Time To Stop Playing Along

When I was asked to review a chunk of the 2008 Climate Safety report from the Public Interest Research Centre, I was less than positive about the social movement building outlined in the recommendations for “mobilisation” of the public (see below).

Tim Holmes, one of the people involved in the Climate Safety report, has started a new web log critiquing the very same issues :-



It really is time to stop playing along with the social manipulation that we are all being subjected to.

Don’t bother to march in the streets or swoop on a power station unless being on telly and the risk of getting banged up in prison gives you some kind of thrill.

Grassroots “direct action” or any other kind of “mass mobilisation” will never achieve what is required.

Demand leadership from your leaders, because they won’t be following you.


Climate Safety : “Action – Mobilising public will”

How can this logjam be broken? For a number of reasons, mobilising public will is crucial in creating the impetus for change. While governments can and often do pursue policies in the face of public opposition, this tends to require the backing of other powerful interests and sectors, particularly of business and the media. In the case of climate change, however, such sectors tend to present obstacles to government action. Nonetheless, as we have seen in the case of such issues as GM food, sufficient public opposition can succeed in overcoming such influence. Governments can also successfully win round public opinion to new policies by taking risks. The depth and scale of the change required, however, are likely to have a marked and readily-discernible impact on the day-to-day lives of citizens, making clear public backing a necessity.

There is some compelling evidence that, in the absence of such backing, governments feel sharply constrained. Al Gore, for instance, while acting as a strident voice for change in the public arena, has, in a step that many find deeply counter-intuitive, turned down the offer of a place in the US Government. Instead, he is using his political platform to help build a broad popular mobilisation, countering the vested interests that he himself acknowledges prevented any effective action during his previous term in office.303 In the UK, Greenpeace Director John Sauven remarks that “[Gordon] Brown will say to you, he’s said to me before: ‘What are you doing to mobilise the public? Why aren’t you getting the public on board? Why aren’t you opening up the political space?’” Both of these examples attest to the same fact: mobilising public support will be crucial in creating the conditions for strong and swift government action…

JOABBESS.COM responds :-

It is very hard to gauge the extent of “public will” and “public opinion”. MORI polls just don’t do it. Participation in public consultations don’t do it. Voting doesn’t do it. You need to have “customer” participation in some way, some “consumption” of either media or products.

In the current version of democracy, there is no way that the public can be effectively “mobilised”, unless they are asked to “consume” something.

So-called Climate Change “communications”, with all that stonkingly huge (not) funding from the Government, paid no attention to “consumption” of the message, or any by-product of that consumption.

Most people view “mobilisation” as some form of direct action, demonstration, protest or postcard writing campaign, or signing up to pay £2 a month to a charity.

I’ve been on enough Government-sanctioned rallies and marches and police-permitted protests to know this is a dupe, a sop, to sentiment for placard-waving, which actually achieves nothing.

I’ve taken part in enough “consultations” and other events to know that nobody listens to you when you try to express your will as a member of the public.

Please don’t use the word “mobilise” unless you say what people are being mobilised to do.

Also, can you please describe Gore’s own understanding of what “mobilisation” means ? The UK frame is very different from the US one. There, they understand what “mobilisation” means. Here in the UK, “mobilisation” is too easily confused with “mobbing”…it follows that any kind of “mobilisation” of the public is effectively useless in the UK in particular.

The reality is that there are too many contrary voices for the Government to be able to “hear” properly, and certainly too many styles to be able to “respond” effectively to the right groups.

That’s principally because there is no channel for the public “opposition”. It’s all grumbling and whingeing from the “outside”. And what is so “sustained” and serious about this “opposition” ? It looks pretty thin, actually. Just something for people to moan about. How can this opposition be turned into something concrete ?

The media are basically ignorant of public opinion on many issues. This is not manipulation, it’s just sloppiness, and laziness to continue with failed narratives that no longer bear any resemblance to reality.

So who’s driving this here ? The Government ? Are the Government leading here ? In which case, why should the Public bother to try and get involved ?

Ed Miliband wants us to show good faith with his new Department, for example. Should we just roll over and wait for our tummies to be tickled ? Is there not something to oppose in what the DECC are offering ? Should we take a position of opposition and negativity ?

If something’s right to do : like insulate every home, then it should be done. There should be no consideration of anyone’s sensitivities, eh ? In every other area of public policy, the Government steamroller through, so why not on this too ?

