Sunday, 3 October 2010

On 10:10 and "No Pressure"

The 10:10 campaign, set up to persuade people and organisations to commit to cutting their carbon emissions by 10% by the end of 2010, has shot itself in both feet.

No Pressure, their latest mini-film, tried to push climate change back into the headlines in a way that made people laugh. Produced by Richard Curtis (Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral), the mini-film contains four scenarios in which people who do not make pledges to reduce emissions are blown up by committed carbon campaigners, scattering their blood and bits across the faces and clothing of classmates, workmates and friends.

Bill McKibben, the American environmental campaigner writer and founder of 350.org, has called the film disgusting, distasteful and depressing. I think that Curtis was trying to be ironic and amusing, but the film failed miserably on both counts. The end result was ghastly and boring.

10:10 have pulled the film and said sorry. But they’ve seriously damaged their credibility and handed their (/our) opponents some powerful ammunition. Sure enough, The Daily Telegraph’s James Delingpole has denounced this latest example of “eco-fascism” and slammed what he perceives as the dark heart and intolerance of “the environmental movement”.

I appreciate that this opportunity was too good for a provocative columnist like James Delingpole to pass up. But let’s stop and ask: just what is “the environmental movement” in 2010? “The environmental movement” encompasses NGOs like Greenpeace Friends of the Earth and WWF-UK and campaigns like 350.org . . . and 10:10. It also covers think tanks like Forum for the Future, Green Alliance and E3G and commentators and campaigners like George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Jonathon Porritt.

But then the “environmental movement” might be business organisations like the Climate Group, the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy, or the Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme. Or the OECD Environment Directorate. Or merchant banks like Climate Change Capital.

This list, by no means exhaustive, captures a wide variety of drivers, agendas, ideologies, policies, strategies and tactics, from “deep greens” to “environmental citizneship”, “environmental justice”, “eco-feminism”, and “ecological modernisation” and much else. An inept film from one campaign proves nothing about all the strands and streams of modern “environmentalism”. It tells us rather a lot, however, about the judgment of those running 10:10.

So, should 10:10 pack up and go home? I think not. Individuals should be encouraged to “make a difference”. In his 2009 book A Blueprint for a Safer Planet, Nicholas Stern discusses “the power of the example” and shows that the annual emissions of greenhouse gases for a typical European lifestyle are, per person, around 10-12 tonnes, the most significant contributors to which come from heating homes, using electrical appliances and travel by car and air. He says that in the UK, the average household can save around 1.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually by making their home more energy efficient.

Campaigns like 10:10 can engage people in tackling what is surely the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced. Over time, they can also help to build a public consensus behind some of the difficult and potentially costly (in the short term) measures that are going to be needed (such as consumer levies for renewable energies or even higher power prices to pay for new investment). Campaigns like 10:10 can put pressure on their governments to take the decisive action that is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But where personal targets are used, they should be clear and long term in nature, with incentives and enablers available (which is what the Green Deal is supposed to be about). And if people set themselves targets, they need to be able to verify the savings. For me, this has been where 10:10 has always come up short.

More urgently, 10:10 needs to re-think its communications strategies. In recent years, some of us have tried to work out more effective ways to inspire public support for shifting to a low carbon economy. New perspectives – and not a small number of debates - have been opened up, on having a positive and compelling vision, communicated with emotionally resonant stories and frames, by credible messengers. [Click here, here, here and here].

The real tragedy of “No Pressure” is that, for all its attempts at irony, the film preached to us, with a negative message and a ‘doomsday’ frame, all sure-fire ways to push people away. This debacle could so easily have been avoided.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley's posterous

2 comments:

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biofreshblog said...

Thanks for an interesting blog - we agree that idea of framing issues is becoming increasingly useful in understanding science communication. It's interesting how the film-makers the choice of a provocative, fear-based message has backfired so spectacularly.

We've also blogged (here: http://tinyurl.com/38fhp58) about how the 10: 10 video illustrates an interesting wider debate in environmental communication - whether crisis/fear based environmental messages (like the this video) are useful in changing public perceptions and behaviours; or whether subtler hope-based messages are more effective? Perhaps such messages of worry may attract the attention of politicians and policy makers but turn off regular people, tired by 'doom and gloom' environmentalism?