Climate Union : Sharing Principles

Image Credit : Gilbert & George, “Nettle Dance”, White Cube

I’m in the Climate Union. Are You ?

Soon we could all be, if the expansionist plans of a group of social campaigners come to fruition.

Taking in the unions, faith communities and the usual rag-tag bunch of issues activists, the Climate Union aims to establish itself as a political force for Low Carbon.

First of all, however, it has to tackle the uneasy and prickly problem of the exact name of the movement, and the principles under which it will operate.

The flag has been flown : a set of principles has been circulated for discussion amongst the “Climate Forum”. I cannot show you the finalised document yet, but I can offer you my comments (see below).

If you want to comment on the development of this emerging entity, please contact : Peter Robinson, Campaign against Climate Change, mobile/cell telephone in the UK : 07876595993.


Comments on the Climate Forum Principles
Jo Abbess
28 June 2010

I am aware that my comments are going to be a little challenging. I made similar comments during the review of the ClimateSafety briefing, which were highly criticised.

I expect you to be negative in response to what I say, but I think it is necessary to make sure the Climate Forum does not become watered-down, sectorally imprisoned and politically neutered, like so many other campaigns.

Comments on paragraph :-
“While there is an increasing awareness of the climate science, many governments are in practice opposed to implementing radical measure[s] to combat climate change [largely] because…such measures would appear to be in conflict with the interests of business, but also because they are uncertain if they would carry the majority of the public with them. The problem is that those in power do not necessarily have the will to bring about the legislation and the required actions.”

I would contest the assumption that “governments are in practice opposed to implementing radical measure[s]”.

My reasons are that I think that the reality of the situation is that governments are a little bit like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed rotten sewage.

Although the governments do have access to the best Scientific information about Climate Change, they don’t always absorb it. On the other hand, they often do not have access to the best Economic information.

Governments often listen to some of the best Scientific information, and invest trust in the Scientific institutions. However, they have both a demon and an angel on their shoulder when it comes to Economic information.

The European Union is a classic example, of attempting to mesh together the best of Socialism and the worst of Neoliberalism. There are agents of Capitalism whispering into the ears of the inner circle policymakers the whole time, as evidenced by the work of such organisations as the Corporate Europe Observatory.

In the United Kingdom, when the “Recession”, sorry “Downturn” hit, Keynes and his pluralism was resurrected, but he has now been slain once more by the “Emergency Cuts Budget”.

The fight in Government is not over the Science. The anti-science crowd have picked off a few Members of Parliament with their vulture media tactics, but most MPs are on the ball as regards the Science of Climate Change, as are most of the Government Civil Services and Departments.

The synaptic gap is in translating that knowledge into effective Economic Policy, in my view. Pricing Carbon is not the solution, and even if it has an impact, it will not be a very large part of the solution. Public Finance for such things as Carbon Capture and Storage and New Nuclear will not achieve much – they are classic money pits schemes (or “boondoggle”, another American expression).

I think that the emphasis should be on educating the Government about the need to totally reform the Energy systems, the sourcing of Energy, and the use of Energy.

The reason why I think this is important can be seen in the approach taken to tobacco control. Since there was an enormous amount of money, both public and private, invested in the tobacco industry, it was not politically possible to close down the corporations that produced cigarettes.

Yet a total ban on cigarette smoking was indicated as necessary to the maintenance of public health.

Instead of shutting down the industry, the European governments began a two-pronged campaign, to outlaw smoking in various environments, and also to educate people.

After about 10 years, the tobacco industry saw the way things were going and went off to kill teenagers in China instead, in pursuit of the profit they continue to owe their shareholders.

I don’t think we have 10 years to effect a proper Climate Policy, and we certainly cannot continue to outsource Carbon Dioxide emissions to China through globalisation.

We need something more radical. For example, I suggest that we should call for a ban on the use of Coal to generate Electricity.

The other strand of the current situation is what the public appear to think when they answer opinion polls. Firstly, and importantly, their views don’t actually count towards setting Policy, as the Government is responsible to enact the Climate Change Act, not follow the whims of anti-wind farm lobby groups, pro-Carbon and anti-tax groups (for example).

Climate Change is not an issue about which people are entitled to vote. The cross-party imperative for Policy action is there, regardless of what Nigel Lawson, Christopher Booker, Steve McIntyre and James Delingpole think.

The Government has a mandate from the Climate Change Science, not from the people. However, it would be helpful if the people were more educated about the Science, and I would urge that the Climate Forum addresses directly the anti-science problems in the Media, where most people get their beliefs from.

Also, if would be helpful if the public could be asked to rally behind a basket of sensible, inclusive Policy measures – not taxation – but targeted spending and selective subsidies.

This is where the “One Million Green Jobs” initiative from the Campaign against Climate Change and the unions is so pertinent. A common, progressive agenda would help public debates to have better cohesion and less acrimony.

As for the phrase, “uncertain if they would carry the majority of the public with them”, I don’t believe that the public need to be encouraged to give the Government a “mandate”.

I believe it is naive, foolish and a waste of time and personal energy to suggest that the public need to be rallied to give the Government “a message”.

The Government already have the necessary information to act. What is needed is a general education of both Government and public about what is likely to work in terms of Social and Economic “engineering”.

It’s not about “voluntary behaviour change”. The Act on CO2 campaign asked everyone to drive 5 miles less a week. But over 50% of the population of driving age don’t have access to a car.

Public guilt-tripping is not only irrelevant, it’s unproductive. People who care are already doing the 10:10 initiative, or gave up flying and most home heating years ago.

