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

The Power of Carbon Abstinence

THE 10:10 campaign is asking us to reduce our CO2 emissions by 10 per cent in 2010. Can voluntary carbon abstinence make a difference?

airline-carbon-footprintTHE 10:10 campaign is asking us to reduce our CO2 emissions by 10 per cent in 2010. Can voluntary carbon abstinence make a difference?

For the last couple of years it has become fashionable to do one’s bit to tackle climate change. Individuals have voluntarily decided to abstain from certain activities such as flying, using the car or eating meat in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

In September 2009 the 10:10 campaign was launched as an ambitious project to unite every sector of British society behind the simple idea: that by working together as a nation we can achieve a 10% cut in the UK’s carbon emissions in 2010.

The motivation for the campaign was that politicians have so far failed to do what needs to be done. The campaign believes it is time for ordinary people to show that they are ready to defend our children’s futures.

The 10:10 campaign follows similar campaigns to reduce personal carbon emissions such as Earth Hour, Act on CO2 and Stop Climate Chaos. It builds upon a recent history of collective action and awareness raising such has the 1985 Live Aid concert, 2005 Make Poverty History campaign and more recently the 2007 Live Earth event.

These events create a critical mass of public support and awareness. People join in herds to be part of something that is big and trendy and often backed by key celebrities.

There is no doubt that such big events create a tsunami of awareness that galvanises the public to take action. However, once the razzmatazz is over and the publicity has faded away does such events leave any lasting impression? More importantly will the change in behaviour or pledged action such as carbon abstinence continue?Logo-for-1010-campaign-001

There is a public willingness to be greener, individuals are often waiting for an enabling and supportive structural framework to collectively facilitate desired behaviour. They often look to others such as the government and business to take the lead, i.e. the notion of “I will if you will”.

While regulation and enforcement are key elements in reducing carbon emissions, they have yet to deliver the fundamental shift required in our level of consumption. Structural and psychological issues can limit and influence our lifestyle choices and behaviour.

Voluntary carbon abstinence can be effective approach to achieving sustained greener beahviour. However, the messsage has to be communicatd in the right way and a supportive institutional/ social, infrastructural and fiscal framework needs to be available.

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggests that an approach based on saving public money, and giving the public greater control over energy bills and independence from suppliers would be more effective to engage people in adopting a low carbon lifestyle.

The report suggests that a reduction in carbons emission requires convincing consumers that in adopting lower-carbon lifestyles they can save money and have control in a chaotic world, and they can do the right thing and look good without being an environmentalist.

carbon-footprint-leavesIndividuals who participate in voluntary initiatives are acting as environmental citizens and voluntarily internalise externalities of their current lifestyle for the sake of the common good, i.e. averting the global climate crisis.

Reducing our carbon footprint requires moving from environmental awareness and concerns to collective action. Voluntary carbon abstinence is one way of empowering, educating and achieving attitudinal change in individuals.

Campaigns such as 10:10 provide the vehicle to do this. However, maintaining the mometum once the campaign is over is essential. This requires campaigning groups to keep the issue alive in the public consciousness.

Morely importantly, it will require government and business to provide the incentives and infrastructure to make a low carbon lifestyle the easy, affordable and enjoyable and natural option for everyone.

© Gary Haq 2009