are doing an action about Trident” I said. “So ?” responded a bored-sounding Australian voice. “Well have you looked at the banner ?” I asked. “Ah yeh, see you mean” he said. “So why did you say it was about Trident ?” I enquired. “’cause that’s what the police told us it was about” said the journalist.

So campaigns tend not to get consumed or experienced in the ways that are assumed in most story formats. And most campaigns are too diverse over time, or simply too long and often too boring, to be effectively told as stories. For this reason stories do not tend to create campaign strategies, and your real strategy cannot usually be turned into a motivational story.

Strategies That Should Not Be Stories

Indeed your real strategy should usually not be a public story. This is obvious at a tactical level: for example if you need to surprise or deceive an opponent.   As Sun Tzu said[34]: ‘Generally, in a conflict, The Straightforward will lead to engagement, and the Surprising will lead to triumph.’

Strategy-making requires things like situation analysis, power analysis and intelligence gathering for insight. This has nothing to do with telling stories, as often becomes apparent when journalists or film-makers get the bug and decide they are going to try a bit of campaigning to change real-world outcomes. Their skills and techniques may be great but they are more likely to lead to engagement, either in the sense of creating a conflict with an opponent or engaging the converted (or both), than in triumph.

Strategy requires making choices about which changes to try and achieve. For instance for political reasons it may be more useful to induce certain companies to shift position on a subject, than to target others, or to try and change institutions or individual behaviours, even though they may make up a much bigger part of ‘the problem’ but if as targets they lack political leverage and that’s what the next breakthrough to strategic change requires, they are not good targets. So to change the decisions of the politicians we might need to change the actions and positions of companies. And to change the positions of companies we might need to involve consumers. Plus what interests the companies is probably not what interests the consumers and vice versa, and so they need different stories, and there is normally no benefit in them hearing the story you tell to others.

Real campaigns offer many more possible choices than this and the stories that may be needed have to be defined for each audience engagement, as you move from one objective to the next, along a critical path that leads to a final change objective.

As a campaign unfolds and moves from one objective to the next, the supportive audiences and targets are likely to change. This means that many people will only experience one part of the ‘campaign’s story’.

This does not mean there is no value in telling stories, only that story-telling is not strategy-making. Yet I have come across campaigners, especially ‘digital campaigners’, struggling to solve campaign problems that are essentially strategy issues but trying to create a story to do so.  It’s a bit like asking the press to run your campaign for you.

Three Useful Stories

Three stories that do not drive a campaign but are anyway often needed are the Public Story, the Professional Story and the Political Story. These are all stories about what the campaign is, not stories that make it work.

The test of the Public Story is that it can be told without jargon and in terms that ‘the public’ can understand. For example your neighbour, your mother or sister: test it as crudely or in as sophisticated a way as you like. This should be your default explanation of what you are doing, why, and what it will achieve in terms of problem, solution and benefit. It has to work in terms of intuitive reasoning, Kahneman’s System 1.

The Professional Story probably needs jargon because it must be ‘precise’, or at least speak in terms that key ‘expert’ audiences recognize as showing that you know ‘what you are doing’ in their terms. Use of jargon is a shorthand indicator (System 1) that you have ‘thought it through’ in their terms, and can make an ‘analytical’ case (System 2). This should never be allowed into the general public domain because it will be incomprehensible. A campaign is not generally an opportunity to educate the public into becoming experts.

The Political Story is rarest. It should be reserved for politicians who need to be engaged, whether to join in or give way, and needs to explain benefits in their terms. These are nothing to do with ‘the issue’ but things like generating popularity amongst voters or key interest groups, gaining promotion, retaining their seat, undermining the opposition (and better still, rivals), and possibly pleasing their families. It needs to be elevator pitch short, as politicians at least like to think their time is so valuable that nothing can be longer. Do not annoy politicians or advisers by explaining the previous two stories but have them ready in case the politician needs them. Each political story needs to be tailored to the individual.

Who Will You Tell Your Story To ?

In the mass media era the default assumption could be, ‘get as much public awareness of your campaign as possible to be as effective as possible’. Underlain by ideas about democracy and the power of ‘the people’, this was a fair if not always reliable assumption.  So campaign groups became media mavens and in particular, experts at feeding the ‘news media’. They learnt to anticipate the heuristic rules and reflexes of the news machine, such as “first simplify, then exaggerate”. There was little practical choice except to feed the machine, and most of the time the media would tell the story.

Online, digital and in particular social media, has changed all that, bringing opportunities and challenges. For example:

  1. we have moved from a world where huge-audience mass media dominated, to one of huge media choices including personalised media with many small audiences.     Consequently: this has reduced common awareness and perceptions, enables audiences to live in separate worlds of attention and values and makes it harder to recruit support across such divides.
  1. diversification of media and the substitution of narrow-casting for broadcasting, has eroded the power of ‘the media’ to define and confirm a ‘public agenda’, and so, ‘what matters’. Consequently: “issue promotion” becomes much harder to achieve, wide attention is harder to sustain, and the significance of ‘opinion’ becomes less clear, even where it is signaled, making signals easier to ignore.
  1. old media and its tight relationship with political power offered a conveniently limited set of targets on which to apply pressure but diversified, networked new and social media rarely do.   Consequently: ‘the media’ is gradually disappearing as an intermediate lever between individual citizens or consumers, and those with ‘hard power’ in direct control of institutions, budgets, assets and resources.
  1. potential supporters of ‘campaigns’ are faced with a huge proliferation of possible choices. Consequently: if the base of potential support for ‘cause’ campaigns is in limited supply, this may lead to cause-tourism and distraction, satisfying the desire to do something but reducing the probability of doing very much.
  1. the potential, indeed the perceived imperative for campaign groups to engage online, has reduced the perceived need to organize offline. Consequently: in common with some political parties, campaign groups have an increasingly virtual relationship with their supporters, and weak bonds may predominate.

Such factors pose challenges for organizational-level strategy in terms of engagement and shaping of networks and investment in what campaign groups do online, and, as David Babbs of 38 Degrees puts it, IRL, or “In Real Life”.

What does it mean for story telling and stories in campaigns ? To my mind it means there is a risk of becoming opinion demonstrators rather than doers.  Gathering indications of support has become easy. A previous blog discussed the example of petitions. A million person paper Save the Whale petition by Friends of the Earth created news when it was handed in to Downing Street in 1970. It probably would today: that’s difficult to do. A million clicks is much easier. Yet even a million clicks seems to be getting harder to achieve, perhaps because online has spawned swarms of new opportunities.

