Our Green History

oday environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Today environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Over the last 60 years these have evolved with each new environmental cause from nuclear power and pesticide use in the 1960s, to acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer in the 1970s and 1980s and biodiversity loss and climate change in the 1990s and 2000s. Often these causes have taken hold in different countries at different times, each prompted by particular historical circumstances. For this reason environmentalism has been taken up in many forms across generations and the continents of the world.

The explosion of environmental activity in the 1960s did not represent the creation of an entirely new set of ideas. In 1885 German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote: “It would never occur to me to regard the enjoyment of nature as the invention of the modern age.” The same can be said for modern day interest in the environment.

The fact that modern environmental concern spread following atomic bomb tests and to the backdrop of the Vietnam War is a point much referred to by historians and environmentalists. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) was amongst the first to link the dangers of the atomic bomb to the misuse of pesticides, emphasising humanity’s capacity to destroy nature and itself.

Over the next ten years a number of publications followed suit, Tragedy of the Commons (1968), and Limits to Growth (1972), raised wider anxieties about the future of the planet, whilst Blueprint for Survival (1972), and Small is Beautiful (1973) sketched out green alternatives. Almost half a century later the anxieties expressed in each of these books are still at the centre of many environmental concerns today.

Media coverage of dramatic pollution events has been instrumental in raising environmental concerns over the last half century.The first major oil spill in Britain occurred when the super tanker Torrey Canyon struck a reef between the UK mainland and the Isles of Scilly in March 1967.

The resulting oil slick covered 120 miles of Cornish coast, killing tens of thousands of birds. Two years later an explosion on the Union Oil Company oil platform, six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara in California, resulted in the release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil.

These highly visible examples of humanity’s impact on the environment occurred as the age of colour television began and broadcasters discovered that major pollution events made visually dramatic news stories. Each decade since has witnessed at least one massive oil spill from a super tanker or oil platform, these serve as timely reminders that environmental issues have not gone away.

The history of contemporary environmentalism has been marked by the establishment of new institutions. Campaigns on issues such as pesticide use and nuclear testing led to the development of a new breed of professional campaign groups which have become the public face of environmentalism.

At the same time governments have responded to public concerns about the environment by establishing environmental institutions of their own. Agencies, scientific programmes, international agreements, laws and regulations have been established to support environmental goals.

All this has helped give environmentalism a permanence that has transcended the decades.

This article is based on the book Environmentalism Since 1945 by Gary Haq and Alistair Paul, published by Routledge in September 2011.

© Gary Haq 2011

Valuing The Precious Commodity of Water

FOR a long time we have enjoyed the luxury of a plentiful supply of water. So much so we have taken its availability for granted.

FOR a long time we have enjoyed the luxury of a plentiful supply of water. So much so we have taken its availability for granted.

How many of us are guilty of leaving the tap on while brushing our teeth, over filling the kettle or spending too much time in the shower?

Each person in the UK uses an estimated 150 litres of water a day which is equivalent to 264 pints of milk.

By the time water reaches our tap it has already been cleaned, treated and pumped from reservoirs, rivers and aquifers with much of it being leaked from pipes.

It is only in times of drought such as that experienced in parts of the UK are we forced to rethink how we value and use water.

Water is a crucial element for human existence as clearly demonstrated by the devastating effects of the severe drought in East Africa.

Safe water is necessary to avoid death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related disease and provide for domestic use.

It is estimated that each person needs about 20 litres of water each day to drink, cook and wash.

Everyone has a right to sufficient, safe, acceptable and affordable water. Unfortunately, these days fresh clean water is becoming a precious commodity.

A European Environment Agency report on water resources across Europe shows that southern Europe continues to experience the greatest water scarcity problems. However, water stress is growing in parts of northern Europe.

Drought is a feature of the UK’s variable climate, with dry spells possible at any time of the year. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), this year England suffered its driest spring in a century, leaving fields parched and many rivers at a record low.

This is in contrast to Scotland that had one of the wettest springs on record and areas of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, parts of Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, and western Norfolk which are in drought.