People who know the problems and have decided to take personal action have already started their journey. The travel that needs to happen is in the field of those who provide us with our energy and fuel.

There has to be a new understanding that the Energy corporates must change – that BP, for example, must turn its production to Renewables or face corporate extinction.

There has to be massive disinvestment away from Carbon Energy and investment into Renewable Energy.

That can start with each one of us expressing a consumer “preference” in the way that we use our money, but it has to be carried higher and wider, with such activities of those of FairPensions.

In the end, it’s not the way we are taxed, but the way the whole Society uses money that determines our survival.

The Church of England, for example, has recently reported that their Commissioners have made a handsome profit on their investments. Which companies are in the top 20 shares held ? BP is one of those companies.

Yet the Church of England, in their Fifth Mark of Mission, say they want “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. They can’t do that if they continue to invest in BP.

It is this kind of dilemma that needs to be addressed, not the debate about whether it is more energy efficient to use paper towels or hand dryers in public toilets.

If all the energy supplied to our homes and all the energy used in our transport systems were green, then it would not matter if we left the porch light on overnight by mistake.

There has to be a major shift in campaigning perception in my view. The energy system itself needs to be overhauled, not public opinion.

And anyway, what counts in Government is not public opinion, but the usual tendency of political views to be compromised by whichever business lobby is in the ascendance.

If the Government could be encouraged to make a clear statement about complete energy transition, a step far, far beyond the work of the Low Carbon Transition plan set out last year, then the tipping point might be near at hand.

It’s true that tackling the belief system of the Government would be helped by seeding the right ideas into the “Twittering classes”, who are strongly networked to the Government, but the major thrust of the Climate Forum surely has to be Government-facing, not public-facing.

I don’t want the Climate Forum to be a Government stooge. I don’t want the Climate Forum to end up as an outsourced public relations exercise – the Government have been using the NGOs to propagandise their plans for years. Gordon Brown and his Office were famously behind the Make Poverty History campaign from its inception.

I’m not against the whole concept of Government. In fact, I think organised government is the only way forward out of the Carbon mess. However, I think the Climate Forum needs to pitch itself as being opposed to lax regulation and weak thinking in Government, more than simply being a Social tool for change.


Reply from Ruth :-

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“Jo, really interesting stuff – thank you. I can’t quite see how the Climate Forum could be “government-facing”, with any clout without a huge supporter base, demonstrated by ralleys, lobbying post cards etc?”

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Reply to Ruth :-

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Hi Ruth,

The current “campaign” mechanism has its focus on what individuals should be doing. The central theory is about how to change the behaviour of citizens and consumers. Even the 10:10 campaign is a glorified “Are you doing your bit ?”, “Lights Off” or “Save It” campaign.

When campaigns want people to act politically, the message is all about how the people have to mobilise, the people have to carry placards, write postcards, write to their MP, lobby Parliament, e-mail the media. The people have to take all this action. And for what ? To get our million man marches ignored by the political elite, or our petitions fobbed off by the Secretary of State.

Taking the message to Government doesn’t need to be backed up by getting 2 million people on the streets. In fact, in 2003 we managed to get 2 million people on the streets against the scheduled assault on Iraq. Did it make any difference ? No. Because the Government are not obliged to listen to “campaigners” and “protesters”, or act on what they demand.

The Government has to be analysed and critiqued within its own walls, using its own language, deploying its own policies. What level of authority do we need to accumulate to make a real difference ? Do we need maximum “bums on seats” in a campaign, or maximum political crowbars ?

Christian Aid and Oxfam love postcard campaigns. It means the paid staff need to do little work to respond to peoples’ concerns. Worried about Climate Change ? Fill in one of our postcards, then. I have heard an Oxfam campaigns worker recently say that much of their campaigns activity is “outsourced” to local activists, implying that it gave people something to do, even though it was ineffective.

Not cynical, just observant.

jo.

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Reply from Tony :-

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Dear Jo

Could you suggest a specific rewording of that paragraph that you referred to (and any others) based on your considered arguments? That is what Peter and Ann are looking for.

Regards

Tony

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Reply to Tony :-

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Dear Tony,

Thanks for asking for my wording.

What I was trying to explain in my comments is that I disagree pretty fundamentally with some of the theories the principles document is based on.

My comments are therefore in relation to the whole document.

My re-wording would take in an entire re-write of the document to place emphasis on effective political engagement with all those who have genuine decision-making authority, particularly and especially in regard to the energy companies.

Those mostly private organisations that provide us with energy and fuel need to be changing their behaviour, not our neighbours in our streets.

Those citizens who care are already committed. We don’t need another “campaign”. We need a networked research and response unit, continuously analysing the state of play in policy and corporate activities and feeding this back to everyone involved in a common, plain language.

I think that the focus of the Climate Forum should be holding the government and corporations genuinely and concretely accountable. And that is not going to be done by the normal “campaign” methods.

I have no idea whether other people feel the same way, so I don’t know if it’s worth trying to put in the energy to do another re-write of the document now, myself.

All I know is, if views like mine are not taken into consideration, then the membership of the movement risks being confined to “the usual suspects”.

Peter and Ann are looking for a re-wording of some of the paragraphs. Unfortunately, I question the whole of the document and the theories on which is is based.

If we want the same-old same-old piecemeal campaigning, then by all means, go ahead on the basis of the social theory that you need to “mobilise” people in order to have political change.

If you want a really different kind of organisation, with urgency and scope, you need a really different kind of movement tool.

Regards,

jo.

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