Ed Miliband — the previous government’s Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change — has been elected leader of the Labour Party. Hmm.
This is unusual. Not only is Miliband relatively young for someone hoping to convince the voting public that he’s the best man for the job of running the country, before 2005, nobody had heard of him. It was in that year’s general election that Ed first stood as an MP. Just one election cycle later, he has the party’s top job, and in another, he could in theory be the UK’s number 1. He’d have to turn the party’s fortunes around, however, and that would be harder to achieve than his apparently meteoric rise from obscurity. After all, the reality is not so much that Ed has risen through the Labour Party than it is that the party has sunk to his level. This dynamic reflects what we’ve been saying for most of his career as an MP: environmentalism’s ascendancy is not explained by its own force, but has instead been driven by a vacuum at the heart of UK politics. And Ed is every bit the environmentalist.
There is a lot to say about the phenomenon of Ed. For instance, it is interesting that it was the vote of the unions that gave him a narrow edge over his brother, David, who also stood in the race. What did Ed have that the Unions wanted? In what sense does Ed Miliband best represent the unions? And for that matter, in what sense do the unions, in 2010, represent the interests of their membership? The conservative press have made — and no doubt will continue to make — much of this, calling him ‘Red Ed’, but in doing so, they make far too much of it. Politics, the unions, and the public are not what they were in the 1970s, ‘60s, ‘50s… It’s hard to imagine the masses — or put more strongly: the industrial working class — being moved by Ed Miliband’s desire for a low-carbon economy, for wind farms, for strong international legally-binding treaties on climate change, and for the substantial changes to lifestyles, opportunities, living standards and to society that these things necessarily entail. As we have argued here, environmentalism and climate change politics simply are not popular, but are elitist. Indeed, we have argued that the elitist character of environmentalism is no accident, but represents the political establishment’s clumsy attempt to find a source of legitimacy in lieu of something — anything — with which to achieve a democratic mandate. That is to say that climate change is convenient to indistinct, hollow, shallow, and narrow political parties — saving the planet is a stand in for vision and ideas about how to argue for and achieve positive change.
To be fair — ish — to Ed, he recognised the unpopular character of environmentalism. We are fond of quoting Ed on this, because it is perhaps the most revealing comment about climate change politics ever made by a UK politician:
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.
As we pointed out at the time, many were claiming that ‘climate change is the defining issue of our era’. But it coincided with the another defining issue of our time: a dearth of historically-defining political movements and ideas. This is why, we have argued here, politicians accordingly cast themselves as the Roosevelt, Churchill, Kennedy of climate change, offering ‘green new deals’, and demanded we got ourselves on a ‘(world) war (II) footing’ if we wanted to save ourselves from Thermageddon. Solving the climate crisis would be our ‘moon landing’.
But this was all ‘pastiche politics’, we argued: lacking a popular movement, environmentalism is unable to make its own history, and so recycles heroes and pivotal moments from the past to elevate its players. Ed’s reflection on environmentalism’s failure was not all that deep after all. He was sharp enough to realise that environmentalism was unpopular, but not bright enough to remember that it was not the political establishment who were demanding the vote for women. It was not those in power who were demanding civil rights and sexual equality. Ed had gotten the whole point of radical politics upside down. It was pressure from below which forced a change above in each of those instances. What Ed was asking for, then, was not unlike asking the rioting serfs of 18th centruy France to demand ‘less cake’. It should be no surprise, then, that those to whom he turned to create the popular environmental movement were really quite posh. It was Tamsin Osmond, grand-daughter of Baronet Sir Thomas Lees, who styled herself and her chums as ‘climate suffragettes’, just as Ed Miliband had asked. Osmond’s group, Climate Rush, descended on Parliament, demanding as their namesakes had a century prior: “deeds not words”. The ladies in fancy dress found themselves arrested. Already, the protesters who had done the bidding of the government minister found themselves on the wrong side of the law. In today’s political world, it is hard to tell the establishment from the revolutionaries.