The dry weather affected navigation on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal with restrictions on boat movements. While recent rain and unsettled weather has helped the environment, farmers and water companies and eased canal navigation, this does not mean the drought or risk of drought is over. Damage to crops caused by the dry spring is now likely to be irreversible.

More dry weather will place further pressure on water resources. The Environment Agency believes this could result in drought conditions spreading into central England and further east.

This would impact livestock farmers, affecting the cost and availability of animal feed and bedding for next winter. while at the same time restricting arable farmers from spray irrigating their crops.

Public water supply can cope easily with a few months of dry weather, but prolonged droughts require careful management. The Yorkshire region experienced it worst drought in March 1995. Reservoirs in the upland Pennines hills were at capacity following a very wet period.

However, by the August, reservoirs in some areas were below 20 per cent capacity. This resulted in a severe water problem in the region and required emergency drinking water being tankered in from Kielder reservoir in Northumberland to West Yorkshire to help resolve the situation.

By 2020, the national demand for water in the UK could rise by as much as five per cent due to an increase in population and housing. This would mean finding an extra 800 million litres of water each day.

In particular, hot water used in the home is responsible for approximately 35 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year due to reheating and water treatment processes.

Our abuse of water is due to the fact that majority of us do not have to pay for the amount we use. We do not provide electric sockets allowing people to use as much electricity as they want then why should we do it with water?

If we are to meet the UK national target to reduce our water use by 20 litres a day by 2020 then we will all have to become more “water wise”. Water metering is considered the fairest way to pay for water.

It also provides an incentive to use less water which is beneficial for the environment. A water meter is estimated to reduce household water consumption by about 10 per cent. However, this could result in the poorest households facing higher bills

We currently face the prospect of further water stress due to the combined effects of climate change, water intensive lifestyles and pressures of land use changes.

If we are to continue and enjoy high standards of water, we need to reduce demand, minimise the amount of water that we are extracting and increase the efficiency of its use.

This requires everyone doing their bit including water companies, farmers and consumers in addressing how we use and value water.

© Gary Haq 2011

Co-Benefits of Cutting Black Carbon and Ground-level Ozone

A new UN study highlights the potential benefits of reducing specific air pollutants which not only help to prevent climate change but have a number of positive benefits for human health and agriculture.

If the world is to avoid dangerous climate change and keep a twenty-first century temperature rise below two degrees Celsius or less, it will be necessary to achieve a significant reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide – a key greenhouse gas.

However, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meterological Organisation (WMO) report coordinated by the Stockholm Environment Institute on Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone shows that the measures can reduce near-term climate change and premature deaths and crop loss by taking action to reduce these two pollutants.

Black carbon exists as particles in the atmosphere and is a major component of soot. At ground level ozone is an air pollutant harmful to human health and ecosystems and, throughout the lower atmosphere, is also a significant greenhouse gas. Ozone is not directly emitted, but is produced from emissions of precursors of which methane and carbon monoxide are of particular interest.

Black carbon and ozone in the lower atmosphere are harmful air pollutants that have substantial regional and global climate impacts. They disturb tropical rainfall and regional circulation patterns (e.g. the Asian monsoon) affecting the livelihoods of millions of people.

Black carbon’s darkening of snow and ice surfaces increases their absorption of sunlight which, along with global warming, exacerbates melting of snow and ice around the world. This affects the water cycle and increases the risk of flooding.

Black carbon, a component of particulate matter, and ozone both lead to premature deaths worldwide. Ozone is also the most important air pollutant responsible for reducing crop yields and affects food security.

The UNEP/WMO study calls for immediate action to reduce emissions of black carbon and tropospheric ozone, which have the potential to slow the rate of climate change within the first half of this century.

Climate benefits from cutting ozone are achieved by reducing emissions of some of its precursors, especially methane which is also a powerful greenhouse gas. These short-lived climate gases (e.g. black carbon and methane) only remain in the atmosphere for a short time compared to longer-lived greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide).

The study also highlights how a small number of emission reduction measures targeting black carbon and ozone precursors could immediately begin to protect climate, public health, water and food security, and ecosystems.

The measures include the recovery of methane from coal, oil and gas extraction and transport, methane capture in waste management, use of clean-burning stoves for residential cooking, diesel particulate filters for vehicles and the banning of open burning of agricultural waste.

