Tag Archives: climate change

Values need Context: #LestWeForget

A Comment on Christmas TV Adverts and a lesson for NGOs.

Monty the Penguin - the John Lewis Christmas Ad arrives with rueful knowing.

Monty the Penguin – the John Lewis Christmas Ad arrives with rueful knowing.

After watching Monty the Penguin, I felt a little teary; after watching Sainsbury’s World War I Truce ad – I felt a little nauseous.
Both appeal to socially responsible values, endearing us to a world of friendship and love; but context is key.

Yesterday, I attended a workshop on the use of “values” in communications.

Conducted in the name of the “Common Cause”, the good folk of PIRC brought to our attention the idea of the intrinsic-extrinsic values map. Using research from social psychologists worldwide, they explained how appealing to certain sets of values is more likely to result in certain behaviours. (The work is fascinating and can be read about in depth on their website here) .

Common Cause Values Map. Find out more at valuesandframes.org

Common Cause Values Map. Find out more at valuesandframes.org

The major take-away message for social do-gooders is that to encourage socially responsible action, communicators need to appeal to related values in their work, e.g. inner harmony, social justice, equality (see green areas in map).

What’s more, it is noteworthy that these “universal and benevolent” values are much more frequently considered important by all sectors of society. So connecting with such value sets in most communications is a good idea, especially if you want to truly engage the viewer and encourage generous behaviour.

And indeed, while us not-for-profit lot were eagerly scribbling away, drinking green tea and talking about moral responsibility, the British retailing big-boys were releasing their TV ads. And as usual, they’re ahead of the game. Yet the results are unsettling.

Penguins vs The Trenches
If you watch the Christmas TV ads from either Waitrose, John Lewis or Sainsbury’s you will see that all of them feed into the idea of love, friendship and belonging. They’re activating those universal values, as even FOR-profit organizations realise that activating these values is more powerful than those associated with individualism.

But while some adverts can be considered successful, others seem to be in terrible taste – highlighting the importance of context.

#Monty the Penguin is an all-time favourite. Watching little boy Sam tenderly care for his best friend, a viewer can’t help but engage all those intrinsic values related to universalism and benevolence(see map above) – for example, loyalty, equality, love, friendship, unity with nature, broadmindedness, a world of beauty. The end message of the advert is that the boy’s faithful and unfailing love of his penguin is mirrored by YOUR love of your own children – a love that can be demonstrated by purchasing a nice present from John Lewis.

Nothing too offensive in that – and indeed, something we can all rationally choose against if we so wish.

Sainsbury's WWI Truce Advert. Appropriate?

Sainsbury’s WWI Truce Advert. Appropriate?

The Sainsbury’s advert is, on first comparison, a similar, if not more powerful, emotional roller-coaster. Depicting a fairytale vision of the front line, this exquisite short film tells the true story of human connection breaking the barriers of war on Christmas Day in 2014. Compassion and love triumph barbed wire and bombs. Those lovely intrinsic values of universalism and benevolence are activated once more in the on-looker at home. Moreover, wider group values relating to national security and social order. The end result is a feel-good montage of “BEING PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER” – a message which chimes with Sainsbury’s family focused Christmas campaign last year.

But while I’m a fan of both Monty the Penguin and Sainsbury’s Family advert (I watched the full 60 min montage a NUMBER of times over), this WW1 Truce leaves me reeling.

The reason  = context.
Sainsbury’s, John Lewis and the rest of the corporate gang are clever. Very, very clever in getting ahead on communications territory which by rights, should be the preserve of those trying to serve the public good. They understand that:

  • 1) Viewers want to be told a story.
  • 2) We want to feel that other people feel what we feel (similar values).
  • 3) We want to become the people we want to be by following a certain action (e.g. buying a present, shopping in a certain store).

Yet, despite their canny knowing, they don’t seem to have grasped the idea of social sensibility.

Using the events of World War One is frankly sinister. Sure, there’s some reference to a charitable chocolate bar – and yep, they’ve worked in partnership with the Royal British Legion. And don’t get me wrong – I certainly think that this is a beautiful piece of film about WW1 which if used for the purposes of the Royal British Legion alone would have been glorious.

Royal Lancashire Fusiliers treating a wounded comrade in the Somme during the summer of 1916 during the First World War (c) Nigel Blundell.

Royal Lancashire Fusiliers treating a wounded comrade in the Somme, 1916 (c) Nigel Blundell.

However, is it not cynical to use the deaths of 100,000s of people, fighting for democracy, to sell turkeys? This of course, let’s not forget,  is ultimately the aim of this advert. If you asked those men that died how they’d feel about their story being used for the supermarket retailer to buoy flagging sales – I’m not sure what they’d say.

The result is a tangible feeling of disconnection on viewing the advert.

It should of course be noted that the vast majority of people commenting on message boards, Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, have had v. many positive things to say about Sainsbury’s. But I’m not sure that they’re aware of the reality of Sainsbury’s aims in creating this advert. They want to increase the shareholder value of Sainsbury’s. The Royal British Legion is a secondary CSR detail.

Lesson for Not-for-Profits?
Values are important. Storytelling is important. Having viable actions for viewers to follow up on is important. But so is the frame within which you’re communicating your message.

Us not-for-profits have a long way to go. And we need to learn more quickly, and implement more expediently. But let’s try to remember the lessons of our corporate route-masters. These guys have got they’re first, they’ve created amazing pieces of artful communication, with more panache and style than many of us. Much of their success is due to healthier budgets, but some is due to professionalism.

But as this proves, corporates haven’t  retained the moral high ground. They’ve been scrabbling for it, as the recent retailers’ “War on Values’ was declared, with Sainsburys & Tescos scrapping about bananas. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe even went onto do a little piece about the “value of values”.  But there’s nothing substantive for them to talk about. The truth is that their values can be found on a spreadsheet in numerical form, where as civil society’s are held within our collective sense of right and wrong.

Let’s capitalise on that and let’s move ahead – using values and frames to make an unashamed moral difference.


“Coal. Guns. Freedom”: Facts Fail Climate Comms


Facts alone are failing in the war on climate change communication. Instead, to truly engage, we need to share experience. Without the privilege of person-person contact, this can still be achieved remotely by inspiring others through art, to create their own experiences.

Understanding arising from experience is far more powerful than factual knowledge alone. This has been known for aeons and yet we are still failing to connect people to their environment in a way that persuades them to protect, rather than destroy, something that they are part of.

The Problem

Yesterday’s US mid-term elections are a prime example of the conservation movement’s failure “to move” the voter. To quote Brad Plumber at Vox:

Republican Mitch McConnell's re-election slogan. And it worked...

Republican Mitch McConnell’s re-election slogan. And it worked…

You had billionaire Tom Steyer spending $67 million trying to convince voters to care about global warming. You had the League of Conservation Voters pouring in another $25 million, more than in the previous two elections combined. All the while, some outlets were suggesting that recent natural disasters — from Hurricane Sandy two years ago to the ongoing drought in the West — just might push climate issues to the fore”.

Yet despite these efforts – based on pushing facts and reason – Republicans won control of the Senate by a ‘slam dunk’. The now Republican Majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was re-elected on the back of the campaign motto “Coal. Guns. Freedom”. Recent polls show that only 36% of Republicans consider the environment an important issues, compared to 69% Democrats.

This is just days after Europe’s leaders compromised heavily on Climate Targets for 2030. While Angela Merkel was pushing for higher energy efficiency and emissions reduction targets, eastern European countries and the UK negotiated downwards. (See end results here).  The eastern countries’ unfounded fear of limiting potential economic growth is understandable, but the UK’s goading by UKIP is not. The fact that the UK government is being pushed around by a minority party on the right, who has less democratic representation than any party (including the Greens) on the left, shows a failure of imagination in communication. Arguably, this is the failure of everyone who believes in more social equality – but the environmental lobby can’t escape unscathed.

Bored Board by NaBHaN

Bored Board by NaBHaN

The facts that we’re pushing just aren’t being taken on board by a bored audience.

The Answer
Help is at hand from ancient wisdom – wisdom stretching from China dating over two millennia ago, to the surprising sagacity of Hollywood today:

  • “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”
    Xunzi, Chinese Confucian Philosopher, 340-245 BC.
  • The only kind of learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered or self-appropriated learning – truth that has been assimilated in experience. – Carl Rogers, American Psychologist, 1902-1987 AD.
  • Fictional Psychologist Sean Maguire, Good Will Hunting, 1998.

But how to share experience?



Unfortunately, environmentalists can’t physically connect everyone to their outside world. We can’t stage other peoples’ journeys of discovery, helping them realise how our interconnected nature means that their actions are affect all of life, and how they can positively affect others by making some different choices.

We don’t have enough time, power, nor moral right, to directly force everyone to this understanding directly.