The Climate Rush movement, so easily parodied, soon lost its momentum. Miliband’s desire for a credible One to organise the masses turned him towards Franny Armstrong, who, although being nearly as posh as Osmond, had dropped the plummy, public school accent for an estuarine whinge. Armstrong, you will remember, was the director of the abysmal film, Age of Stupid, an angry shout at the world, released last year. Off the back of the publicity generated by the film, Armstrong established the 10:10 campaign, intended to get us all to reduce our CO2 emissions by 10% in 2010. In other words, Armstrong had created what might pass as a movement that could help Ed Miliband realise his government’s carbon emissions-reduction targets. Ed took the initiative, and made appearances alongside Armstrong at the launch of her films and campaigns.
Ed, for all his faults, was a politician with a mandate, seeking a greater basis from which to support the policies he was seeking to create. Franny, however, was frequently rude, scolding him for not creating sufficiently far-reaching climate policies, and urging him to ‘stop being a politician’. The self appointed zealot would reproach the democratically-elected politician for heeding public will. She was pure… She wanted to save the planet… But all politicians — especially those who are sensitive to the public mood — are bent. Miliband would take the flak, hoping that such martyrdom and sycophancy would demonstrate his commitment to the cause, and get the climate protesters behind him. Here is one such exchange.
So what’s this all about? You will no doubt be aware that Armstrong has also been in the news recently. An advert for her 10:10 campaign called ‘No Pressure’ has caused controversy by depicting the summary executions of children and others who refuse to be moved by their teacher’s and boss’s instructions. The intensely patronising teacher and the equally intensely patronising boss, upon sensing their underlings’ recalcitrance, casually press buttons which cause the climate delinquents’ bodies to explode all over their obedient class and work mates. The teacher and boss press on with business as though nothing, let alone the murder of their subordinates, had happened. “No pressure”, they had said. But afterwards, no regret in their voice either.
This has been nothing less than a spectacular own goal for the campaign. As has been widely pointed out, It epitomises in dramatic form the overbearing and self-important character of environmentalists. They will brook no dissent. There is no debate. There can be no negotiation. And anyone who feels differently can go hang.
It would be hard to parody the green movement as efficiently as the writer of this film, Richard Curtis — who also wrote the nauseatingly insipid ‘rom-coms’, Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral — has. There must be many people asking him, ‘whose side are you on, Richard?’
However, Deputy Environment Editor of the Guardian, Adam Vaughan, rather than seeing the film as one which betrays the greens’ true colours, believes that the film was ‘intended as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of hectoring greens’. The self-mocking intention was simply poorly expressed, he says. In order to explain this, Vaughan quotes environmental psychologist, Adam Corner,
At the most general level, the video fails to address basic principles of communication. What is the message? Who are the audience? The video literally doesn’t make any sense – if it is aimed at supporters, what are we supposed to take from it? And if it is aimed at those who oppose the 10:10 campaign – or more pertinently, are not yet aware of or interested in it – then what is the video hoping to achieve?
It takes an ‘expert’ in ‘communicating climate change’ to point this out, apparently. What Corner and Vaughan can’t explain, however, is why the 10:10 campaign produce such a confused message in the first place. Just as Miliband was sensitive to the fact that his policies lacked popular support, not even Franny is so stupid that she has failed to recognise that people regard her organisation as so many shrill, hectoring, and self-important zealots. But just as Miliband cannot find a movement to share his ambitions, those to whom he turns to for it, can do little but alienate their would-be supporters. Corner, the climate psychologist can only do so much in the aftermath of the film. He turns up to the post-mortem to pronounce the film dead, and offers only ways to avoid the death of such campaigns:
1. Move Beyond Social Marketing.
2. Be honest and forthright about the probable impacts of climate change, and the scale of the challenge we confront in avoiding these. But avoid deliberate attempts to provoke fear or guilt.
3. Be honest and forthright about the impacts of mitigating and adapting to climate change for current lifestyles, and the ‘loss’ — as well as the benefits — that these will entail. Narratives that focus exclusively on the ‘up-side’ of climate solutions are likely to be unconvincing.