At the same time it has become easier to talk to the converted, to people in your network who share your views. But are these people any more likely to be the most important audiences you need to reach to get results now, than before social media existed (pre 2005) ? No they won’t be but that may not be as obvious as it was in ‘the old days’ when it would be clear if, for instance, you were only being reported in the one friendly national media outlet that shared your values, while the other nine criticised or worse, ignored you.

Making Audiences

In my view if digital story telling is to be effective, a lot more thought and effort needs to go into creating and reaching audiences, and that’s not something that story-telling techniques or formats show us how to do.

Campaign stories need to reach across silos of values and interests, and be part of real world campaign activities, making stuff happen not just talking about it. From values research I’ve seen pre- and post-digital age, it does not look as if most campaign groups are engaging with different audiences, and if evidence like physical demonstrations is anything to go by[35], it does not look as if there is more net mobilization of ‘society’ either.

Cost is a factor but the biggest challenge for campaigners is simply psychological: the requirement to get out and get to know, or at least work with and create some social bonds with, people not like themselves. To create that feeling which people sense when “the whole town turned out” and “all sorts of people got involved”.

For ‘story tellers’ this means accepting that the stories that work, will not be those that feel right to them but the ones that feel right for the audiences. Or as Frank Luntz said, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear that’s important. Immersion in our own online echo chamber can create a womb-like comfort which insulates us from unpleasant realities, such as that our pleasingly popular online story is mainly being consumed by those who already agree with us.

A side-effect of the pre-digital, mass-media dominated world, was that limited media consumption opportunities meant that people sometimes came across things that they would not normally chose to take an interest in (particularly tv news items which are hard to avoid). In a 2000 article The Golden Age of Pressure Groups I argued that this had created a free gift to campaigners of incidental awareness, and one which was coming to an end through the fracturing of broadcast tv audiences, and dwindling newspaper readership. This effect of inadvertent awareness has been further diminished by our ability to tailor our news feeds, and by the shrinking resources and depth of the news media themselves.

Likewise, old media unintentionally created ambient ‘message pollution’. For example we might see newspaper headlines on newsstands as we passed by, or on discarded copies, or read articles wrapped around our fish and chips[36], or while sitting staring at fellow passengers hiding behind their papers and magazines on a commuter train (before we all got smart phones). This creates a campaign need to achieve similar real-life or digital effects.

New technologies such as Virtual Reality bring us closer to making media more like real-life experience, which is of course the most powerful communicator of all. A great thing but not much use unless we can get the right audiences to experience it. Creating contexts and platforms where we can tell complete stories becomes as important as being able to create them. This after all is why the movie industry has promoters, distributors and a host of other elements, not to mention cinemas, to get people to go and see a film, and does not just rely on being able to make a good movie.

I realize that even the most digital of all campaign groups, such as Avaaz and 38 Degrees, which are less like conventional clubs, societies and NGOs, and more like online brands offering an easy and quick Campaign Service, are trying to do more “In Real Life” campaigning but much more of that needs to be done. The same goes for older format more established groups. Getting onto streets, into ‘communities’, workplaces and other ‘real life’ domains, and building up strong social bonds[37] within and across values groups, is more important now than in the age of mass media.

A simple if uncomfortable way to uncover these opportunities is simply to take online away. Try planning a campaign without it, and testing out the ideas. (There is of course a latent interest, especially amongst Pioneers interested in innovation, for more In Real Life without online). Online may be relatively cheap and easy but IRL is more likely to generate stories worth telling – being story-makers so others want to tell our story.

In some ways digitalisation has brought us full circle, to a version of the pre-media era. It was always possible, when we mostly lived in towns and villages where we saw the same people rather often, to avoid those we didn’t want to spend time with but it was quite difficult to do so completely, especially if we relied on word of mouth to know what was going on. We could all be our own story tellers but we relied upon authority figures to tell us whose story to believe.

Mass media changed all that but the menu of stories was often limited, and the vicarious experiences were in common: huge numbers of us consumed the same media. Now it’s less clear who to believe, and our friends may not even be aware of the same ‘news’ as we are. Plus we can all be broadcasters but mostly to our friends

Isn’t that good ? After all many surveys show friends and family are the most trusted sources for a lot of ‘information’ or asks to do things, so social media based on such networkscan be highly effective. However that’s a potential, not any sort of guarantee it will happen. I was recently in a focus group in which a number of people who were quite regular ‘online campaigners’ explained that they rarely urged their friends to also take the actions because they wanted to stay friends. They assumed their friends were not ‘those sort of people’, or that they simply would not be interested, or that it was too difficult to explain. The last is the self-same reason most commonly given by news editors for not covering a story.

In the very old days, the arrival of a real specialist story teller was probably a special event. But even a shaman could not be in more than in one place at once, at least not physically. Mass media and digital both give the capacity to bring stories to large audiences, quickly or even in real time. Digital creates much greater opportunity to select whether or not to pay attention. As Ethan Zuckerman said in Rewire, “Our challenge is not access to information, it is the challenge of paying attention.”   Thanks to common human reflexes, the potential of the internet to connect ‘globally’, instead facilitates us spending more time looking at material that is local, socially or geographically.

My guess is that the gradual slide from mass to digital media makes no net difference to campaigns because everyone else, including your opponents and everyone in between, are doing the same things, only the more connected world is also perhaps also becoming more insular. The hard graft will still be necessary to make campaigns work, and today ‘hard’ includes ‘In Real Life’ campaigning with people who you would be unlikely to meet online, as well as making strategy which involves being story-makers, not just story-tellers.

Possible Things To Do

  1. Try to be story-makers rather than story-tellers. Make real change that leads other people to want to tell the story of what you make happen. Be the story.
  1. Make it easier by investing more in In Real Life real-world campaigning activity than in story-telling, especially digital story telling.
  1. Make that ‘easier’ by exploring how to create campaigns without ‘digital’. The digital will arrive later anyway. Otherwise you may get stuck in the bubble.
  1. Remember that people pick up fragments of your story, whether told deliberately or not, and construct the rest. So make each fragment, each moment, ‘make sense’ in itself. Prioritize the audiences you need in order to make a real difference.
  1. Invest in expanding audience opportunities where people can ‘get’ your beautifully crafted complete stories. But sparingly and strategically as this is expensive, and very few will ever see them. Unless you get very clever, very rich or very entertaining.
  1. Construct critical path strategies that are about achieving objectives leading to change (ie evidence-based ‘theories of change’, not generic theories of change), and develop bespoke, tested stories to help motivate key audiences at each step. Be led by change strategy served by stories, not a strategy of story telling.
  1. Reach across social silos, especially online networks of ‘like’ people. Be plural to engage different audiences. Don’t waste time trying to bend a diversity of audiences to accepting stories that don’t feel right to them. Match stories against values, don’t try to change the values of the audience.  Find out what does work for them, in doing what you need to make happen, and find a way to give them that, whether you are the story author, messenger, channel or not.

footnotes

[i] Thanks to Erik Bishard, Bob Rowell, Christian Tierte, Erika Roggio, Isabella Helicar Antenen, Joel Dignam, John Ashton, Jose Gavilan, Kelly Rigg, Marine Faber, Nick Buston, Philippe Duhamel and Titus Alexander. Sorry if I missed anyone.

