Be Prepared Social Change

On Bees and Compromise (2)

This follows on from the first post On Bees and Compromise.

It’s much less about bees this time, and more about compromise, or rather, avoiding compromise.


From: JDA

Like RT, on my smaller canvas, I have found it valuable to link with contacts in many fields, some of which don’t usually come together.

I have found fruitful connexions between Rotary and renewables; Friends of the Earth and the church; The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts. Manufactures and Commerce and Fairtrade; and Starbucks and Nestle with Fairtade.

Whatever circles we move in, they need, like the symbol of the Olympics, to be interlinked for the strenthening of all.

Like RT I will talk to anyone and build on the best I find. Jesus surely showed us that. Joy and justice.


From: jo abbess

What you say resonates with my experience, also : ” I have found it valuable to link with contacts in many fields, some of which don’t usually come together.”

I, too, agree with RT’s central line of argument, that we should talk to everyone, in whichever circumstances we find them : “Like RT I will talk to anyone and build on the best I find.”

In addition, I think it is important that we are clear that we do not want compromise in terms of the ultimate aims and objectives that we believe in.

For example, 99.99% (rough guess) of people want a peaceful, stable society. There should be no compromise on that goal.

And the Climate Change Act is a serious affirmation that we should be cutting carbon dioxide emissions in this country by 80% by 2050 – or more, according to advice from the Climate Change Committee.

How will that 80% (90%) cut be achieved ? By not compromising. We need to have the building insulation, and we need to have the lights switched off. That is the responsibility of the consumers. However, we also need the energy supply companies to drop the use of fossil fuels.

Currently there is less happening in this realm than some observers think there should be. If you are invited to take part in a branded event sponsored by a coal-burning energy company, I would suggest you ask the question if the event will be asking you to change or asking the energy company to change.

If a fossil fuel burning energy company asks you as a consumer-citizen to change your energy consumption habits, then surely we should be asking them to change their fossil fuel burning habits ?

I’m quite sick of hearing ordinary people being asked to change their ways by large energy supply companies who are not changing theirs. I’ll talk to anyone, but I won’t restrict myself to their frame of reference.


Dear Jo,

I, too, have had problems accepting that I would have to deal with organisations and even individuals whose apparent raison d’etre seemed entirely opposed to mine. Back in ’79 I was peripherally involved in the early Viet Namese refugee reception, working for a peace organisation. The Home Secretary’s policy was to spread resettlement and to use voluntary groups to support. I soon found that this didn’t work – only by directly working with members of that new community, so I spoke, first, to the refugee charities and to the voluntary groups aiding the new refugees. I was politely told to go away. This was Thatcher’s Government and talking to them was anathema to very many. I had recently joined the voluntary sector, as a paid employee, and I really didn’t know what to do, so I pestered my employers and was told to write a reasoned report stating why the Government resettlement wasn’t and couldn’t work. That I did, I got my report to the then Home Secretary and was then summoned to the Home Office where I was polite and friendly, though it hurt, and, as a result, the Viet Namese were resettled in clusters, that were the foundations of community, and the Government increased the resettlement budget in order to pay full time field workers. My job was funded by a Home Office grant which, a few months later, was withdrawn. It was still very much worth it.

A few years later a similar problem arose in vocational training; in this case there was no budget for what was then termed ESL or English as a Second Language teaching so many young people and adults from refugee and immigrant communities could not get training. I certainly didn’t invent linked skills training, this had been done by, among others, the Manpower Services Commission in the North East, but the concept appeared to be unknown elsewhere in Britain. This time I took on Lord Young, then Secretary of State for Employment, but I did so with courtesy and with sound evidence.

This took several months of letters and the use of Telecom Gold; eventually I received a phonecall from the MSC’s head of vocational training who came to London, from Sheffield, to see Prince Charles in the morning and the Director General of the CBI in the afternoon. I fitted in during lunch. Again, a budget was dramatically increased and linked skills courses started across the UK. I then spent a few years attending MSC conferences as their ‘expert’ on ESL.

I do not mention this out of pride, I was in the right place at the right time doing, I believe, what God wanted me to do. I was entirely opposed to that Government: I had chosen to live and work among the poor and in minority communities, and that Government’s rationale was yet another attack on the ‘shiftless’ unemployed. Later I initiated and ran other campaigns in vocational training provision but, by then I had learnt the benefits of networking.