3a. Avoid emphasis upon painless, easy steps.
3b. Avoid over-emphasis on the economic opportunities that mitigating, and adapting to, climate change may provide.
3c. Avoid emphasis upon the opportunities of ‘green consumerism’ as a response to climate change.
4. Empathise with the emotional responses that will be engendered by a forthright presentation of the probable impacts of climate change.
5. Promote pro-environmental social norms and harness the power of social networks.
6. Think about the language you use, but don’t rely on language alone.
7. Encourage public demonstrations of frustration at the limited pace of government action.
So many buzz-words, and such little meaning. Corner forgets of course, that each of these recommendations are beyond the means of the 10:10 campaign. For instance, it cannot move ‘beyond social marketing’, because, as has been discussed, it is not a popular campaign and its members — even those with advanced degrees in psychology — have no idea to communicate with those outside of the movement. As such, then, climate campaigners are limited to ‘attempts to provoke fear or guilt’ (#2), and have to overstate the likely outcomes of climate change and the benefits that any political solution to it might offer (#3), and overstate the ease at which these solutions may be implemented (#3a, b & c).
It gets worse. Corner’s advice is from the Climate Change Communication Advisory Group — a ‘a diverse range of individuals from academia and the third sector, with expertise in climate change communication and engagement — which he organises. The group produced a report, where the principles above are given more detail. Point 4 is expanded,
We should expect people to be sad or angry, to feel guilt or shame, to yearn for that which is lost or to search for more comforting answers (Randall, 2009). Providing support and empathy in working through the painful emotions of ‘grief’ for a society that must undergo changes is a prerequisite for subsequent adaptation to new circumstances.
Denial and scepticism are simply ‘maladaptive’ emotional strategies — coping mechanisms to deal with the horror of climate change, says Corner. Yet might we turn this around, and wonder if climate change anxiety may well be a much more a clear expression of an emotional problem of those who have failed to adapt to changes in society? After all, it is Miliband, for instance, who is anxious that he is struggling to connect with a base, and it is the 10:10 campaign whose advert looks for all the world like an infantile tantrum after the group failed to get its way, as the campaign’s director, Eugenie Harvey reveals in her apology for the film:
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.
Furthermore, as we’ve argued on this blog many, many times, it is those with the most limited view of humanity — not simply those who would like to blow them up — who make the most out of climate change. For instance, Armstrong, who co-wrote the film with Curtis, argued in its defence that,
We ‘killed’ five people to make No Pressure – a mere blip compared to the 300,000 real people who now die each year from climate change.
The 300,000 people she refers to are those counted by a report from the now defunct Global Humanitarian Forum as having been killed by climate change. But as we pointed out, these deaths from malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition, even if they are Nth-order effects of climate change, are far lower-order effects of poverty. The only way that the claim that these are deaths caused by climate change can be sustained, therefore, is by arguing that it would not be possible to address the problem of poverty. If we abolished poverty, in fact, there would many more millions of lives saved — and what is more, much improved — but that fact is inconvenient to Armstrong, Corner, and their ilk, who make so much capital out of the idea of looming catastrophe. 300,000 theoretical deaths count more to her and her ambitions than the ambitions of millions who die for the want of clean water, civil infrastructure, industrial agriculture, medicine, and so on. The promise that Armstrong makes to these people is that she will make the weather better for them, and in doing so, she displaces from the pages of the Guardian and the academic departments at Cardiff University the idea that development is fundamental to transforming the conditions experienced by people throughout the world.
The 10:10 campaign really is a tantrum, and not by some stretched metaphor or analogy. Franny and her chums really don’t understand the world and the people who inhabit it, and really are not very pleasant people when they find their will obstructed.