[ii] The term ‘narrative’ is also used in another way entirely, where it means a ‘meta story’ or template which enables people who use it, consciously or not, to make sense of any relevant development and find meaning in it, much in the way that a ‘frame’ does. See for example Steven Corman http://csc.asu.edu/2013/03/21/the-difference-between-story-and-narrative/ and links therein. Such ‘narratives’ can become systems of stories that are linked by common archetypes, forms and themes, for example in cultural myths as in individualism and ‘America’, environmentalism, or any religion. Politicians frequently yearn for a ‘consistent narrative’ meaning that prospective voters will find an attractive thread running through their actions or pronouncements.   The political meaning of ‘narrative’ is often a desire to connect with or to escape from a myth. In normal circumstances, creating these sorts of narratives is above the pay grade of any campaign.

references

[1] See for example pp 43-6, 155-7, 257-8, 299-300 in How to win Campaigns: Communications for Change, Earthscan/ Taylor and Francis 2010

[2] http://edtate.com/stories/

[3] http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/it-is-in-our-nature-to-need-stories/

[4] http://www.tmsworldwide.com/tms10r.html

[5] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secrets-of-storytelling/?page=1

[6]http://www.dana.org/Cerebrum/2015/Why_Inspiring_Stories_Make_Us_React__The_Neuroscience_of_Narrative/

[7] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_stories_change_brain

[8] http://www.fastcocreate.com/3027563/the-story-button-in-your-brain-neuroscience-study-sheds-light-on-brand-human-love

[9] http://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains

[10] http://www.lane4performance.com/insight/blog/storytelling-how-neuroscience-demonstrates-the-effectiveness-of-stories/ – and see references

[11] See my book What Makes People Tick http://threeworlds.campaignstrategy.org/

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Prophecy_Fails

[13] Daniel Kahneman and Amon Tversky, Thinking Fast and Slow, Penguin 2012

[14] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-Substance-Structure-Principles-Screenwriting/dp/0060856181

[15] https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/ask-writer/whats-this-business-about-chekhovs-gun

[16] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

[17] http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Writers-Journey-Christopher-Vogler/dp/0330375911

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_of_Myth

[19] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

[20] http://narrativefirst.com/articles/not-everything-is-a-heros-journey

[21] http://dramatica.com/theory/book/plot

[22] http://www.dailywritingtips.com/narrative-point-of-view/

[23] http://www.robertmills.me/narrative-story/

[24] http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/to-plot-or-not-to-plot-part-1-terminology-and-the-difference-between-narrative-and-story/

[25] http://hacktext.com/2011/09/story-vs-narrative-vs-plot-1205/

[26] http://www.booncotter.com/story-plot-and-narrative-not-the-same-thing/

[27] http://www.ehow.com/info_10038404_difference-between-narrative-story.html

[28] http://www.vanadia.com/storytalk/talks/story-vs-narrative/

[29] http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/writing-an-outline.html

[30] http://www.robertmills.me/narrative-story/

[31] https://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070919064055AArsck0

[32] http://www.slideshare.net/cfgstania/todorovs-theory-7100632

[33] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_L%C3%A9vi-Strauss

[34] R L Wing, The Art of Strategy, Doubleday 1988

[35] There can be no doubt for instance that climate change merits a huge political response. The September 2014 Peoples Climate March (“To Change Everything, We Need Everyone”) brought over 400,000 onto the streets of New York, with lots of smaller events around the world. Yet Earth Day 1970 saw a million-strong ‘protest’ in New York, while 20 million took part in events across the US as a whole.   Earth Day 1990 allegedly managed to ‘mobilise’ 200 million globally.

[36] if you were British, and before that was stopped on health and safety grounds

[37] http://threeworlds.campaignstrategy.org/?p=116

updated Jan 3 2016

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Values and Climate Issues in Five European Countries

Chris Rose 4 12 15

With the Paris Climate Conference in full swing it is a little late to be publishing new data on public perceptions but in case you delegates and NGOs are stuck for something to read, here are a few values survey results hot ‘off the press’ from Cultural Dynamics (CDSM) . These questions were put to representative national samples in the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy in November 2015.

Values of UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy

First up the national values profiles. They all look fairly similar and not surprisingly more like Japan, Australia and the US (see full data sets here) than developing countries, which are mainly Prospector dominated. (I will publish the breakdown of the 12 Values Modes another time).

MG 5 c table

5 c mgs

Above: percentages of Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers (for an explanation see www.cultdyn.co.uk or my book What Makes People Tick – you can buy it at this blog (right side of page)).

Change Dynamics

Germany has slightly more Pioneers than Spain or the UK but only just, and France the least but it’s only a 11% difference. The % of Settlers varies more, with the greatest % in France at 31% but essentially all these countries are close enough to a third- a third-a third for it to be important in any broad politics or social change proposals that they somehow have support from all the three ‘Maslow Groups’ and not just one of them.

On the other hand, even the change-resistant Settlers will eventually go along with anything that has gained significant support from both the Pioneers and Prospectors, as in all cases this would tend to create a majority, and so the idea or behaviour would start to seem ‘normal’.   Something becoming ‘normal’ is a trigger for Settlers to adopt it as a new behaviour. Finally, as the name suggests, Pioneers are the initiators of change and in each of these countries they are at least 30% of the population and so a good base for change, if you can get their attention and they think it’s’ a good idea …

Climate Questions

CDSM has asked many questions related to ‘climate’ and energy in a lot of countries (see a sample of my papers on their work here , the 15 country survey here and an article in UNA magazine here) . One of those asked most often is agreement/disagreement with the statement “Climate change: I don’t believe in it”.   Here are some of the 2015 results.