What on Earth do you mean by “mobilising public support” in this context ? Placard-waving, postcard campaigns ? Surely not. How does the public show its support for Government action in this context of Climate Emergency ? Climate Change policy is not something that is being put to the vote here.

This is in danger of just being socio-political spiel, sorry to say. What is “public pressure” in this context ? Would not a group of around 50 highly networked individuals be sufficient to constitute an effective lobby ? Why do we need 5,000,000 people ? What are we asking them to do to create something we can all recognise as “public pressure” ?

It’s all very well “communicating”, but people need to be encouraged to DO SOMETHING after they have been communicated to. But the only way to demonstrate “public support” for Climate policies is to get the electorate to BUY SOMETHING. We are constrained to continue to use marketing techniques.

Haven’t we seen the back of the idea that “voluntary behaviour change” can be effective ? Only 20% of people have made somewhere in the region of 20% of changes in their own lives. That’s only 4% change overall.

I don’t think it matters what polls say. What matters is the opinions and actions of the policymakers. It’s not the analysis of the general population that counts, but the thoughts and actions of the policymakers.

The “political will” required only needs to be in the policymakers, really. If the other sectors agree, that’s only to the good, but it’s not essential. However, we might be able to trip decision-making in our favour if we “tickle” the other sectors, so that they start chattering about the issues. Such chattering does trickle upwards, but fairly unpredictably.

Forget moving the public imperceptible step by imperceptible step. Just go for the eco-fascist jugular : Enforce home insulations for 100% of the population. Do it by giving a time period of grace, followed by a fine for using too much Energy etc.

People are as they do, so I don’t see how “voluntary behaviour change” is any different from “core values”. There is no one clearly defined set of “values at the heart of our society”. That’s George W. Bush speak.

We don’t have “values” as a “society”. We’re all different, and although marketing men can tell you which categories we fall into, generally speaking, our consumption habits are not our “values”. Some people don’t even have any recognisable “values”…There is no “we”. We are not a single, united nation etc.

I don’t think “drawing the whole society into dialogue on the nature of the emergency” will have any discernible effect unless it provokes changes in policy, new laws, measures, instruments, and even short-term taxation. Again, what are you asking people to “mobilise” to do ?

Consultation, consultation, consultation. The Government doesn’t listen to what people say to them, so what’s the point ?

I think that there is no time for consultation. If the Government are advised correctly about what to do, they should do it and drag the people along with them. The “communications” should be happening after the fact. The leaders should lead…“stakeholders” ? “process” ? What’s the point ? We need leadership. Bold decision-making. Not a chat in the pub.

Who needs convincing of what here ? A People’s TV Parliament would be a nice-to-have, but it won’t engender change. Change comes from regulation, laws, orders, budgets and decisions.

Public trust is a must, but silly conflicting policies and rubbish consultations have broken trust. Ignoring “the will of the people on the streets” over the Iraq Incursion has really put the nail in the coffin of public trust of Government.

We do need to have joined-up thinking in Government. How can we get this ? Do we rather need to educate the Government rather than the people ?

So, will Ed Miliband be given any teeth, then ? And what kind of teeth will they be ?

What’s wrong with commercialisation ? Even Carbon is now a commodity. (Detect the tongue in cheek ?) The only problem with commercials is the consumption it engenders. If the consumption could be Zero Carbon consumption, then that would be OK, surely ?

The Media are just the tail on the dog and just feed off Government policies. New dog. New wagging. What I mean is, change the policy direction of the Government and the Media will follow along nicely like an imprinted newborn duckling (new animal metaphor).

If you aim to “reform” the Media, that could be seen as unnecessary interference, “draconian”, even, to use media-speak. But what about syndicating an authoritative Climate Change column, written by experts, and basically arm-wrestle the newspapers into carrying it ?

That should solve the problem of “first taste” – in other words getting the Press to excite hunger for knowledge amongst the populace – who would then Go Ogle for more. I’m sure people don’t really read full two-page Climate Change exposés in “serious” newssheets unless they’re paid to…

The Media [and the Non-Governmental Organisations] need to suckle the Government, so they would hardly try to hold it to account. You can’t create a functional Media from the current one, so there’s no point in trying. It would be unwise to go for a Government Media thing : too Big Brother.