Back to Corner’s guide, and point 5 — ‘Promote pro-environmental social norms and harness the power of social networks’ — which, just 4 points later, has contradicted point 1, ‘Move Beyond Social Marketing’. This contradiction is inevitable, because Corner’s expert psychological advice does not explain to the environmental movement how to move beyond it, limited, as it is by a half-baked pathological understanding of how social movements develop. Corner, like Franny — both seemingly experts in communicating the climate change message — has trouble reaching beyond his own mates. Says Corner in the 7 Principles,
One way of bridging the gap between private-sphere behaviour changes and collective action is the promotion of pro-environmental social norms. Pictures and videos of ordinary people (‘like me’) engaging in significant proenvironmental actions are a simple and effective way of generating a sense of social normality around pro-environmental behaviour.
Can you imagine… ‘Here’s me sorting my rubbish for the recycling’… ‘Here’s me not using my car’… ‘Here I am buying over-priced sustainably-sourced millet’… Any ordinary people ‘like me’, exchanging holiday and family snaps for pictures of the most mundane of day-to-day chores in an effort to get them to ‘think like me’ are likely to find themselves lonely and sad. Corner fails to recognise what Franny and the others at 10:10 have realised: they simply aren’t able to put things nicely, or to cultivate ‘social norms’ deliberately in a way that is useful to their campaign. As high-profile as they are, the climate change movement is tiny, and their success in cultivating social norms has been limited to this movement. Accordingly, the creation of eco-social-norms has done nothing more than alienate those who hold with them further, so out-of-kilter with wider social norms are they, as this silly film is surely testament to. And hence, skipping past the almost meaningless point #6, point number 7 — to encourage ‘public demonstrations of frustration at the limited pace of government action’ — only serves, at every turn, as a visible reminder of just how little public support there is for climate politics.
This must be something for Miliband to reflect on. Those to whom he has turned have failed to provide the base he needs to drive his politics forward. This spectacular joke at their own expense leaves gore on not just 10:10’s face, but all over Miliband too. He and they have been hoist by their own petard. However, the point is not simply about environmentalism and climate policies. The point is that environmentalism is more a symptom than a cause. See how far the crisis Miliband’s suffers from extends. Conscious of the dearth of public support for his climate politics, he attempted to circumvent the democratic processes that could not satisfy his ambitions, and sought new ways to connect with an uninterested public. So desperate to connect with people are the members of the establishment, there has even been a recruitment of special climate change psychologists, who invent ways to explain the failure of the message makers. Now the exploding children only echo the sound of the collapse of the hope that climate politics could generate a new social movement. That sound is in turn an echo of the noises that the likes of Miliband generate, as he tries desperately to turn his own political ambitions into reality, but fails. This failure, five years in the making, spans Ed Miliband’s career as an elected politician. This failure is what sold Ed Miliband to the Labour Party. He didn’t do anything else. The words of Ed’s father, Ralph, seem appropriate here.
The Labour Party does not now stand at the crossroads. It made a choice, or rather it accepted the choice that was made for it. Electoral defeat has now forced it, as a Party, to pause and ask itself whether the road leads anywhere. It does—to the political graveyard. And it is by no means certain that, as a Party, it will not continue to travel along that road.” – Ralph Miliband. The Sickness of Labourism. The New Left Review, 1961.
As an after thought. I don’t find the No Pressure video to be the worst produce by climate alarmism. The following videos are far more chilling.
It does not surprise me that politicians who struggle to share their political ambitions with the public use ideas such as these:
… to produce messages such as this:
Ed Miliband is one year and a climategate too late.
“Environmentalism’s ascendancy is not explained by its own force, but has instead been driven by a vacuum at the heart of UK politics”.
Agreed. But this vacuum must exist wherever the green idea has taken hold, for this explanation to be sufficient. That is to say:
– At the UN, whose dozens of ringing declarations aimed at abolishing poverty, disease, drug trafficking, money laundering, child prostitution etc. all take second place to the fight against global warming. Only the IPCC / Kyoto / Copenhagen process is imbued with the moral authority of religious truth, and is the subject of nonstop media attention. Do experts in drug trafficking and preventable diseases not have the backing of peer-reviewed science?