Full implementation is achievable with existing technology but would require significant and strategic investment and institutional arrangements.

The study claims that the full implementation of the identified measures would reduce future global warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius (within a range of 0.2 – 0.7 Celsius). If the measures were to be implemented by 2030, this could halve the potential increase in global temperature projected for 2050 compared to a reference scenario based on current policies and energy and fuel projections. The rate of regional temperature increase would also be reduced.

In addition, implementation of all the measures could avoid 2.4 million premature deaths (within a range of 0.7- 4.6 million) and the loss of 52 million tonnes (within a range of 30.140 million tonnes), 1.4 per cent, of global production of maize, rice, soybean and wheat each year. The most substantial benefits will be felt immediately in or close to the regions where action is taken to reduce emissions, with the greatest health and crop benefits expected.

The study concludes that there is confidence that immediate and multiple benefits will be achieved upon implementation of the identified measures. The degree of confidence varies according to pollutant, impact and region.

For example, there is higher confidence in the effect of methane measures on global temperatures than in the effect of black carbon measures, especially where these relate to the burning of biomass. There is also high confidence that benefits will be realised for human health from reducing particles, including black carbon, and to crop yields from reducing tropospheric ozone concentrations.

While many of the measures identified by the study are already available and being implemented by some countries, a considerable amount of work will need to be done if these measures are to be implemented on a international level.

A government may ban the burning of agricultural waste burning however enforcement of the ban is a different issue. In developing countries where there is limited resources they may not have he man power to enforce such measures the same could be said for the use of cleaning burning stoves.

Fearful that the focus on short-lived climate gases will deter from the current GHG reductions efforts, the UNEP/WMO study warns that deep and immediate carbon dioxide reductions are still required to protect against long-term climate.

The measures identified by the study complement but do not replace anticipated carbon dioxide reduction measures. For major carbon dioxide reduction strategies target the energy and large industrial sectors and therefore would not necessarily result in significant reductions in emissions of black carbon or the ozone precursors methane and carbon monoxide.

As with many environmental problems, we know the cause, we the know the effects and we know the solutions but we are still faced with the barriers of political apathy and public resistance that stifles progress in resolving the problem.

The study clearly demosntrates the benefits of taking action on black carbon and ground-level ozone (and its precursors) have of a number climate change, public health and food security benefits especially in developing countries where health and food are high priorities.

All we need now is to put what we know into practice.

© Gary Haq 2011

Is Speed Reduction a Solution to the Oil Crisis?

The Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use. This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should Britain do the same?

AS the Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use.

This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should other countries do the same?

The Spanish government has reduced the speed limit on main roads from 75mph (120 km/h) to 68mph (110 km/h) in an attempt to reduce fuel use. This has been in response to the unrest in Libya and concern that it will spread elsewhere in the Arab world. Spain is dependent on imported oil, with about 13 per cent coming from Libya.

The reduction in the speed limit is part of a wider package of measures to reduce energy use. As people spend more money on foreign fuel, they have less to spend on buying products made in Spain which could slow the recovery of the Spanish economy.

However, critics see lowering the speed limit as a desperate measure and are sceptical it will achieve the savings the Spanish government claims.

US President Richard Nixon took similar action in 1973 in response to the oil crisis then. He introduced a speed limit of 55mph (90 km/h) in 1974 in a bid to reduce fuel consumption by 2.2 per cent.

The measure only achieved a fuel saving of about 0.5 per cent but had the additional benefit of reducing road deaths. In contrast, France tested the strict enforcement of speed limits on main motorways in 2004 and achieved a 19 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

In the UK, petrol now costs on average about £6 a gallon. However, rather than reducing the speed limit, the Conservative-led coalition has actually talked about increasing it. Recently, the UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond was reported to have suggested increasing motorway speeds to 80mph in an attempt to shorten journey times and help the economy.

This is despite the UK Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety claiming that raising the speed limit to 80mph would increase motorway casualties by between five and 10 per cent.

Lowering the speed limit will be a challenge, as many petrolheads will perceive it as an infringement of their human rights and another attack in the “war on the motorist”. According to a 2008 UK Department for Transport study on speed, drivers can be divided into three groups: speed limit compliant, moderate or excessive speeders. Excessive speeders tend to be young, male, risky drivers who are often involved in accidents.