Climate Change: I don’t Believe In It

Q17r4: Climate change – I don’t believe in it.
Sum of CWSA MG
UK GER FRA SPA ITA
1 = “Strongly disagree” 34.7% 29.3% 33.9% 46.2% 30.6%
2 = “Slightly disagree” 23.7% 27.7% 26.2% 22.3% 30.1%
3 = “Neither agree nor disagree” 22.4% 22.5% 23.0% 17.8% 21.0%
4 = “Slightly agree” 12.1% 14.7% 12.1% 9.8% 13.1%
5 = “Strongly agree” 7.1% 5.9% 4.8% 3.9% 5.3%

Spain stands out as the country where ‘strong disagreement’ with the statement is greatest. I don’t know why. Is it because the impacts of climate change are very apparent ? But the results are otherwise quite similar. Germany and Italy for instance are almost identical. In all cases there are very few strong ‘sceptics’: they are at their highest but still only reach 7.9%, in the UK.

cc dont believe

As in other surveys we have done across many countries of different cultures, and almost irrespective of the overall levels of ‘climate belief or scepticism’, the values effects are much the same on this question. The Pioneers tend to have the strongest conviction that climate change is real, and the Settlers show the greatest tendency to scepticism. Note though that this is a skew, it does not mean that all Settlers are sceptics but that they are disproportionately represented amongst the sceptics.

SP dont bel

Above: data from Spain for ‘climate change I don’t believe in it’ (2015).Strongly disagree at the top, strongly agree at the bottom.

At an index of 177, which takes into account the different sizes of the Maslow Groups, Settlers are 119% more likely than Pioneers to be strong sceptics [bottom row, ‘strongly agree’ with statement], while Pioneers in the top row [strongly disagree] are 56% more likely than Settlers to be strong ‘believers’. The same skews are seen in all the other countries.

5 c trend dont bel

The pink trend lines (above) shows the same axis from Pioneers to Settlers in each case, with Prospectors more ‘average’ in between. An index of 100 is average for a response across the whole sample, colours indicate significant departures from the average. Red indicates that the response is positively significant at 99%, orange at 97.5% and pale orange at 95% confidence. Blue indicates that the response is negatively significant at 99%, dark green at 97.5% and pale green at 95%.

Do you believe that the Earth’s climate is changing?

This question allows respondents to pick between five options which are alternatives rather than levels of conviction about the same statement. The actual choices were:

1 = “Yes, solid evidence – mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels.”

2 = “Yes, solid evidence – mostly because of natural patterns in the Earth’s environment.”

3 = “Mixed evidence, but I believe the Earth’s climate is changing.”

4 = “Mixed evidence – not sure that the Earth’s climate is actually changing.”

5 = “No, there is no evidence at all.”

hu causes table human causes graph

Spain is the country with the biggest number of people convinced that human-caused climate change is happening, followed by Italy, and then Germany, France and the UK. Nearly half of those surveyed in Germany think human made climate change is definitely happening as opposed selecting to the other options, and a majority do in Spain and Italy.

Less than 10% in the UK think nothing is happening, while in other countries it is under 5%.

In effect the intermediate options allow people to agree something is happening but to attribute all or part of it to ‘natural causes’, and to therefore deflect or deny the implication that they should do something. Such a response is intuitively most appealing to Settlers (and after them Prospectors) as they have a lower sense of self-agency than the Pioneers. In other words, they less feel that they can ‘do something about it’. Both this and the responses to the previous question are therefore unconsciously driven by a rationalisation of their expectation that they will or will not be able to change behaviour.

Here is the data on a ‘terrain map’. The colour key indicates level of agreement with the statement option, in this case UK data for:

Option 1 Yes, solid evidence – mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels.”

uk hu causes

There is a similar values pattern in each country (same question, same option) although the colours vary because the amount of people chosing this option varied (generally it is the Pioneers, particularly the Transcenders, and the Now People Prospectors who most share this conviction that human pollution is causing climate change):

4 c cl change hu cause

 

I’d Like My Next Car to Be An Electric One

e car

e car table

Electric vehicles will be an essential near-term step in eliminating fossil fuels in response to climate change.

Stated willingness to get an electric car is much higher in Italy and Spain than in other countries, although more also ‘agree’ than disagree in France. Strong willingness to get an electric car is notably low in Germany, which is interesting given the recent VW scandal. That was followed by calls on VW to make amends by marketing more electric cars (eg at this blog and then by Greenpeace). VW now says it will do so. It looks as if Germany might not be its best market !

It’s only worth doing environmentally-friendly things if they save you money.

worth doing graph

only worth

Politicians are always worried that people will say one thing and do another.   What if they have to trade off environmentally friendly for being better off ?

On this question, opinion is more divided in UK, Germany and France, although there is overwhelming rejection of the statement in Spain, which looks much ‘greener’. However there is no majority for ‘agreement’ – that being ‘environmentally-friendly’ is conditional on also saving money, in any country. [The Italian question was unfortunately asked slightly differently and cannot be compared but see also below]. In Germany, like Spain, a majority disagree with the statement.

Stricter environmental laws and regulations: worth the cost or cost too many jobs ?

env regs graph

stricter table

Given the possibility to opt for a positions on sliding scale of six points, opinion is quite widely spread in all countries. In all countries more people err towards the environment rather than jobs, in that more people select one of the top three options than the lower three options.

stricterThe UK (above) is the least enthusiastically green (total 54%) and Italy the most (77.5%). The UK is also the country with the least people opting for option 1, ie agreeing most that ‘stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost’, at 9.7%, whereas 25.3% say this in Italy.

When it comes to the opposite opinion, France is marginally the country with the most people stating strongly (option 6 on the slider) that ‘stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy’ (5.9%) followed by the UK at 5.2%), while only 1.7% share this view in Italy.   Overall, 46% of the people in the UK survey selected one of these three options, and only 22.5% in Italy.

In this question, we also see that Italy looks very like Spain, so many Italians would also probably reject the proposal in the previous question ‘It’s only worth doing environmentally-friendly things if they save you money’.   It appears that politicians in these countries have majority support for stricter environmental regulation.

Conclusions

From these survey questions it appears that:

  • VW may find Germany is not the best market for electric cars
  • Strong climate scepticism is now insignificant in these countries
  • Motivational Values strongly influence views about climate change: Pioneers have the strongest conviction, Settlers the weakest and Prospectors are most like the population average. And this occurs across all countries
  • Less than 10% in any country think there is no climate change happening and the percentage convinced it is due to human factors such as fossil fuels rather than a mix of human and natural causes, or natural causes or being unsure about causes, is greatest in Spain and Italy.
  • Stated willingness to get an electric car is much higher in Italy and Spain than in other countries, although more also ‘agree’ than disagree in France.   Strong willingness to get an electric car is notably low in Germany
  • Most people do not agree it’s only worth doing environmentally friendly things if it saves you money
  • In all countries more people err towards stricter environmental laws and regulations than rejecting this in favour of jobs
  • Politicians in these countries have majority support for stricter environmental regulation.