– In all the Western countries where the green idea has swamped the normal process of adversarial politics. (Only in the USA, curiously, with its corrupt, money-driven system, has the tradition of a bipolar public debate been maintained).
– In all the mainstream media, whose environmental correspondents churn out competing catastrophic messages, almost unchallenged by their colleagues.
– In all the cultural nerve-centres of the West, where creative writers, artists, and social scientists have constructed vast edifices of propaganda on scientific speculation they clearly don’t understand, don’t care about, and haven’t even begun to reflect on in a way which would merit the term “intellectual”.
It’s difficult to imagine a theory general enough to explain an intellectual vacuum so widespread which doesn’t reduce itself to some such trite formula as the decline / dumbing of the West. A vacuum in a single party, or in the political system of a single country, may be amenable of explanation. A vacuum which manifests itself everywhere at the same time is more like a religious mystery.
None of us have the answer. I’d like to make one small practical suggestion, however. If you could slice your excellent posts into more manageable-sized chunks, and post them more often, you’d get more hits, more comments, and get the message out to the more active, less reflective parts of the blogosphere, where the many intelligent sceptics might be encouraged to contribute to the discussion.
The “Clockwork Green” video, in which the speaker exhorts his colleagues in psychiatry to use their talents and skills to increase anxiety among those “unconcerned” by global warming, reminds me of something Voltaire said: “If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” This is very chilling, indeed.
The big difference between the unions now & then is that when socialism was a mass movement the unions represented workers across industry. Nowadays the unions almost exclusively represent government workers, who, net not only create nothing but have an immensely parasitic effect on national wealth. If we accept that the real purpose of most government programmes is not to achieve the ostensible aim but to pay government workers & their friends it is clear that the unions are now nothing more than an instrument of big government parsitism. When government talks to unions & the BBC report it we are simply seeing 3 government propagandists agreeing the best way to make government spending a yet larger (now over 50%) share of national wealth.
This, which I wrote recently goes into more depth on government parasitism being the cause of the alarmist scam http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2010/10/warming-alarmism-its-effectm-why-it-is.html
Dr. Moffic’s video clip is far more chilling than “Splattergate” and “Bedtime Stories”.
It’s all about brainwashing.
While “Splattergate” was a monumental flop and “Bedtime Stories” was too contrived to be convincing for most viewers, Moffic is talking about using psychiatry (instead of simply psychology) to force his personal anxiety of imminent disaster from AGW on humanity (would this include the use of psychiatric drugs to accelerate the process?).
This is a frightening escalation of the methods used by Lenin and Goebbels.
And it reveals a total disconnect between Moffic and the general public whom he is trying to influence. He is truly out of touch with reality and probably needs psychiatric help, himself.
The are environmentalists, who care about the environment and want to see it made better, and there are “moral environmentalists” for whom it is a calling, a vision, a political statement.
The rise of moral environmentalism has quite a few parallels with the rise of Socialism some 150 years ago. It is wildly impractical, so is in no danger of gaining power (except in grossly corrupted form) but has changed the frames of reference. Politicians may seem to bow to it, but they don’t believe it in their hearts. Not deep down.
How many politicians have come to power promising an “ethical” foreign policy, only to tread the same paths as all those before them? How’s Guantanamo coming along? How ethical does Blair seem now?
Milibrand is in no danger of imposing any real change in the environmental policies of the UK because he’s only playing with what seems a hot idea at the moment. To usher in real change, he would have to be a revolutionary – the equivalent of what Lenin was for the Socialist movement. If one of those comes along, he won’t look like any current Tory!
The Steven Moffic video is a classic, isn’t it – when I first watched it, I remember thinking “Did he really say that?” and having to go back and listen to it again just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming it.
I am very curious about the sort of mindset that would propose Adam Corner’s Rule No.7: “Encourage public demonstrations of frustration at the limited pace of government action” especially in the face of survey results like this recent Mintel report (“Green fatigue hits campaign to reduce carbon footprint”.)
