It turns out we’ve missed a trick in our articles about the fashion for what we have called ‘pastiche politics‘, the phenomenon by which environmentalists attempt to muster non-existent public support by comparing themselves to world-changing political movements of the past – the Suffragettes, JFK, the New Deal, anti-apartheid, that sort of thing. Because, writing at Comment Is Free about Franny ‘The Age of Stupid’ Armstrong’s 10:10 Campaign, which seeks to get us all to reduce our emissions by 10% over 2010, Brendan O’Neill has provided a handy quote from Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst:
Socialism means plenty for all. We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance … We do not call for limitation of births, for penurious thrift, and self-denial. We call for a great production that will supply all, and more than all the people can consume.
(Which is also a rather nice counter to the watermelon theory, which holds that environmentalism is the reincarnation of socialism – red on the inside. But that’s another story.)
O’Neill’s piece is a ripple of dissent in a sea of sycophantic Guardian coverage of 10:10. Which is not entirely surprising, given that the Guardian is backing the campaign. It presents so much material from the green great and good on the subject that it’s hard to know where to start. Happily, many of its flaws are encapsulated in this wee video of Franny Armstrong confessing all to Guardian journalists:
The good news is that the first 10% cut is actually very easy. It’s the low-hanging fruit, it’s the changing your light bulbs, turning down your heating, driving a bit less, flying a bit less, changing your eating habits a little bit – it’s that kind of thing. Unless you’re one of those people who have already started, in which case it’s a lot harder. But it only gets really hard around 30 or 40%.
But we don’t have to worry our pretty heads about that, because the good people at 10:10 will make sure the government will make us do it. And we already know that the government would like us to make them make us do it. As UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband said about the Heathrow protests:
When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.
Unfortunately for Franny, governments are far easier to persuade than the electorate.
I’m of that generation that grew up being told that the point of our existence was to watch TV and go shopping and play computer games and then die. And I’m actually extremely excited and happy to realise that actually that’s not true. Actually, we have this immense responsibility – our generation has this immense responsibility. Because everybody who came before us didn’t know, and everyone who follows us, it’ll be too late for them to do anything. So it is down to us. And I actually find that extremely exciting and extremely inspiring, that we have got something important to do and that we’re not just passive consumers […] I find it much more scary the idea that our lives are just not worth anything, and if we just bought more Nike trainers, for example, then we would all be happier […] And I find that whole individualistic get in your little car and sit in a traffic jam for two hours and then go to a pointless job, that’s what I find really terrifying.
Don’t we all, dear. The difference is that Franny is happy to escape the treadmill by insisting that everybody else keeps on pedaling – literally. Meanwhile, Franny gets to go in big shiny helicopters:
At the end [of The Age of Stupid], there’s this great shot of this old guy mountain-climbing that was clearly shot from a helicopter. It was shot from a helicopter, because I shot it. And that kind of decision we had to make, like, you know, if we increase the production values of the film, we make it that much more mainstream by doing things like helicopter shots.
What was that she was just saying about passive consumerism?
It is de rigeur for environmentalists demanding that the rest of us change our greedy, consumerist ways to ritually, and with faux embarrassment, confess the size of their own carbon footprint. But it is only so big, they say, shifting uncomfortably yet sincerely in their seats, because they have a planet to save. Over to Franny again:
The thing about my carbon footprint is that it was really, really good. Because I’ve been vegetarian since I was eleven, I’ve never had a car, I live in a very cold house, I’ve got solar panels, I’ve got amazing insulation, I hate shopping, so I never buy anything. So I was doing really, really well until I made this climate blockbuster movie, and I’m now flying quite a lot to promote it. Like we’ve just been in Australia last week and we’re going to America next week. So my carbon footprint has dramatically gone up since I’ve become such a successful climate campaigner, paradoxically.
Not paradoxically at all. What Armstrong has succeeded in demonstrating is that, if you want to actually get anything done around here, you have to make an impact.
Her argument will no doubt cut ice with the converted, however – the converted being those with nothing better to do than read the Guardian and work out how to reduce their emissions. For everyone else, which is almost everybody, there is stuff to do. As we’ve said before, saving the planet is just a way to pass the time.
Anyway, good luck to ’em. They’ll need it. And congratulations in advance should their campaign actually manage to turn the heads of anything approaching a sizable chunk of the population. But we don’t believe for one minute that the public will go for this, like the public haven’t voted for green parties in the polls, like electoral turn-out has declined as all the mainstream parties have adopted mainstream environmental policies, like opinion polls repeatedly show that most people have little time for environmentalism, like ‘popular’ protests at energy plants and airports are anything but popular.
At the risk of indulging in a bit of pastiche politics ourselves, we would suggest that the real popular movement, the one that really is running counter to the mainstream and trying to change the world for the better, is the one that staunchly resists the political elites’ undemocratic push for a more sustainable, less aspirational world in which our only goal is to keep everything just how it used to be – forever. Because most of us, as (ahem) Martin Luther King once said, have a dream.