Thanks to Les Higgins and Pat Dade at CDSM for sharing these data. Contact: les@cultdyn.co.uk, website www.cultdyn.co.uk

 

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The Power of Doing

Last week I heard Craig Bennett, Director of Friends of the Earth (FoE, England and Wales) talking about the importance of the “power of doing” in campaigns. (He was at the Directory of Social Change Conference, ‘Campaigning and Lobbying in a Changing Political Landscape ‘ which I also spoke at on ‘Why Campaigning Matters’ *). Part of his new strategy for Friends of the Earth is to try to run more campaigns based on creating proof and example, rather than just being a policy advocate.

craig b

Craig Bennett

Bennett’s particular context was that with a Conservative government in England generally pretty hostile to what FoE is trying to achieve (see for instance this blog – and it’s not got any better since then), rather than doing the obvious and having a head-on fight with the government in Westminster, FoE should take opportunities to show change works by working with government in the regions and in Wales.

He is right of course and it is a principle that applies to many situations where the most powerful opponent facing you is also the most negative. Picking a fight there can attract a good deal of attention but it’s unlikely to be the most fruitful battlefront (see ‘Force Field Analysis’ p 137 in How to Win Campaigns). The point of campaigning should not be to show that your opponents are wrong but to get them to do what is right.

Force Field Analysis

In the current British situation, the English Government has proved itself retrograde on the environment. But thanks to devolution of some powers, Scotland and Wales are free to go their own way on some matters, and now have much more progressive policies on topics like renewable energy and waste.

An Opponent Boxed In

Bennett’s strategy also makes sense because the English Government is politically vulnerable. It has boxed itself in to a position in which it is vulnerable to campaigns. Lots of evidence shows that the positions taken by George Osborne, nominally the British Chancellor of the Exchequer but the de facto Prime Minister, are way out of step with public opinion on the environment. In other words the public, including most Conservative voters, are ‘greener’ than Osborne’s position, which he has largely adopted because he wants to out-flank the green-hating UKIP and its potential followers, on the far right wing. This plays well for Osborne on the politics of the EU where the Gvernment needs to win a promised referendum on membership but it is a hostage-to-fortune on many other issues.

Bennett pointed out that the tax on plastic bags, now also introduced in England, was first introduced in Wales. Opponents of the ban had forecast all sorts of problems with such a move but its success in Wales showed that these were groundless. Consequently the English Government had, eventually, to follow suit.

Likewise, many cities have ‘sustainability’ policies well ahead of anything pursued at a national level under Osborne’s leadership, and giving more powers to regions, and directly elected Mayors for cities, is part of Osborne’s agenda. This creates potential platforms for campaigns on topics like air pollution from traffic which have much greater resonance at a city-wide level than nationally, especially seeing as in England, Conservative Party support is strongly concentrated in rural and outer suburban areas.

In addition, as in every campaign, it is important to understand the psychology of the key decision maker. In this case although Osborne likes to position himself as a rightwing liberatrian (and the political Left help him in this) he is above all a pragamatist who wants to remain in step with what is popular. So for example, in 2011 his government executed its first big u-turn when it caved in to pressure from a campaign against the sale of part of the English Public Forest Estate (state owned forest). A true rightwing ideologue might have pursued it as a way to reduce the role of the State but seeing opposition from ‘Shire County Tories’ who love the woods to walk their dogs in, as well as 500,000 people who signed a 38 Degrees petition against it, he gave way.

Osborne speechLast week Osborne gave a major speech in Parliament on his ‘autumn statement’ setting out his spending plans. Reporting focussed on his u-turn on tax credits (mostly affecting poor families), an example of his pragmatism: his ideology said do this to move to a ‘low welfare’ state but he u-turned to be popular. He also cut spending on the environment, transport and other areas but was careful to include ‘protection of funding for our national parks and for our forests’.   The official version even includes a scripted joke about the proposed sell-off: “We’re not making that mistake again”.

If you wanted evidence that campaigning gets results, that’s it.

(Campaign evaluators should take note. So public an acknowledgement of an impact may be rare but you can often get such insights from private conversations with those who were the campaign ‘target’, or were close to them, especially if you do so through third parties).

Doing is More Convincing than Talking

As Craig Bennett also pointed out, there’s a more basic campaign truth here. Doing is a lot more convincing than talking. As he said, if back in the 1970s FoE had simply advocated recycling, very little would have happened but starting with the famous bottle action (which was in fact about re-use not recycling), the organisation got stuck into practical projects to implement recycling. I confess that as a student activist at the end of the 1970s, I helped collect newspapers for recycling around Aberystwyth in Wales. I seem to remember we had a horse and cart. Such ‘act locally think globally’ campaigns worked: showing they had public support led Local Councils to start proper recycling schemes.

Schhh poster

Moreover if you are first in the field, and by doing you become the go-to ‘experts’, it can give you something else very valuable. It gives you ‘primary property’, something which others such as the media, can only get from you.

The Zero Sum Game on ‘Doing’ For Politicians

The dilemma for ‘neo-liberal’ politicians like Osborne, who want government to do less, is that they also want to command the public stage when it suits them as the voice of authority on what can and can’t be done, and what can and can’t work. Yet the less government actually does, such as running things like public services or building infrastructure or regulating to protect public goods, and the more it hands over delivery to the market or voluntary sector, the less ‘power of doing’ it has.

Even if it still regulates to create ‘frameworks’ for delivery by others, the more arms-length that becomes, the more ‘power of doing’ it loses.

It’s a zero-sum-game that politicians hate to acknowledge and their response is usually to try to avoid talking about those areas, or to give the symbolic impression that they are still hands-on. Hence George Osborne’s increasingly comical enthusiasm for being seen in “high visibility” work jackets and a hard hat at engineering works, while at the same time doing almost nothing directly to boost British manufacturing (and putting thousands of people out of work in the engineering-intensive renewable energy sector).

This creates a structural campaign opportunity for anyone who is actually doing stuff that shows what’s possible, and if it also shows what’s popular, democratic politicians find it very hard to resist any demand to do likewise.  It’s hard work but it is a way to force something onto a government agenda that the government politicians did not want to be there.

(Campaigners interested in visual language should see this gallery of Osborne in high vis jackets compiled by The Independent newspaper. I predict these have become a liability and will soon stop. If not we may see one of Osborne with a high-vis wearing Guide Dog for the Blind as his press office must be running out of new opportunities for high-vis photo opp’s).

*For a version of my talk on ‘Why Campaigning Matters’ see Why Campaigning Matters txt Chris Rose 27 11 15 for DSC blog ver

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Small Businesses Start To Campaign Against TTIP

update 25 11 15

Martina Römmelt-Fella is a Bavarian engineering boss and leader of an initiative of small and medium sized businesses critical of TTIP.  She cites lack of control on cancer pesticide pesticide Captan,  allowing GM in dairy feed and lactic acid treatment of beef as indicative of the EU already trading away its standards in negotiations with US on TTIP. Read Euractive magazine article ‘SMEs Want A TTIP Rethink’.

 

Römmelt-Fella calls for a “reboot” of the TTIP negotiations and says: ” We’ve come up with a checklist of things that should be guaranteed, including transparency, standards and democratic processes.  The response has been enormous, especially given that businesses are not often the ones who criticise this type of agreement”.

SMEs want rethink article Euractiv

update 24 11 15

An English language version of the Veblen Institute report on the potential impact of TTIP on small businesses in France is now available online here.

updated 19 11 15

We all know that many civil society campaigners are concerned about the secrecy surrounding TTIP (the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), and oppose the undemocratic ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) mechanisms but according to the European Commission, TTIP will anyway be great news for small businesses.

For instance, on 11 November an article in the French Basta magazine entitled ‘More and More of Europe’s SME Bosses Are Turning Against The Free Trade Deal, TTIP’ , noted that European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström has said “We know that smaller firms and the communities they operate in stand to be among the biggest winners from this deal”. ‘She is’, wrote Rachel Knaebel of Basta, ‘pulling out all the stops to convince Europe’s small and medium-sized enterprises of the benefits of the transatlantic free trade agreement, known as TTIP’.

Only many small businesses are not convinced. Some of them have started to campaign, which for time-pressed small businesses, is quite a big thing.  Here are some examples:

Germany

de ttip instigators

http://www.kmu-gegen-ttip.de/ – some of the campaign starters

In Germany, small and medium-sized enterprises have now launched their own anti-TTIP campaign, called ‘KMU gegen TTIP’ (‘SMEs Against TTIP’). The instigating firms (Fella Maschinenbau GmbH, Brauerei Clemens Härle KG, Egovision GmbH, Ulrich Walter GmbH/Lebensbaum, Velokonzept GmbH) are calling for ‘a fact-based discussion of the issues’ including the possible disadvantages and risks. A website www.kmu-gegen-ttip.de was launched in August and as of 16 November over 1700 companies have joined them.

Dr Katharina Reuter of the German Federation of Green Businesses (http://www.unternehmensgruen.org/en ) says ‘small enterprises are under-represented in lobby discussions on TTIP being held by the EU Commission. These discussions are led by major corporates – who in turn are trying to dictate the terms. German SMEs are obliged to be members of the openly pro-TTIP IHK (German Chamber of Commerce and Industry) but business people in Germany often feel their views are not being heard. The IHK’s pro-TTIP lobbying work simply ignores the views of companies that oppose TTIP. For our SMEs it’s important to know what really is in TTIP’.

Austria

fashion leaders

Businesses from fashion companies to farmers have signed up in Austria

In Austria, a much smaller country, more than two thousand SMEs ranging from IT companies to clothing, food and logistics businesses, have signed a similar protest petition at http://www.kmu-gegen-ttip.at . Lisa Muhr, who manages a small fashion business in Austria, with 23 staff started the petition in June. She told Basta: “Political leaders in Austria first claimed that TTIP would lead to economic growth and create jobs. When studies started to show that this was not necessarily the case, the politicians then claimed that the deal would be good for SMEs. At that point I felt like I was being taken for a fool”.

Austrian campaigner and economist Alexandra Strickner points out that it is not just the ‘usual suspects’ of ‘progressive’ campaign groups or left-wingers who have concerns in Austria. To the alarm of politicians still supporting TTIP, the avowed TTIP-sceptics now also include over 200 farmers: www.bauern-und-baeuerinnen-gegen-ttip.at.   Strickner says:

“In Vorarlberg, the Wirtschaftsparliament of the WKÖ (Chamber of Commerce) (the ‘Economic Parliament’ which exists in all nine Austrian provinces) has voted in favour or the proposal of kmu gegen ttip that the wkö should conduct a study to looks into both the opportunities AND RISKS of TTIP.   All those parliaments are dominated by members who are affiliated with representatives from the group of Conservatives. In the Vorarlberger Wirtschaftsparlament, several conservative group delegates openly spoke out against ttip and voted for the KMU gegen TTIP proposal”.

Netherlands

Freek Bersch points out that a similar SME campaign has been started in the Netherlands, attracting over 300 signatories.

Nlds campaign sme

 

Ondernemers Van Nu say: ‘as entrepreneurs we are not in favour of TTIP’  The organisation calls for a ‘sustianable economy’ and states ‘Recent decades have shown that trade agreements provide for elimination of social and environmental legislation.  The ‘non-tariff barriers”.

Why Businesses Are Campaigning

It hardly needs saying that SMEs are not natural campaigners. Small businesses tend to be conservative and focused on the immediate factors which impact on doing business. On the face of it TTIP is remote and the case for it is usually put in macro-economic terms but as soon as you look at the details of what TTIP involves, it becomes much more visible in terms that could well impact on SMEs.

Campaigners and critics point out that the official economic case that TTIP will create overall economic benefits in Europe rests on the assumption that a lot of trade currently conducted within Europe will get converted into trade with the US but this ‘trade diversion’ could have a large negative impact on SMEs, while benefitting some large corporations (eg German car exporters like VW).   Likewise, analysis of existing ISDS provisions suggests that it is large not small firms who will both qualify to use them and, be able to afford to do so. Similarly, the “regulatory convergence” provisions are likely to be influenced by big firm lobbying and do away with many health, environmental and local-first procurement policies which have mainly benefited small companies rather than large multi-nationals.

On top of this, if TTIP opens up European markets to big American companies with lower labour costs and environmental standards, American brands and corporates could penetrate EU markets leading to what one British critic has called “cultural convergence” – a loss of distinctive European regional and local business cultures with strong ties to local communities and tradition, in favour of American chains, with an irreversible loss of diversity and quality of life. This aspect of TTIP has been hardly investigated at all.

The overall effect of TTIP on the business structure of Europe seems likely to be a ratchet of competition favouring large companies over small, with the progressive extinction of many of the latter, even though SMEs make up more than half of all EU business and employment.