Such disappointing non-compliance on the part of the public… Calling Dr Moffic…
geoffchambers @ October 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm
“It’s difficult to imagine a theory general enough to explain an intellectual vacuum so widespread which doesn’t reduce itself to some such trite formula as the decline / dumbing of the West.”
Quite a few people have pointed to a loss of confidence in the enlightenment, perhaps resulting from 20th C wars or the cold war, and a tendency to blame science and progress for our woes. This suggestion has been put forward from both sides of the climate argument. If you are a warmist, then the sceptics are anti-science because they dispute the consensus. If you are a sceptic, then the warmists are anti-science because they cry wolf. Of course, if you are a hard-core environmentalist, then I imagine you simply hate science (as well as people). Presumably though, if enlightenment thinking was powerful enough to lift our ancestors on the path to modern technological society, then it seems at least possible that a loss of confidence could create a vacuum large enough to power the current malaise. Do you not think this has a grain of truth in it or is the problem somewhere else entirely?
Loss of confidence in the Enlightenment? Good question. If the warmists thought it would help explain the growth of climate scepticism they’d have commissioned an opinion poll by now:- “How much confidence do you have in the Enlightenment? A lot .. some .. none at all..”
If attitudes to science play a part, then the essential fact is probably the high level of public confidence in scientists expressed by the public, in comparison to the abysmally low confidence in journalists and politicians. Having worked in opinion research, I find these polls pretty useless, but the fact that journalists, politicians and other opinion leaders take them seriously makes them serious. If you’ve got a project to sell, attach “scientists say..” to the prospectus.
One can make a similar comment with respect to our supposed distrust of technology. Everyone hates the idea of messing around with our food, but no-one wants to buy an apple with worms in it. Sensible politicians (or social scientists) would take notice of what people do, not what they say. This lot feed off focus groups, which focus little but the concerns and prejudices of the sorts of people who conduct focus groups. I know, I was one of them.
Whatever longterm historical trends may be in play, the political vacuum discussed here is a fairly recent phenomenon. Post war British politics was marked by enormous popular engagement, with 90% participation in elections, almost all voting for the two major parties. So the immediate causes of the current vacuum must be more recent. I’ve got my own theory about that, but since it concerns events which happened before the editors here were born, I’d rather hear their ideas first.
Quote: “…summary executions of children and others who refuse to be moved by their teacher’s and boss’s instructions…”.
It wasn’t even a refusal on their part. In the movie it looked like the children were unsure *ka-boom* blown up. The work colleges looked doubtful and didn’t want to waste there money on a silly scheme *ka-boom*. It was only the coach at the end who was adamant and confrontational.
The movie was an insult (if not a threat) to the thinking man.
10:10 is back. They have a sign in lights at Piccadilly Circus, and the accompanying tweet says “in amongst it all, you really can see the glimmers of a movement building”. Thanks to George Marshall of Climatedenial, top warmists’ shrink, for the information.
“glimmer of a movement”
What kind of “movement”, I wonder?
If it is in anyway similar to the “movement” resulting from the youtube, I’d call it (pardon the expression) a “bowel movement”.
If you thought the Guardian’s support for the 10:10 snuff movie was an aberration, get over to
It’s a book plug by one Juniper for a doom porn tome by himself, another, and HRH the Prince of Wales (they should call themselves the Three Degrees – Dead White Male version).
The interest is in the comments where a Guardian contributor, english hermit, had his comment deleted. Luckily, it’s been quoted by other commenters, so we know what he said:
…. The only solution that I can see is brutal, harsh and cruel. It means identifying those who cannot or will not change and when the time comes, exterminating them. When the survival of the human race is at stake, it will have to be done….
A second commenter, MartyninEurope, who is also a Guardian contributor, quotes the above, and says:
As well as not being desirable IMHO it’s also not practical.
Despite the efforts of some sensorious commenters, the debate (on the extermination of the rest of us) is alive and well at the Guardian.