The UK study also found that a substantial number of drivers report that they regularly break speed limits of 30, 60 and 70 mph.

At speeds of 50mph and above, drivers tend to over-estimate the time gained by going faster and the time lost by going slower. In order to encourage people to drive at lower speeds, this “speed-time fallacy” will need to be addressed.

Reducing speed is seen as a quick hit as it relatively easy to implement. It requires little legislative and capital investment and can achieve rapid savings in fuel consumption as well as cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

A lower speed limit will, of course, increase travel time, which will further depend on road conditions, weather, traffic congestion and roadworks. Despite this, limiting the speed at which we drive offers a number of social and environmental benefits.

The exact fuel and carbon dioxide savings of reducing the speed limit are influenced by vehicle weight, engine and fuel type, driving style and traffic flow conditions. Increasingly, optional extras such as air conditioning have increased the average fuel use of a car.

According to the UK Energy Research Centre, introducing and enforcing a 60mph speed limit could reduce carbon dioxide emission on average by about two million tonnes each year.

In addition, becoming a “smarter driver” and being conscious of how to drive efficiently has the additional benefits of reducing annual fuel bills, wear and tear on the vehicle and can result in safer and less stressful journeys.

By 2030, global oil production is expected to decline as demand increases. The exact timing of the tipping point when oil availability begins to decline, and the ensuing rate of that decline is debateable.

However, there is increasing recognition that the “peak oil” phenomenon is real. National and local governments have all already begun designing policies to cope with the lack of cheap oil – with Sweden committing to be oil free by 2020.

Reducing the speed limit will be the least of our problems as we will be forced to make more fundamental changes to our energy intensive lifestyles in order to adapt to a world of increasing energy insecurity.

© Gary Haq 2011

The Impact of the Meat on Our Plate

Meat production not only contributes to climate change and land degradation but is also a cause of air and water pollution and biodiversity loss. The farming industry accounts for nine per cent of UK total greenhouse gases, half of which come from sheep, cows and goats. Is the meat on our plate really worth the impact on the planet?

FROM Paul McCartney to Lord Stern, more people are promoting the benefits of a meatless society.

Meat production not only contributes to climate change and land degradation but is also a cause of air and water pollution and biodiversity loss. The farming industry accounts for nine per cent of UK total greenhouse gases, half of which come from sheep, cows and goats. Is the meat on our plate really worth the impact on the planet?

Deforestation, manure and livestock flatulence all contribute to global warming and are associated with excessive meat consumption.

As nations become richer, they tend to eat more meat and more livestock has to be raised to keep up with the demand.

In turn, more grazing land is required and more forests are cut down to expand farmland. As trees get the chop the carbon dioxide that they have absorbed over their lifetime is eventually released back into the atmosphere.

Manure is a source of nitrous oxide which is a greenhouse gas 300 times stronger than carbon dioxide. A recent report warned that nitrogen pollution is costing each European citizen up to £650 a year in damage to water, climate, health and wildlife.

As livestock digest grass, they produce flatulence which contains the greenhouse gas methane. Research by Reading University suggests changing the diet of livestock could reduce methane emissions by 20 per cent.

Improving the efficiency of resource management when it comes to crop and livestock production could help reduce the environmental impact of meat production.

However, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the current prices of land, water and feed resources used for livestock production do not reflect true scarcities and create distortions that provide no incentive for efficient resource use.

This results in the overuse of resources and major inefficiencies in the production process.

Abandoning our carnivorous habits is both good for the planet and our health. Eating too much meat, especially processed meat, can be bad for a person’s health as it can contain high levels of saturated fat and salt.

An Oxford University study funded by Friends of the Earth showed that more than 45,000 lives a year could be saved if everyone ate meat no more than two or three times a week.

A widespread switch to low-meat diets would stop 31,000 people dying early from heart disease, 9,000 from cancer and 5,000 from strokes. This could save the NHS £1.2bn and help reduce climate change and deforestation.
I am one of the four million vegetarians in Britain and have led a meat-free life for the past 25 years. I still remember the day at primary school when I realised I did not like the idea of eating a dead animal.