France

veblen report

In October, Mathilde Dupré at the Veblen Institute in Paris published a 23 page Report on TTIP and SMEs called ‘A transatlantic treaty: at what cost to SMEs?’ It states that the commercial benefits of tariff cuts and harmonization of standards will ‘certainly benefit the 0.7% of French and European SMEs that export to the United States’.But ‘the value of goods and services exported by them represents less than 2% of the added value produced by all SMEs’. She asks ‘What about the effects for 99.3% of SMEs that do not export transatlantic?’

Dupré argues:‘the most optimistic macroeconomic results of impact used by the European Commission related studies have very low earnings growth over the long term ( or 0.05% per annum for the next ten years).An alternative Tufts University study provides instead a decline in exports and the European GDP (-1.19% and -0.48% respectively for France over ten years)’. Plus: ‘The anticipated erosion of intra-European and other third countries generated by the influx of cheap goods and services from the United States could destabilize the majority of European SMEs whose activities primarily targeting domestic and neighbouring markets.The European Union is indeed the preferred destination of exports of French SMEs with 66% of flows’.

She notes that: ‘According to the study by the Bertelsmann Foundation, trade flows between France and Germany could well decrease by about 23% and 36% between Britain and France’.

Dupré told Basta:for a year now the European Commission has been banking on the support of SMEs to bolster the pro-treaty camp. Whenever it can, the Commission advances the benefits promised to SMEs”   Knaebel wrote: ‘Herein lies a problem for neo-liberals: the European Commission’s new communications strategy resonates less and less with Europe’s SME bosses. An increasing number of them are becoming more sceptical or even squarely opposed to the free trade agreement’.

Middle England ?

In a post earlier this year I wrote about the possibility that Britain’s celebrated political segment ‘White Van Man’ (WVM) might lose out as a result of TTIP, and sure enough UKIP, the spiritual home of many WMVs, has come out as TTIP-sceptical, becoming strange bedfellows with left of centre TTIP critics such as 38 Degrees. But all that is tangled up in the parallel debates about the upcoming British referendum on staying in or leaving the EU.

So could a similar business uprising start in the ‘nation of shopkeepers’ ? Possibly. One of the liveliest social movements current in ‘Middle England’ (a psychological and social rather than a geographic category) is the localist ‘Totally Locally’.

In a brilliant piece of campaigning it seems that a tv producer has convinced a gaggle of SMEs running Totally Locally-Crickhowell (Crickhowell is a small Welsh town), to launch an innovative tax-revolt against the UK government. They are angered by policies which allow mega-companies like Amazon to utilise offshore tax havens and pay little or no UK tax while they, the ‘butchers, bakers and candlestick makers’, have to pay their fair share. Or they did until ‘led by traders including the town’s salmon smokery, local coffee shop, book shop, optician and bakery’ got together, hired their own accountants and set up their own offshore tax shelter scheme. It’s all perfectly legal and agreed with the British tax authorities. As The Independent says, it ‘could spread nationwide’. One wonders what they would do if they realised the implications of TTIP ?

(Footnote: of course ‘tax responsibility’ is not part of the TTIP discussion. But an ISDS mechanism could be used by Multi-Nationals against any country that introduced tax reforms to make big corporations pay their fair share of tax. So TTIP might indeed undermine current efforts in the fight against tax avoidance.  Disclosure: I am doing some work with MORE, a project to encourage responsibility in trade agreements in Europe – website coming soon !)

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VW Digs Hole Deeper: What Campaigners Should Do

Amazingly, VW is managing to dig itself into an even deeper hole.  So deep that perhaps campaigners are losing sight of it altogether ?  Tonight a British Conservative MP declared that VW ‘deserves to suffer damage‘.  Politicians know that the time to kick something safely is when it’s “down”, and VW is unpopular, not-British and, conveniently (given the Conservative’s position in Europe) German.  And it’s shares are plunging.  What a gift.

vw logo passed

So what we have here is a rare example of a gift for any campaign where the opponent is, or is at all similar to, VW.  For example on TTIP where transnational corporations like VW stand to gain most.  Or on climate change where the fossil-fuel-getting and using- industries are the main obstacle, united in what Mrs Thatcher once called “The Great Car Economy”.  And on every campaign around the world for cleaner city air, where any part of the car lobby is a problem.  I’m surprised the campaigners are not making more of it.

A few days ago a VW executive appeared in the US Congress and tried to blame a ‘couple of rogue’ engineers for the problem. He also claimed to ‘feel personally deceived‘.  Not exactly taking responsibility.  Before the British Parliament today, VW apologized to car buyers and MPs but it seems, still not to the breathing public.  No clean up of the damage (to air and health), no commitment to go electric, as I argued in the previous blog to this one.

VW do not seem to have learnt anything from previous corporate scandals.  Take the 1995 Brent Spar campaign.  After that Shell declared that they needed to find their ‘social licence to operate’.  VW don’t seem to have noticed that they’ve lost theirs.

Following that campaign (because I worked at Greenpeace) I got asked many times why the public were so outraged at Shell’s plan to offload 14,000 tonnes of its junk into the ocean.  I tried to sumarise it in this “Brent Spar Scale”:

Slide2

Until it was too late, Shell went on arguing that they had the necessary permissions from the UK Government so the ‘dump’ was ok.  Greenpeace argued it was gross and the public agreed with them.  Just being legal was more or less irrelevant, particularly as many of the public felt that somewhere along the line, secretive corporate lobbying of governments had probably made the relevant rules so weak as not to really be in the public interest.  Today it is likely that many more people feel that way.

It’s no coincidence that some of Jeremy Corbyn ‘s supporters have taken to twitter to point out that he has no known friends in the lobbying business, nor come to that, in large corporations.  Conventional political pundits do not seem to have understood that while this ‘unworldy’ profile may make him look unfit to govern if the role of government is to please corporations, it is a popular “breath of fresh air” to the many who don’t want government to be like that.

In the above ‘scale’, being ‘less good’ than other companies is worse than being illegal, and above that not doing something you should (output failure) and above that being incompetent but the real damage starts nearer the top.  Complacency – not seeming to care – is much worse, and here VW don’t seem to care about the breathing public, only their own reputation and car buyers.  Otherwise why aren’t they talking about cleaning up the air and making amends for damage to health, and going electric ?

Of course in this scandal VW started at ‘Defcon 2’, being deceitful, and with the consequences at Defcon 1: creating massive air pollution, at its worst in the places closest to victims like young children in buggies on city streets clogged with cars.  VW now seems intent on anchoring itself there, pleading only that it is also incompetent (not having noticed what was going on), something that industry experts do not seem to believe.