All of this was conducted without marches or protests and what was achieved was done by straightforward communication, often with people that none of us wanted to talk to. In the event I discovered that organisations are people and that God speaks to them as much as he did to me, though many would not recognise the process. And I found nice people, too, among my ‘enemies’.

I would probably draw [the] line somewhere before British American Tobacco or the arms trade but I trust that there are other Christians establishing dialogue there, too. In my experience, protest changes little but dialogue can help to establish change.

Many companies have investigated climate change and now species loss and resource depletion. Not surprisingly they have found major threats to their future operations. Of course there are some that are deaf but we have to help them to hear.

It is an unfortunate human characteristic that when we feel attacked we are likely to strike back. That can translate into strengthened resistance to change. So, I have no time for the brutality of police but I have not a great deal of respect for the Climate Camps, either. I recall the reporting of the refusal of protesters to meet with RBS in Scotland last summer.

Of course, greenwash hasn’t gone away but I believe that we need to encourage positive efforts rather than simply confront and it’s not easy, up front, to discern what is truly positive. It is always possible to condemn later and negative media coverage often reduces profitability whilst unnecessarily condemning an activity before it starts is more likely to delay or prevent future action.

The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility does, indeed, have a grown up approach to asking for responsible behaviour but Climate Week is likely to reach out to far more ordinary people than the former. When I was working with the Viet Namese community, some of the most useful help that I received was from Business in the Community. I wrote to the then Archbishop of Canterbury and mentioned the newly emerging percent club concept, also referring to two leading companies that were headed by Anglicans.

The letter bounced all the way to the desk of the Director of BitC, then Stephen O’Brien, a deacon in the C of E, and we struck up a very useful relationship that came in useful again when I was working in vocational training.

I have very big concerns with EDF but, last week at an Aldersgate reception at the House of Commons, Chris Huhne was challenged on the Coalition’s support for renewables. The complaint was that continuing support for fossil fuels makes a mockery of the limited support being given to wind and wave. He was lost for a response to a serious question raised by a major companies executive. That may give him some cause to reflect but, again, it’s about communication. If we don’t talk to them how can we change them?

Finally, I have never spoken to an institution but to people working within them. I try to find a point of common interest and then to talk about what they are doing and how they could, perhaps, improve on that. That seems to me to be a very minor and modest reflection on what Jesus did: condemn the sin and not the sinner.


From: jo abbess

I think what you have done is simply amazing and proves that if somebody is in a difficult situation at the right time with the right information and the right attitude, then things can change for the better. Naturally, divine intervention is crucial !

In my 21 years of working in the Information Technology industry, I worked in a very wide range of companies and organisations, and I met and worked with a very diverse group of people of all ranks and status. I understand how to manage complex project situations, and the kind of patience and commitment needed to see the job done properly.

In the last ten years I have been attempting to learn about how to facilitate open discussions and debates using techniques of non-violent communication, and I have met and worked with a wider variety of people than ever before.

Some people ask me if I’m scared by some of the people in the environmental movement and I have to laugh ! Most of the greenies have a strong sense of autonomy – of doing what they want to. But true freedom carries obligation – of responsibility to others. Most eco-activists I have met are strongly self-censoring in their behaviour, and work hard to be at peace with others, and are highly cooperative and willing to learn and tolerate.

Some climate activists do not want to talk with any of the authorities – this month’s revelations about police infiltration and personal betrayal show that sometimes the authorities cannot be trusted. I am not concerned by this issue – I am entirely free to engage with anybody from any organisation, and hope to have constructive dialogue. I take care not to do anything that may break the law so that I can have a platform of integrity. I’m not perfect, but I try to be a good citizen.

I don’t believe that there are any enemies. I know there are many people in many corporations and companies that know what the Climate Change problem is and are trying in their roles to do something about it. I know and respect people at different levels of authority and jurisdiction who are pushing environmental change up the agenda.

The “enemy” is poor thinking, in my view. Poor thinking can come from any quarter, so I’m not singling anybody out. The problem of democracy is that there is too little, and too much, all at the same time. Protests, marches, demonstrations, rallies – they have limited political impact, I agree with you, but it’s necessary to try to engage the people in doing something with their political drive. The reason that protest happens is because the democratic channels are rather poor – so the energy has to channel its way somehow into something, and that something is protest.