I think that the Media should be forced to trail along with whatever good decisions come out of Government. The Media will play the tune of the client if they can see the client turning the page.

Who’s to say what is “politically feasible” from now on ? I think we should challenge that notion.

Getting more public commentators on the same hymnsheet would be a useful thing. However, Climate Change conferences are still too cliquey and sectoral… How about online discussion, blogging from experts (not random members of the public, and not hand-picked by the BBC) ?

And if the current public commentators do not dare to risk their careers etc, then we need to somehow carve out a space for new public commentators who ARE prepared to take risks.

I think there needs to be a strong emphasis on the IT’S HAPPENING NOW narrative, and document the changes that are already taking place, in order to “actualise” Climate Change and BRING IT HOME (to roost)…Climate Change is ALREADY HAPPENING. There is plenty of scope for pointing at Climate Change IN THE HERE AND NOW.

Focussing too much on the negative impacts of Climate Change has come to dominate the mindspace. Obviously, because of the scepticism and denial, it’s been essential to convince people that there are real problems with Global Warming, and that Climate Change is real and happening. The solutions angle has slipped off every agenda until recently. Now I think it’s time to balance every negative message with a positive solution.

[On the Apollo Mission metaphor] please realise that the UK didn’t put men on the moon. It’s an “alter-cultural achievement” that I think it would be best not to adopt. We need something more gritty, more British to evoke, and not just our response to the Second World War : “Dig for Victory” etc.

For most people, I think the “happiness quotient” research is really esoteric. They’re not doing “philosophical discussion”. They’re too busy and too stressed. All most people are concerned with is (a) How much they will have to pay in taxes or consumer goods prices and (b) How bad will the situation get.

Why not call us “activists” and drop the military word “campaigner” ? A “campaign” involves placard waving and angry moods. A “community activist” is a warm and cuddly person growing root vegetables at home, helping a mate fit DIY window insulation and wearing home-made jumpers.

The self-reflection implied…doesn’t really happen. The public don’t really sway the Government. We need the Government to make and enforce decisions, even “tough” decisions, but based on expert evidence, not highly paid industrial consultancies.

[On calls for grassroots “civil disobedience” and “direct action”] I have a really hard time understanding which laws are appropriate to disobey in order to be effective. Sitting around a coal-fired power station does not strike me as illegal or even challenging any particular civil code.

I have come to a position where I disagree with mass actions. That’s not because they’re mostly pointless, and don’t last very long. It’s because they’re not really “civil disobedience”, but rather, a form of media-grabbing. Breaking the law is different to having a minor skirmish with the Police whilst trying to enter Parliament en masse (what for, pray ?)

In the case of coal-fired electricity, REFUSING TO USE ELECTRICITY would be the appropriate disobedience, surely ? To NOT CONSUME would seem to be illegal, given all the Trade Laws and commercialisation of Energy. Maybe issuing PowerDown Orders to businesses and Government Departments ? Taking people to court for wasting Energy, like the major electricity generators ?

Civil disobedience in a so-called democracy is quite hard to define clearly for me. We have laws about Energy, Climate Change, Health and Safety, Pollution. We would wish to implement these laws, not break them. Pricing Carbon is not, and will not ever be, an effective policy to control Carbon. Carbon Trading is not, and will not ever be, an efficient policy to control Carbon. What we need is RATIONING. That entails enhancement of the law, not breaking it.

Given enough young people willing to skirmish with the Police, [and given productive, peaceful dialogue with the Police] and given enough organisation, you could create a lot more safe, media-friendly “actions”. But the Government will only move as slowly as it wants to. It’s not actually reacting to the “actions”. It may refer to the “actions”, but they’re not changing the speed of decisions or changes in policy direction.

I don’t agree [to calls for mass mobilisation]. And that’s not because I’m some kind of secret Police person trying to quell unrest. I honestly think that small groups of highly motivated individuals engaged in “direct action” have more impact than thousands of people at events or marches or conferences. There’s no point in committing an arrestable offence if you can’t get a message across, and I can’t think of a good reason to break the law myself, and I wouldn’t ask anybody else to, either.

The real influence however, must come from personal interaction with the policymakers and briefholders. As a group of activists, we need to engage personally with the Ministers and officials of Government in order to effect changes in the direction of policy. We need to forge these channels of communication so as to engender trust in our opinions and expertise.

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