Actions not words are the only hope for VW.

Campaigners should not let VW sink from sight under a huge wave of public opprobrium.  They should make sure that public alignment is focused on the decisions that now really matter, such as where VW stands on TTIP and stronger or weaker regulation in Europe, and whether VW will drop diesel and petrol engines and go electric.  Soon.

If they are sharp, they may even manage to push a few other deserving cases into the hole VW have dug.

 

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Emissions Cheating : What VW Should Do Next

vw logo passed

It’s a fair bet that VW HQ has recently been teeming with lawyers and ‘reputation recovery consultants. ‘CAR’ is the conventional post-disaster communications advice for corporations (indeed for anyone), and it stands for:

Concern

Action

Reassurance

in that order.

So, it’s first convincingly show real concern and understanding of the damage you’ve done. Second, explain and more importantly show the action you are taking. Third, explain how this will avoid it ever happening again.

It’s important to get this sequence right.  A sure sign of getting it back to front is to try and start with ‘reassurance’ as in, “to put this in perspective, this is the first such problem in over 50 years” or “all cars sold before [date] were not affected”. At least VW didn’t do that but overall it’s not done a great job.

VW certainly sounded honestly sorry but mainly sorry for itself. A VW Board Member acknowledged criminality had taken place and the company moved quickly to sack some executives (good in PR terms). It has also spoken clearly about a loss of trust but that really only states the obvious. It has yet to get to the significant stuff, and campaigners should make sure it does get there and the story doesn’t just become a long wait for litigation and criminal proceedings.

“What happens next?” asked an article on the VW scandal in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. The answer wasVW has offered to fix affected models and expects to start the recall in January 2016. It is facing investigations in over a dozen countries as well as lawsuits from motorists.’

It’s important that recalls and investigations are not all that happens.

The Breathing Public

So far the only actions VW has promised seem to be aimed at customers and shareholders: product recall and the like. VW seems to want to reassure customers and rebuild trust but it’s the Breathing Public rather than the car-buying public it needs to make amends with.

It’s time for some Restorative Justice for people and the environment. Here’s my suggestion for what VW should do, or be made to do.

  1. Clean Up The Air

Calculations should be made of the total additional air pollution created as a result of VWs cheating. VW should then change its cars so that ‘pollution debt’ is paid off in the same time period that it arose in, or sooner. So X million tonnes of NOX debt created over N years should be paid off by making cars X million tonnes cleaner in N years or less going forwards, by retrofitting them and/or by replacing them with much cleaner cars.

In theory there are also ways to suck NOX from the atmosphere and clean it up. Those would be fine too. Expensive ? Probably but VW should pay.

  1. Health Reparations

Of course the above actions would not bring back the lives of people VW has killed. A few attempts have already been made to model or guesstimate those.

An ‘indicative calculation’ by Greenpeace’s Energy Desk suggests 700 – 1400 deaths each year based on a health impact assessment methodology used by the European Union, ‘due to increased risk of chronic diseases from air pollution such as cardiovascular diseases, strokes and ischaemic heart disease’.

In America, Vox reports that ballpark figures using data from the Environmental Protection Agency suggest ‘the extra pollution from Volkswagen’s US cars can be expected to lead to an additional 5 to 27 premature deaths per year’.   A calculation run for Associated Press reported in International Business Times suggested ‘the emissions violations caused somewhere between 16 and 94 deaths in the US since 2008, with the total cost to society as high as $170m (£112m; €151m)’.

VW should do something proportionate to show it cares about human health and the environment, not just car sales. It should sit down with health groups and the councils of towns and cities and work with them to finance health programmes. How much should it invest ? At least as much as the profit it made from selling the offending vehicles.

Once it is locked into doing the two things above, VW can start to rebuild public trust. There’s one very obvious way to do this (see below).

  1. Go Electric: Abandon the Internal Combustion Engine

VW already sells electric cars. Not many yet but it apparently has plans to offer 20 electric models in China in the “near future”, according to VW Board Member Jochem Heizmann.

VW should stop making diesel and petrol cars (and vans) and go all electric, not only in China but everywhere. By 2020 would be a reasonable commitment, in line with its Chinese plans, and soon enough to show it really means business.

Of course electric cars need to run on renewable energy to be non-polluting and they need a charging infrastructure. VW should invest in both.

In surveys run for Greenpeace since 2011 we found 64.4% of Indians, 61.8% of Brazilians and 31.5% of Americans agreed “I’d like my next car to be an electric one”. The VW scandal makes this even more likely. We’ve got to get rid of fossil fuels anyway. The only sensible move for VW is to try and take the lead over other car majors and go all electric.

Conclusion

The VW scandal is a disaster on many dimensions that has already pushed ‘environment’ up social and political agendas. It is also therefore an opportunity to catalyse and – if it’s not an inappropriate term – turbo-charge environmental improvement, to put new energy and resources into cleaning up our cities and countryside, into cutting environmental pollution, cutting health costs and thus improving lives and economies.

Campaign groups may be tempted to just sit back let the VW scandal run its course. After all VW has ‘ticked every box’ in the scandal equation and litigation is inevitable. But that would be a mistake.

The social gains that can be made will not be realised if VW is allowed to ‘make provisions’ in its accounts, to hunker down until media attention disspiates, and to wait for its share price to start moving up again. VW may not change. The Gulf Oil Spill didn’t fundamentally change BP. Yet we do need to change the global car industry, just as the oil industry needs to be phased out.

The back story to the VW disaster is of course deeply political. Governments knew but didn’t want to know, so until the US EPA intervened, they did nothing. Governments like the UK have grown used to handing over power to corporations like VW and the car industry, in this case effectively allowing them to regulate themselves (the UK has no on-road tests and relies on a testing body 70% funded by car-makers: for more see the Transport and Environment website).

It’s the same idea, seeing the role of government as little more than acting as custodians of a National Business Park, which leads them to support proposals like the EU’s ‘Better Regulation Initiative’, which when translated from EU-speak, means a plan for weaker regulation of business and weaker social and environmental protections.   As the protective net gets ever more threadbare, more cases of corporate bad behaviour will slip through it.

Likewise TTIP, which if passed will put corporations in the driving seat, making the rules to suit them, rather than in the public interest.

The VW disaster is an an unmistakable warning of the consequences of this sort of privatisation of policy making. Let corporations write the rules and there won’t be any more VW scandals, because the emission standards will be set to those they know they can meet without cheating.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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”.

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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   chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk

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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: www.devbattles.com  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 chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk

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