I know where I’d like to be! Tannenwald (c) Gustav Klimt

But as human beings, we do have the unique ability to inspire. While a small number of species outside H. Sapiens may demonstrate culture, none have been able to express themselves as complexly as we have. Art, in all its forms is an expression of humanity and helps individuals share experiences through a remote medium.

While we seem to be unique in our ability to destroy, the human race is unique in its ability to create and imagine.

My argument is that environmental communicators now need to harness this power. Artists have always been inspired by nature, as have scientists. We now need to bring these two groups together to inspire others in the truth that surrounds them.

Severed Limbs & Mangled Faces: Culpability & Compassion

Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill' 1913-14 by Sir Jacob Epstein 1880-1959What does Epstein’s Rock Drill – a sculpture from the First World War – tell us about today’s problems?

Could compassion be the answer?

It may sound airy fairy – preachy – perhaps even simplistic to suggest that global issues could be solved by more understanding and kindness.

But it’s an honest question. And one that I don’t think comes with an easy answer.

The 21st century’s problems are wide-ranging. Yet, whilst varied – from uncaring NHS staff, to environmental injustices (see EJOLT for list), to gay intolerance to the global poverty that kills 18 million people every year – they seem characterised by  a  lack of compassion.

On visiting “The Great War in Portraits” exhibition at the National Portrait gallery at the weekend- visitors were exposed to visual representation of the depths of barbarism humanity can plunge to in order to kill one another. Such depths were described as a signal in a change of human nature; a loss of compassion.

Perhaps the two most striking exhibits for me were:

1) The Rock Drill, a bronze  sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein, originally created in 1913, to echo man’s increasing interest in machines and power. But in 1916, it was remodelled. Limbs were severed and the sculpture altered, thought to reflect Epstein‘s altered perception about the future of humanity – mutilated by loss and destruction. 

2) The second, of which I can’t find a picture, was the before-and-after drawings of patients undergoing re-constructive facial surgery, following extensive war injuries.

So did the “Great War” and wars since kill more than just bodies? Do we need to go looking for compassion once again?

To emphasise – I certainly don’t want to be moralistic about all this.

After all, I know that I’m more culpable in this loss of compassion compared to the vast majority of the world’s population.

To quote from Thomas Pogge (ref below):

Many more people – some 360 million – have died from hunger and remediable diseases in peacetime in the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, than perished from wars, civil wars and government repression over the entire twentieth century. And poverty continues unabated, as the official statistics confirm…[and so on]”

I know this. And as one of the richest people on earth if I gave away more of my income, I could help this. Yet I only give so much. An embarrassingly small fraction considering my culpability in not solving the problem.

So from this I take, that compassion may well be the solution.

But compassion doesn’t seem too easy.

1. Thomas Pogge – “Politics as Usual – What lies behind the pro-poor rhetoric

A blank cheque = Government failure on climate change

The conservatives “blank cheque” for dealing with the floods does not represent benevolent leadership.

It represents the unnecessary cost to tax payers, arising from bad planning and a fundamental failure from both the current and previous governments, to acknowledge the consequences of climate change.

What future costs will the Conservatives’ determined avoidance of the realities of climate change incur?


Buildings, Mountains, Man.

Buildings, Mountains, Man.

I recently visited Kuala Lumpur for work purposes. On a brief sightseeing jaunt, I leaned from the viewing platform of KL’s largest tower (KL Menara), and snapped this image; a gleaming, glittering cityscape, paying testament to man’s ability to work together for the purpose of shaping a home.

But behind the towers was what I’d really been interested in: the forested mountains of western Malaysia surrounding the capital. While not as immediately obvious as a source of shelter and protection as the buildings, they regulated the climate, provided a watershed, recycled our polluted air.

We need both. If humankind can work together to build these monumental edifices of steel and glass, surely we can work together to protect our forested defenders.

Climate Change: The Everyday Issue for Voters

[As appeared on Liberal Conspiracy]

New York & Sandy (c) AFPEven as Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc and devastation along the US East Coast, climate change was absent from the US presidential debates[i], sidelined at the UK party political conferences, and shunned by world leaders at Rio Plus 20[ii].

But climate change is now interwoven throughout our lives. Not just in times of adverse weather, climate change is impacting the way we live, daily – affecting anything and everything from water security, to fuel prices, energy bills and transport.

No longer the prediction of a few – climate change has turned upfront and personal, and as such, there is a real opportunity for the Left to win votes on issues reaching far into voters’ everyday lives If they lead the way in tackling the change.

To demonstrate my point, below I describe just a few of the western problems which are the result of climate change, and will soon affect party preferences at a voting booth near you.


Guatemala © Daniel Leclair:ReutersIn 2012-13, over 200,000 Britons will be fed by food banks, an 800% rise from 2008-09[iii]. This trend of deprivation is only set to continue as food prices continue their inexorable rise[iv]. And this is an issue of climate change. Wheat yields are at their lowest levels since the 1980s[v], having been decimated by extreme weather across the US and Europe, and the UN is now issuing warnings of increasing meat and dairy prices. Meanwhile ocean acidification is affecting our fisheries[vi] and water scarcity (driven by climate change) is causing concern for our future productivity[vii]. Agriculture’s dependency on oil is only set to deepen the crisis, while the food banks will empty.

Food security is a hot topic and votes will be won by those standing up for affordable food for all. To do this, our leaders will need to address climate change.

Home Insurance.

Home Insurance won't get any cheaper © APEXThe financial impact of flooding has doubled within the past ten years[viii] and the very real concern is that climate change will soon price people out of insuring their homes. Even those inland are at severe risk of flash flooding from rain.  As Charles Tucker, chair of the National Flood Forum commented just a few weeks’ ago: “Anyone can be hit. That is a message which has got to be got out across to people without scaring the living daylights out of them”[ix]. The links to climate change are certain and well recognised by the industry. As long as ago as 2004, the Association of British Insurers acknowledged that: “Climate change is …impacting on insurers’ businesses now”[x].

We all want to insure our homes, to be protected against in the eye of the storm.  And so the risks of climate change are high, as are the rewards for tackling it.


Environmental refugees from Rwanda arrive in Tanzania © DedemonaDespair.netBetween 50 and 200 million people are estimated to be displaced by climate change by 2050[xi]. And while  tropical countries will often bear the brunt of emigration, the Northern hemisphere will  receive the majority of immigrants[xii]. The security implications of such mass migration are vast, not to mention the ethical and resource implications for public debate.

Whatever your political leanings, immigration is an attention grabber of an issue. To gain ground on this issue, political philosophies, policies and public support need to be sought now. Future and current votes and ideologies will be won by those with a clear stance on an issue that is presently tricky and about to become a whole lot trickier.

The problems caused by climate change are here, now and everywhere, and certainly worth a care for those pursuing equality, liberty and social welfare. While intimidating, the opportunity for political leadership is clear.

Grasping and tackling climate change is a real opportunity for the Left; one that sits with our philosophy, one that will win votes, and one that could ultimately, save human life as we know it.

[x] Association of British Insurers (June 2005) “A Changing Climate for Insurance: A Summary Report for Chief Executives and Policymakers”

What Americans think of Climate Change

America on Climate Change

America on Climate Change – CO2 (c) Solar Feed

Following on from my recent post about what the Brits think about climate change – herewith the results of a poll assessing opinions from across the pond; specifically Generation X.

Just to clear up any confusion – Generation X does not in fact refer to a highly adaptable group of select yet persecuted individuals – merely US citizens between 32 and 52 years old.

The two most interesting tables are summarised below – and the full report, written by Jon D Miller at the University of Michigan, can be downloaded here.

Table 1: Concern and Sense of Understanding of Climate Issues: 2009,  2011.
Climate change issue
2009 2011
How closely do you follow climate change? Very closely 4% 2%
Moderately closely 18 14
Occassionally 32 33
Not closely 45 51
Level of Concern High concern (8-10) 23 22
Moderate (5-7) 39 42
Less concern (0-4) 38 37
Level of Issue Understanding Well informed (8-10) 16 11
Moderately informed (5-7) 42 47
Less informed (0-4) 42 42
Number of respondents each year 3074 2914
Table 2: The Attitudes of Generation X on Climate Issues, 2011
Agree                                                                          Disagree
0-1 2-3 4-5-6 7-8 9-10
If the present rate of coal and oil use continues, serious long-term and environmental damage will occur. 3% 6% 38% 27% 26%
We are already in the first stages of global warming and climate change 9 8 48 21 14
The primary human activity that causes global warmin is the burning of fossil fules such as coal and oii 7 8 52 22 11
In the next 20 years, the conversion of green plants into fuels will significantly reduced our dependence on gas and oil. 6 9 56 20 9
There is not enough scientific evidence to support claims that the Earth is getting warmer. 19 15 46 11 9
All tablulations are based on 2,924 responses.
*Individuals responding that they were not sure about any statement were assigned a value of 5 and placed in the middle group.