Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Responding to potentially catastrophic climate change is a challenge unlike any other in our history. We have the technology to meet this challenge – the barriers are social, political and cultural. So how can we make it happen?
Evidence from behaviour change research suggests that inaction and apathy do not stem from ignorance or even indifference. Rather it is a result of the lack of leadership (both cultural and political), the lack of a framework that supports change (carbon lock-in), and inadequacies in the way we are encouraged to see the challenge in relation to our own lives (framing).
Perception management is a term originally coined by the US military. It broadly means framing key information given to any selected audience to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning so that it results in conclusions, behaviours and actions favourable to the originator’s objectives.
How we perceive the climate challenge is being skilfully managed. Despite extreme weather events increasing globally, the underlying climate science is generally kept distant from weather-related headlines, so we don’t make the connections. The prevailing climate silence across the mainstream media, including a lack of visibility in popular culture, can make us think that we are alone in worrying about climate change. And climate silence breeds climate silence: the perception that other people don’t care makes us less likely to talk about the issues, or to take action ourselves.
When the issue is addressed in the media, the choice offered is too often framed as between ‘things as usual’ or ‘sweeping changes’. These changes can be almost impossible for people to imagine. Given this framing, many will plump for things as usual – even though the reality is that there can be no business as usual if global warming is not addressed, so that action now is actually our best option for keeping things as we recognise them.
So how can we re-frame the issue and break the climate silence?
Providing clear evidence that workable solutions already exist is vital – it empowers citizens and gives hesitant policymakers no excuse for inaction.
Positive stories of collective action can counter feelings of helplessness, scepticism or detachment, and show that others care. From the Yorkshire ‘Nanas’ (see RP Aug/Sep 2016) to the Standing Rock protests in the US, more and more people from all sectors are coming together to say ‘No’ to what they feel is wrong. But there is also a growing passion for the essential ‘Yes!’ People are no longer content to campaign for a better world; they want a turn at building it for themselves.
Positive action unites us, and encourages those who don’t yet see the need to act. Individuals, families, communities and regional authorities have amassed a gold mine of experience of the complex interaction between land use, planning, renewables, food production, buildings, transport and waste. By bringing to life the sense of common purpose and the positive co-benefits offered by the zero carbon transition, we can re-frame how such solutions could relate to our lives.
For example, refurbishing homes to increase energy efficiency can have many additional benefits, including tackling fuel poverty, reducing damp and condensation, and improving the occupants’ wellbeing. Originating in the Netherlands, Energiesprong is an organisation that refurbishes houses to net zero energy, meaning that over the course of a year a house does not consume more energy for heating, hot water, lights and appliances than it produces. The upfront cost of the refurbishment is repaid over time by the difference in cost between the energy contract and the actual energy use. The work is completed within ten days so residents don’t have to move out.
Arno Schmickler, programme director at Energiesprong UK, says: ‘I’m an architect by background. Coming to Britain, it’s almost impossible what people put up with in terms of the quality of the building stock. It’s appalling to see what’s still being delivered today in terms of energy efficiency in the UK.’
Examples like this can help us to re-frame climate change in terms of the positive actions we can take to address the challenge and start to re-shape our collective future.
While individual behaviour change is clearly important, it must be connected to the broader changes that are required to support it at social, industrial, political and international levels. To achieve this, we need to recognise how we have become locked in to fossil fuels. The historical, technical, cultural and institutional co-evolution of high-carbon energy, housing, transport and agriculture systems creates forces that are hugely resistant to change. This is despite their impacts being known and despite the existence of cost-effective alternatives.
For instance, the current highly centralised method of providing electricity is not the only or even the best way of doing it, particularly when all the impacts are considered. Yet it has become very difficult to change because of the legal frameworks, institutions, financial support, investment models, consumer preferences and practices that have grown up around it.
We can challenge this by creating practical projects at a local scale, where there is flexibility to experiment and innovate and so help normalise new relationships with energy, transport or food. However, once proven, such initiatives must have access to the support strategies and resources needed to rapidly replicate or scale up.
Community energy projects are a clear example of how people can come together to challenge carbon lock-in. The Green Valleys (TGV) Community Interest Company is one such example. Set up by community members in and around the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2009, it inspires and supports communities to work together to reduce carbon emissions, generate income and deliver social and environmental benefits.
TGV Hydro offers a full design, permissions and construction service for small-scale hydroelectric systems. It has designed and built about 40 micro-hydro schemes across Wales, about a third of which are community owned. The projects raise awareness about renewable energy, together with energy-saving attitudes and initiatives.
TGV business development director Chris Blake says: ‘You can argue that perhaps energy is the defining commodity of the last 200 years. Where we get it from, who owns it, how it’s distributed and how it’s used is crucial to our social structure and civilisation. Having it local, municipal, socially owned, as it has been in the past, could be very liberating… [Community energy schemes] can build community cohesion – they don’t always, but they can.’
The co-benefits of action to overcome carbon lock-in is also a theme for Sheridan Piggott. She is the founder of York Bike Belles, which addresses the barriers to increasing cycling among women through activities such as bike maintenance workshops, group bike rides and bike loan schemes.
‘When they overcome those barriers, it leads to all sorts of other benefits,’ she says. ‘We’ve seen massive increases in confidence, independence, improvements in physical and mental health. We engaged about 7,500 women in the York area and at least 20,000 people have engaged with the project online… It’s grown from being just for women to being an everyday, friendly cycling community for everyone – one of the things that’s lacking in our cycling communities across the country.’
The zero carbon transition opens up a range of exciting opportunities. It can deliver significant additional benefits, including better housing, affordable transport, reduced obesity, improved health, better air quality and more jobs. Isolated, stressful, consumer-focused lifestyles can be replaced by a sense of connection with community and nature, delivering enormous benefits in physical and psychological wellbeing.
Although shifting cultural values isn’t easy, there are powerful examples from history that show that evolution in our collective thinking can happen over just a few years. If we are to meet the urgency of the climate challenge, we must unleash our collective intent, and in doing so reveal a sense of common purpose that many have been craving for a very long time.
The full report, Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen, can be downloaded at www.zerocarbonbritain.org
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite