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?

Advertisements

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

Green Campaigns – Dangerous Propaganda?

The Northern Ireland’s Minister of Environment, Sammy Wilson, has taken the decision to block the government’s “Act on CO2” advertisement campaign on climate change to be shown in Northern Ireland claiming it to be “insidious propaganda”. Do green campaigns cause more damage than good? Do they go far enough in commuincating the message to the public about the scale of the real challenges ahead?

Act on CO2ARE public campaigns aimed at raising awareness of our impact on the environment dangerous propaganda?

Northern Ireland’s Minister of Environment, Sammy Wilson, thinks so. He has blocked the government’s “Act on CO2” advertisement campaign on climate change from being shown in Northern Ireland. Mr Wilson is reported to have described the campaign has “insidious propaganda” claiming that the campaign adverts were: “giving the people the impression that by turning off the standby light on their TV they could save the world from melting glaciers and being submerged under 40ft of water

It is not surprising that Mr Wilson is a climate change denier and does not believe man-made greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of climate change. However, it is surprising that such a view is held by someone who holds the office of Minister of Environment.

wilson1

Mr Wilson’s view not only questions whether climate change is man-made but also the role of environmental campaigns to persuade people to change their behaviour. National information campaigns have been used for many years to raise environmental awareness. These have included the 1970s “Save It” energy campaign, 1990s “Are You Doing Your Bit?” and more recently “Act on CO2” (2007). Many regional and local government authorities have their own campaigns to address particular environmental issues. Such campaigns tend to provide the public with information to allow them to make informed choices and to persuade them that collectively they can make a difference.

In particularly Mr Wilson’s view challenges the green mantra of: “Think Globally, Act Locally”. When faced with such an overwhelming global phenomenon such as climate change we may feel that the individual actions we take are insignificant. If the cause of the problem is the collective impact of individual actions then surely working collectively is the solution?

Some environmentalists would agree with Mr Wilson that encouraging people to take small painless steps such as switching of lights gives a wrong impression. lightsThey would argue that this leads to a false sense of security that current lifestyles can continue with only small changes while in fact more radical changes are necessary. There is a need to confront the problem of our high consuming lifestyles head-on and tackle the underlying motivations of consumerism. Campaigns such as the Government’s “Act on CO2” are seen by some hard-line environmentalists as a deflection and waste of precious campaign and communication resources.

We have become so locked-in to a highly energy intensive, polluting, wasteful and inequitable way of life that materialistic values will not be able to deliver the systematic changes necessary in human behaviour. For example, not owing or using a car may not result in net environmental benefits if the money saved is used to fly to a far-flung holiday destination.

flightEnvironmental campaigns are guilty of failing to communicate the fundamental changes that are required in the way we live. Unfortunately, the public are not receptive to extreme messages such as banning car use and flying. A survey of British attitudes to flying by the National Centre for Social Research found that there were high levels of public concern about the environmental impact of air travel and a growing agreement that the cost of flying should reflect environmental damage. Despite this view the majority of the public still believe that people should be able to fly as much as they want. However, the size of this majority is falling.

Although public awareness campaigns have limitations they are a vital tool in tackling the environmental challenges ahead. It would be “dangerous” not to use all available means to engage and encourage the public to take action collectively. In the words of Gandhi “We must be the change we wish to see in the world” and that means each and everyone one of us doing our bit.

© Gary Haq 2009