The last time the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, was up in Manchester, I blogged- through gritted teeth- that the man had done good. It gives me no pleasure (see disclaimer at the very end of this post) to Report that he has done gone and done good again.
Again, as disclaimed in the last post, nothing nice below is meant to excuse or go easy on UK government policy. They’ve only got to 18% below 1990 (and those are disputed figures- it depends how you count and what you don’t count) because of the “dash for gas”. As we reported in the latest MCFly, Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre has calculated that if the world follows the UK, that gives us only a 50/50 chance of staying below 2 degrees above pre-Industrial global temperature rise. Not good odds.
That said, I don’t see what more- on a personal level- you can expect from a politician than she/he a)turns up in spirit as well as flesh, b) doesn’t overuse precious time (he again kept the ratio of his introductory remarks to total time at about 1 to 4), and c) actually listens to questions and answers them coherently and concisely. I don’t know where Ed Miliband got his “working a room” skills. Maybe from his rather cool dad? Maybe he just honed them himself? But – and this is the strangest compliment I will ever pay a Cabinet minister- he wouldn’t have been out of place in an anarcha-feminist gathering of Climate Campers. He was judicious in seeking out female speakers, was neither patronising or over-solicitous, turned questions around, sought more information etc. I know several self-proclaimed “non-hierarchicals” who could learn a thing or three from watching this Labour Party (stodgy hierarchical) and Cabinet (powerful bearpit hierarchical) minister operate.
One final point. Miliband was asked a question about population, and answered it very well- that the way to solve that is development, women’s education and empowerment. He could have done even better if he read and cited a recent article by the wonderful Fred Pearce of the New Scientist. Pearce highlights that the growth in consumption in the already-over-developed (my words) world will actually outstrip population growth in the developing world. i.e. The problem is still us fat white Westerners.
Here’s the gist of his speech. He was miked up, and maybe they intend to release it as a podcast. If so, we will link to it. The Q and A session will be blogged separately.
Miliband opened by saying that, after the highly technical presentations, he “constituted the light entertainment”. He congratulated the Manchester International Festival and Guardian for putting it on, flagged that the Q and A was most interesting part and then said (I paraphrase)
He said that while technological answers are important, the ‘small p’ political answers really matter. Any technological answers require political will and political support. The ‘group of the persuaded’ is not big enough and therefore we won’t get the change now and /or we won’t be able to sustain the changes we implement.
We’re negotiating the Copenhagen deal but have got to create consensus, both within the UK but also with developing countries.
Got to get a consensus that spans democracies and non-democracies.
Got to get a consensus that outlasts administrations
Massive and historical ask
These (technological) solutions are necessary but not sufficient.
Four ingredients to meeting the challenge-
1) Expanding circle of convinced. Convince people of the scale of the problem.
He cited the recent UKCIP information. He feels most people aren’t deniers but think it will happen to someone else- not them or their immediate family. He cited people in his Doncaster constituency, who’ve suffered flooding (canoes on high street).
2) Got to persuade people there’s a better life in all this
Governments and NGOs got to be better.
Got to explain that life will be more secure (e.g. Energy supplies)
Better air quality
Miliband again cited Transition Town movement, and that he was at the Brixton gathering as a “Keynote listener- something I recommend to all members of the Cabinet [this from memory]”
Miliband then cited a presentation from the morning session, which I am pretty sure he wasn’t at, so had actually read up on. It was the “Cambridge Carbon Footprint” presentation, of which more in a separate blog post.
He pointed out the “you should do this” message doesn’t work, but the “lots’ of others are doing it, you can too” is more effective. [George Monbiot on behavioural evolution]
3) Government Leadership matters
e.g. With Carbon capture and storage. Levy which will increase consumers bills, electricity bills
Environmental Transformation Fund
Government needs to get its own house in order
4) Danger of defeatism
Fear that the problem is too big, individuals too small
Question of how to aggregate individual actions, convince people they can be part of a bigger whole.
Miliband mused that government has thought about individuals (Act on CO2 campaign) and national level, but not thought enough about communities.
Gave the example of British Gas’ “Green Street” competition, run between various streets and roads called Green. He visited one of the winners. Points out that people over-achieved on the targets- as soon as had meters/monitors, this affects behaviour.
It was also a galvanising force for communities.
Scientists have an important role telling us about dangers such as Arcitc sea ice etc but important to calibrate message.
Final point- best campaigns and individual actions combine
a) what people do themselves and
b) what they persuade governments to do
Big campaigns and mobilisations that change history- slavery, votes for women, gay rights.
At first impossible, then afterwards you can’t find anyone who didn’t agree all along.
Most important thing is much bigger INTERNATIONAL mobilisation.
NGOs critique own governments, which is important, but there needs to be a bigger ask.
This is not about a few months, but an enduring campaign [See here for an excellent essay about the dangers of a post-Copenhagen dip in activism]
In closing, Miliband was as uncomplimentary about the Make Poverty History campaign as I have heard anyone be (not directly, but admitting many people were dissatisfied) “came and sort of died away” Climate change will need a “continuing worldwide movement.”
Because he kept his remarks brief, there was actually enough time for a rather good Q and A session. That will be the subject of a separate blog post, to be typed up as soon as I can.
Disclaimer: Our eyes met across a crowded(ish) room (the Great Hall at Castle Grayskull). We waved to each other. I took over the latest MCFly, which name-checks him. He shook my hand and said “I like your blogging.” And thus was a fearless community journalist turned into a tame pussycat, purring with delight at the recognition from a Secretary of State. It really was that simple.