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