I do entirely agree with you when you say, “If we don’t talk to them how can we change them? …I have never spoken to an institution but to people working within them. I try to find a point of common interest and then to talk about what they are doing and how they could, perhaps, improve on that. That seems to me to be a very minor and modest reflection on what Jesus did: condemn the sin and not the sinner.”

What often happens is that the communication is poorly conducted, with ultimatums and restrictions, as happened between RBS and the Climate Campers last year (and between the police and the Climate Campers all the time). The people from the activist movement do want to talk, but on equal terms, without pre-conditions, and I think that demand should be honoured.

You say, “Many companies have investigated climate change and now species loss and resource depletion. Not surprisingly they have found major threats to their future operations. Of course there are some that are deaf but we have to help them to hear.”

I would like to know how you would consider helping BP (for example) hear that their business model is dead in the water because of peak oil, and the likely introduction of carbon pricing in the next five years ?

The continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels is a major problem that is the responsibility of everyone and every company – it’s not just a consumption issue, it’s a production issue too.

I hold strong views about what needs to happen – but that doesn’t prevent me from dialogue. I talk with everybody I meet on the subjects of Energy and Climate Change, if they are willing to discuss them, because I know they are very important, and that there are many pitfalls in the public dialogue.


From: RT

Thanks, Jo, I think that we largely agree and I’m sure that the rest of […] do, too. But I would suggest that the larger part of the problem lies with governments and with carbon pricing.

The founding purpose of the Aldersgate Group was to lobby for more effective environmental legislation such that those companies who act in an environmentally responsible manner are not disadvantaged by those who refuse to do so.

Electricity generation and distribution is a special case as a major generator which decided to change completely to renewables could find themselves at a strong economic disadvantage. We need our Government and those of our European neighbours to make the path of transition easy.

One of the very basic findings of Tim Jackson’s Resolve unit at Surrey University is that externalities usually have a greater effect than good intentions; make it easy and people will follow.

That is not to say that I let EDF off the hook, I don’t but not, primarily as fossil fuel burners. They operate Europe wide and in 2003 74.5% of their generating capacity was reported to be nuclear with only 10.2% derived from fossil fuels.

The Polish Government has today said that it will have nuclear generation by 2020; another country that will produce more fissile waste in a far from stable world and high grade uranium ore is depleting rapidly.

Our commitment to implementing renewable energy has been lacklustre and there has now been voiced a fear that the Government intends to allow Green Investment Bank money to be invested in nuclear – so, subsidies after all.

Of course this means less to be invested in wind, wave and the necessary high voltage pan European distribution grids that we need.

And that is another good reason for Aldersgate and for bodies like it.

It took me many many months to get biodiversity on the agenda and I’ve taken even longer to try to get membership for the Claverton Energy Group – a discussion group on energy issues, primarily made up of scientists and engineers to which both Jo and I belong.

Last year I pressed Chris Huhne to get his civil servants to listen to this body of considerable expertise but Clavertonians expressed a desire to not talk to politicians! Perhaps you can understand my frustration?

On a somewhat different but linked front, some media attention has been given to Boris’ latest folly, a floating walkway that follows the north bank of the Thames from Tower Pier to the vicinity of St Paul’s Cathedral. That could effectively block riverside access to the Thames and it could prevent the operation of Walbrook Wharf, a safeguarded wharf that is used for transporting City of London refuse. It would also prevent the River from being used for construction waste and building materials delivery.

Apparently, Boris has presented an award to the architects, Gensler’s who came up with the bright idea. I made a few, I thought, helpful comments on the appropriate page on GenslerOn website and received an invitation to talk to the lead architect. Now, I did this as a director of a new Thames environmental protection and access trust and it’s the trust that the architect wants to talk to. So I alerted the other directors and the first response I received was along the lines of ‘we can’t talk to them, they don’t understand the river and they are only out to exploit it’. I managed to persuade him otherwise, eventually! It probably won’t happen but I still want to take the opportunity to talk to them and, hopefully, to help them understand the nature and uses of this great River. One small point: close down the wharf and the City’s waste all gets moved by lorry thus adding to the City’s air pollution.

Talk first, try to persuade and then confront only when the conversation has failed.

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