Listen now | Politics, people and power
The question of why and how the right in the U.S. became so polarised against environmentalism, particularly action on climate change, is documented in great detail in Naomi Oreskes book Merchants of Doubt. She would be a great guest to have on the show by the way.
On running a campaign, I think that a large reason for XR’s early successful mobilisation, was the hundreds of “Heading for Extinction” talks they ran up and down the country, some of which can be found on YouTube. Claire Farrell’s version was particularly effective. I even ran one myself once (could do better!). This reinforces Alistair Campbell’s advice to keep repeating the facts..even after you’ve heard them a thousand times yourself. For many people it’s the first time and it can be devastating to hear.
I think Alistair is being very self aware when he says that many people will be sceptical of his involvement as they won’t have forgotten the lies and aftermath of Iraq in which he was deeply entwined. Sorry, but there it is.
What's totally exasperating but SHOP (standard human operating procedure) is the hubris that we humans exhibit when we actually think that we can at some point in time "fix" Overshoot problems with the same level of mentality that got us into this mess in the first place (to paraphrase Einstein). Part of the hubris is the fact that humans won't admit that for the most part they are just animals at a certain evolutionary level that happen to have evolved into self-awareness and self-consciousness, and because of that thinks it knows best, can't see beyond that awareness/consciousness (although we intuitively know that there is something else beyond - so to speak - that we have historically and continue to strive towards), and with that "supreme" knowledge has the final word on every subject. We simply act as if we are God (sorry, God, didn't mean to insult you that way). Working together at our current level of mentality will not solve problems - techno-optimism, AI, et al aside. Humanity must evolve to a higher plane of knowledge before we can understand the totality of what we have done, how we did it, and how not to do it again. Humans are not inherently bad (i.e., as a result of a "fall" from grace, etc.) as many people, societies, and religions think: they just exist on a plane that only supports the ignorance of egoism, and until that is transcended, all bets are off. The transcendence is possible: that glass ceiling has been broken many times throughout history, we just have to learn how to do it more collectively, and then hold on to that without sliding backwards - again.
The most exasperating opponent for the environmental movement is the “voice of reason” from INSIDE the institutions that hold power.
These institutionalised personalities parrot your positions and they empathise with your aims and they appear to share your values and beliefs. And truthfully, often they believe they are on your side.
But their message is always the same. They tell you that your making progress, look at the progress we’ve already made, they’ll say. Then they’ll tell you that you need to accept that change is slow and difficult and you should keep on trying, keep on campaigning, keep up the good fight and eventually more progress will be made. Then they’ll tell you that the values and processes of our current institutions is the ONLY reasonable and sensible way to facilitate change. And it all sounds so plausible.
They’ll focus in on the process and the history and the practicalities because they can’t offer a truly innovative vision for a society without the institutional power structures they are immersed in. They see a future that looks like today but “better”. A kind of “electric car” future that imagines a cleaned up environment that magically functions differently but is based on the same values that created the multi-crises.
It’s a desperately impoverished vision and a dangerous partnership.
I’ve interviewed many youth climate and health activists and I’ve watched them slowly become engulfed in an institutional mindset that replicates the above time and time again. This institutionalisation is a major hurdle to real change.
They guest you had on this show is a perfect example.
Good conversation, thanks to both of you. I talk to everybody and surest aspect I find of doing that is uncovering fear couched in cognitive bias. People almost always relieved to talk sometimes briefly.
Drop by Twitter Space audio Saturdays #ClimateCrisisClub listen & chat 11AM ESTime, so 4pm UK should you and Alastair wish. Yours Oliver
Now that I have listened to this podcast there are some very interesting points. Incidentally, I don't think you were 'soft' on him - I think your question about why he wasn't more vocal about his climate stance brought a rare peek behind the 'statesman' front (which is his skill base and safe place) and ultimately led to his offer to do more. He has a point an about the messaging and audience and the need to appeal to those not yet on board. Battering politicians until you become sick of your own voice is probably quite a good tactic, too, although it's probably Labour politicians who need to be battered rather than the Tories who are bereft of ideas, vision and time. There is a fine line, though, between targeted messaging and spin for which he was so notorious. You want to be relevant to your chosen audience but not 'economical with the truth'. There is so much negative messaging around that chimes with people's fears - ULEZ, for example. A vision of fairness, that measures to address climate change and the environment mean those with wealth will need to use less so that those with little have more, that where you live doesn't have to mean you are likely to die sooner, that living in the North could give you as much access to decent jobs as living in the South is something that many people would jump at - once you have pierced their justified cynicism. I do take issue with a couple of Alistair's approaches to messaging: he sees complacency and prescribes a shot of fear. Maybe, in his circles, but while ignoring an impending catastrophe can look like complacency it is much more likely to be a defence against the overwhelming fear of the enormity of the issue - perhaps this is true of the wealthy too. By the same token, facts are only useful to the extent the listener is able or willing to assimilate them. Hope may not be a useful headline message but it is a powerful emotion that stories and visions can convey and, boy, do we need hope right now.