However, it took me another nine years before I was able to proudly declare that I would eat “nothing with a face”.

Over the years, being a vegetarian in this country has got easier, people are more accepting and there is more choice of vegetarian food in supermarkets and restaurants.

There are now about 30 top-range vegetarian restaurants – an increase of 50 per cent since 2007. This reflects a growing interest in healthy lifestyles although many people would not necessarily call themselves vegetarian. One 2009 survey suggests 23 per cent of the population are “meat-reducers”, and 10 per cent as “meat-avoiders”.

Despite the increasing awareness of the environmental and health effects of carnivorous cuisine, the seduction of a sizzling sausage, the allure of the bacon butty and the prospect of the Yorkshire pudding with roast beef may simply be too much for many meat eaters to resist.

While there has been a change in eating habits the vast majority of Britons still eat meat, with one-in-five eating meat every day. This suggests education and awareness alone will not work to reduce our meat consumption.

One suggestion to address the harmful effects of meat consumption is to introduce a European-wide meat tax.

The EU is already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has taken a number of measures such as the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs.

A meat tax would be similar to taxes on alcohol, tobacco and petrol. Unlike petrol, which is harder to replace, the effect of the tax would encourage consumers to replace meat with other food products.

It is clear that we have to improve the efficiency of livestock production and reduce the demand for meat to make the transition to a low carbon society.

The recent discovery of horse meat in labelled beef products indicates how meat production has become increasingly mechanised and the extent to which we have become disconnected from the food we eat. Perhaps it is now time to reconsider our meat consumption.

Rather than shunning meat altogether, meat eaters could start by following a “demitarian” diet – reducing meat portions by half. It is recommended that total weekly meat intake should not exceed 210 grams – a small sacrifice to secure the future of the planet.

Whatever the Weather …

WITH snowfall, sub-zero temperatures, ice, fog and treacherous conditions on the roads bringing the UK and other European countries to a halt, its hard to believe that global warming is really happening.

Yet 2010 has seen global temperature rise to near record levels. According to the UK Met Office, provisional global temperature figures have put 2010 on track to become the first or second warmest on record. This is despite a declining El Niño, a climatic phenomenon that is characterised by unusually warm temperatures, being replaced La Niña that has had a strong cooling effect. Climate sceptics are quick to point to the recent big freeze as evidence to suggest that climate change is a load of baloney.

However, many people fail to make the distinction between climate – the average weather patterns over years – and weather, which is a series of short-term events that can change dramatically from one day to the next. The big freeze is a mere blip in the overall long-term trend that has seen global temperatures rise. So what has been the cause of the recent cold weather?

A study by the University of Reading (UK) has linked the unusual cold winters in northern Europe to periods of low sunspot activity and atmospheric conditions that “block” warm westerly winds. Changes in the fast moving winds in the upper atmosphere, known as jet streams, can have a major influence on weather. Jet streams normally bring mild, wet and westerly winds that cause the winter weather we have come to expect.

However, when the jet stream is blocked it forms an “s” shape over the northeastern Atlantic, causing the wind to fold back on itself. This pushes the jet stream further northwards allowing cold, dry easterly winds to flow over Europe which results in a sharp fall in temperature. The phenomenon of “blocking” only affects a limited geographical area and its impact is dependent on a number of conditions being met before it occurs. Allowing for climate change, European winters have been 0.5 degrees Celsius colder than average during years of low solar activity.

The winter of 2009 was England’s eighteenth coldest in 350 years even though the global temperatures were the fifth highest. It still unclear why changes in solar activity affects weather patterns, which indicates that we still have a lot to learn about the complex interactions and feedback loops that characterise the climate system. Throughout history we have feared and revered the weather and have tried to make sense of this natural phenomenon that has such a powerful influence on our way of life.

The weather has not only played a role in shaping our physical environment such as our landscape and coastline, it has fashioned our cultural identity. It influences how we feel, how we spend our leisure time, how we socialise, how we work and what we wear. We have become notorious throughout the world for our obsession with the weather. British weather is so variable and unpredictable throughout the year; it is not surprising that we talk so much about it.

Unlike climate change that remains a controversial issue, the weather is a safe topic of conversation which we happily discuss with total strangers and use to avoid sensitive or personal matters.

There was a time when we use to look to the skies and believed that the weather was determined by some higher being, a time when we tried to predict the weather by observing changes in the natural environment. Today we look down to the latest application on our mobile phone to get weather forecasts based on observations using instruments analysed with the aid of computers. Yet despite advances in science and technology that has allowed us to control nature, we still remain vulnerable to extreme weather events.

In early December 2010 190 nations met in Cancun, Mexico to discuss the international response to the challenge of climate change. The meeting was successful in producing an agreement which outlines a near global consensus to take urgent action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Acknowledging the rich world’s historical responsibility for climate change, the Cancun Agreement establishes mechanisms for transferring funds from rich countries to poor counties to spend on climate protection.

However, it does not provide legally binding emission targets and only urges rich nations to do more. While the Agreement has saved the negotiation process it has yet to save the climate. Nevertheless campaigners believe the foundation has now been set to provide a more comprehensive agreement at the next round of climate talks.

If we are to avoid any disruption of the climate system on which we are so naturally dependent, we need to take action sooner rather than later. The lessons from the last few weeks should have taught us that the weather is King and has the ability to bring the whole country to its knees in a matter of hours – we ignore its power at our peril.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: www.shutterstock.com

No Pressure: Confusing the Climate Message

ON 1 October 2010 the 10:10 Campaign, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 10 per cent in 2010, launched a short film to encourage people to take action on climate change.

The depiction of children, office workers and footballers being blown up for not taking action has taken climate change communication to a whole new level.

The 10:10 No Pressure film was written by award winning British screen writer, Richard Curtis, known for his romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and TV comedy Black Adder. The movie was removed from the 10:10 website on the same day due to the negative response received and an apology was issued:

Today we put up a mini-movie about 10:10 and climate change called ‘No Pressure’. With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. We were therefore delighted when Britain’s leading comedy writer, Richard Curtis … agreed to write a short film for the 10:10 campaign. Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn’t and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended.
As a result of these concerns we’ve taken it off our website. We won’t be making any attempt to censor or remove other versions currently in circulation on the internet.

The film entitled No Pressure depicts a series of scenes where people are asked if they are going to participate in the 10:10 initiative. Those who indicated that they were not planning to participate were told “no pressure” and blown up at the press of a button.

The short film set out to be edgy and to shock people into sitting up and start taking the urgent action needed to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the film back-fired and instead has upset many climate change campaigners and the public. It has also given ammunition to climate sceptics who are now claiming climate change campaigners are eco-fascists.

While some people may see the 10:10 movie as harmless fun, its message is lost in the blood and guts. The key question after watching the film is: Are you inspired to take action (if you are not already doing so) to reduce your carbon emissions?

The film has used scare tactics to communicate its climate message. Scaring the public into taking action, whether this be with regard to giving up smoking, not drinking and driving and safer sex, does not always work.

The film portrays the environmentalist as the “agressor” – pressing a button and causing the explosion of an individual who refuses to conform with the rest of the group and take action on climate change. It presents the environmentalist an uncompromising, eco-terriorist who is willing to harm individuals who do not do what they want.

While this may appeal to many people who are sympathetic with the cause, it has probably had the opposite effect on the intended target audience and has distracted attention from the main focus of the 10:10 campaign.

Environmental campaigners have used many different types of events and stunts to get the public’s attention and to increase awareness, and they will continue to do so.

However, it is clear that at time when environmental issues are dropping down the political and public agenda, new approaches are needed to inspire the public to take action.

The approach taken in the No Pressure film is new, but the wrong one.

We need to sell an aspirational vision of a low carbon society and the many benefits it has to offer to inspire individuals to take action to achieve a better quality of life. We need to sell a “green heaven” rather than a “climate hell”.

If climate change campaigners continue with threats of climate hell then the public will switch off and ignore the message.

The No Pressure fiasco has put pressure on 10:10 and other climate campaigners to think more carefully in the future on how they communicate climate change.

Lets hope they do so.

© Gary Haq 2010