Bait & Switch Burning Money Carbon Army Climate Change Emissions Impossible Low Carbon Life Social Change

Getting the Message Right

I was at a conference not long ago where during one of the breakout sessions I found myself sitting next to an “ad chick”, you know, a woman in advertising.

We passed the time of day, and I found I needed to challenge her on her naive belief that cars will progressively continue to get less Carbon hungry. “Within 20 years,” I soothsayed, “each adult will only have a Carbon ration for a fifth of a car”. Her face had an expression on it that was akin to painful disgust : like I was denying her her human rights, or something.

“Look, not everybody has a car, even now”, I explained. There are something like 29.6 million cars officially owned in the UK, and there are something like 50.9 million adults, so less than 60% of British adults own cars. Strangely enough, many media reports don’t even mention this :-

Anyway, back to the conference. Panelling the workshop were several media bunnies and Government “apparatchiks”, including representatives from the advertising agency connected to the ActonCO2 (what a mouthful !) Government campaign, urging “voluntary behaviour change” amongst the population.

You know, the group that put out those nauseating, I mean inspirational, TV moments, which somehow always got inserted between car and travel merchandising information :-

There’s a similar campaign in Australia, presumably from the same kind of stable :-

The thing is, this kind of Public Relations is just not working, at all.

The Energy Savings Trust shows that people have not shifted :-

People do seem to be prepared to buy green products, but changing their habits is so radically, radically difficult that they can’t get the hang of it, despite some brilliant campaigns and movements.

People seem to resist all forms of social control, like the marvellously autonomous creatures of free will that they are.

I have made the decision never to fly again, and I’ve never owned a car, but I’m extreme, off the charts, apparently. Society expects vehicle-based mobility. Companies demand their Employees move by motorised vehicle, and Public Services are centralised and expect their Customers to move by motorised vehicle.

Yet I am very similar to most British householders, I suspect : while I still have Natural Gas and Electricity and Water piped to my home, effectively by the State, I’m going to continue using it, sensibly and carefully, and I expect it to be reasonably priced.

If Climate Changing emissions have to drop, then I think it should be the responsibility of the Gas, Power and Water companies to make sure they do so. I shouldn’t be expected to make more than a certain about of changes to my lifestyle. I want green gas, green water and green power delivered to me :-

This faultline in the psychology of the ordinary citizen has clouded the success of the ActonCO2 campaigning in my view, and now the Department of Energy and Climate Change are in effect admitting as such, as they are looking for new Public Relations (wo)men :-

“Department of Energy and Climate Change in trawl for ‘Act on CO2’ agency : Matt Cartmell,, 22 July 2009, 4:42pm : The Government is seeking PR support for its Act on CO2 campaign to change people’s behaviour in the fight against climate change. The Act on CO2 campaign is currently handled in-house by both the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Transport (DfT). A DECC spokesman said: ‘We are looking for an agency that can support our work with a strong platform focused on encouraging behaviour change.’ Launched in 2007, Act on CO2 aims to engage the public and build literacy on climate change issues. The news comes after energy and climate secretary Ed Miliband outlined plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in November. Emissions will be cut by 34 per cent within 11 years, which will set the nation on track for an 80 per cent cut by 2050. The Central Office of Information (COI) is managing the procurement process on the DECC’s behalf. There is currently a shortlist of agencies but no pitches have yet taken place. The COI would not give any further details about the brief. DECC is understood to have been carrying out an evaluation of the Act on CO2 campaign, initially launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), including running focus groups. One insider said: ‘They’ve been looking at things like what the barriers are to personal behaviour change. That’s something the old version of Act on CO2 wasn’t clear on – it just felt like a typical government campaign.’ Portland PR partner and former Defra director of comms Steve Morris said: ‘The initial stages were about raising awareness and the idea of a carbon footprint. Now it’s increasingly about behaviour change and explaining the real changes people can make in their lives. The credit crunch is also now an issue, and an important part of the brief will be about underlining that saving energy saves money.’ Environment Agency director of communications Adrian Long agreed: ‘In light of all we know about climate change we have to enable people to move beyond doom and gloom and into hope. We now have to help them to do the right thing. All campaigns, especially Act on CO2, have to move beyond information – what are the things that will help and support people to make a positive change that will contribute to the lessening of climate change?‘”

Sounds like a bit of doom and gloom at the agency. But there’s hope on the horizon, and it makes people like me happy, because it tells the truth instead of being insanely and falsely aspirational.

Ipsos MORI have been working with the curiously titled Big Briefs agency to unpack what people really, really want :-

“30 June 2009 : What is the potential for behaviour change? : 2.1 Overall attitudes : This research reveals huge potential for people to change their energy behaviour. The majority of people across the Forums were overwhelmingly positive about improving the energy efficiency of their homes and about the low carbon and renewable energy technologies in principle. They would like to see change and are impressed and shocked by the scale of the problem. Householders want to maintain their quality of life with a secure supply of affordable energy. To capture people’s positive mood for change, the Big Energy Shift needs to offer people the prospect of a win-win situation where they can have their hot showers and cut their carbon emissions. However, despite individual goodwill, the findings also show that individuals will not necessarily be the instigators of change. They will need to be ‘nudged’ along by the Government and other principal stakeholders. Householders feel that ‘business as usual’ or tinkering with existing frameworks will not deliver change, and that business, homeowners and Government all need to play their parts. But they also assert that the mechanisms in business or government are not yet in place to allow them to make changes, either individually or collectively. So, they look to Government to take the lead, and are ready for some bold steps.”

Of course, there remains the not terribly minute problem of rolling out massive insulation and biomass programmes, ramping up marine, tidal, wave, solar, wind and poo power (BioMethane), enforcing massive investment in public transport and human transport, driving out Energy waste everywhere and getting the yapping Nuclear and Clean Coal dogs off the heels.

But if you build green services, they will come.

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