We don’t need to blow people up to win the argument on climate change, says ffinlo Costain

This week the 10:10 campaign (getting people to cut their carbon emissions by ten per cent in 2010) presented a nasty little film, which they hoped would help wake people up to the perils of global climate change. It was an error of judgement, and the 10:10 director acted quickly when she saw the offence the film had caused, withdrew it and apologised.

Her fast response is laudable.  But climate campaigners must be more careful.

When I was a student in the early 1990s I was passionate about social justice, angrily in favour of peace, and Michael Portillo – at the time a hard-right Thatcherite instead of the late night teddy-bear Tory he’s become – was the Devil incarnate.

But then one night something happened.

In 1994 I watched a Panorama and had a mini-revelation.  Portillo’s father, it transpired, had been left-winger: an exiled Spanish Republican. Now, that didn’t fit. This Tory poster-boy should have been bred in jodhpurs and spawned on the hunt. Instead,he had grown up questioning the world he lived in and its values, and had then, according to the TV, come to his own conclusions about how to make Britain and the world a better place.

While I still disagreed with his political conclusions and still despised the Tories for the havoc they were wreaking, I learned in that moment that if I ever wanted to change Portillo’s point of view, I would have to use wit and argument instead of bludgeoning him with the blunt instrument of my righteous indignation.

Though he didn’t know it, Michael Portillo had inadvertently made me a better person.  He also made me a better campaigner.

When you care passionately about an issue it’s easy to get frustrated. And frustration can lead to tactical and strategic blindness.

I care just as passionately about climate change as does the 10:10 team. The more I learn, the more frightened I become. I’m certain that our response to this astonishing danger will define not just our generation, but this entire century.

And yet the Daily Mail and the Daily Express continue to wage daily war against climate science. Climategate has left the general public confused. NGOs and politicians have yet to agree on the best way to reduce CO2 emissions while maintaining our quality of life – and at times I feel like banging all these heads together too.

But it won’t help.

No Pressure, scripted by the superb Richard Curtis, and featuring X-Files star, Gillian Anderson, presents three scenes in which the climate apathetic are blown up with a detonator.  The film has been seized upon by those who believe global warming is a Marxist conspiracy. It provides fodder for those who see climate activists as revolutionaries who want to destroy the western way of life. It has polarised the argument still further. And, sadly, it is likely to do the climate cause more harm than good.

This clearly was not its intention.

It is already practically impossible to stop a two degree rise in average global temperatures.  But the average disguises the danger: the vast extremes of hot and cold that will accompany it. En route, the weather will become increasingly vicious with greater numbers of hurricanes, floods, heat waves and fires. That will require significant human adaptation. A four degree rise in average temperatures will pretty much wipe out life on earth. Unless we reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2040 or 2050, this will happen. The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse will ride over the hill, and famine, pestilence, war and death will bring all of us an unwelcome Revelation.  This story is compelling and frightening enough without using detonators to blow up children, footballers and movie stars who disagree (as happens in the film).

Global warming is so important, and the odds against solving it so great, that the green movement cannot afford any more own-goals on this scale.

Campaigning is about winning hearts and minds. It is about sharing information and answering questions – and if we have to answer the same questions again and again until people get it, then that’s what we have to do.

Ed Miliband spoke repeatedly of optimism in his Labour conference speech.

When the storm clouds are gathering, whether they’re black from the pressure of global warming, or filled with the rain of recession – it is the light that the public wants to see.

We can solve global warming. With wit, humour and the power of our argument, we will bring enough people with us to create resolve. By describing the excitement of a new low carbon economy we can show even the Daily Mail that climate change is presenting us all with the greatest opportunity to grow our economy sustainably since the industrial revolution.

Change will be created by spreading hope and optimism – not by wielding a big stick, or in this case by pressing a big red button.

ffinlo Costain is a professional grassroots campaigner. The 10:10 international day of climate action is on Sunday 10th October

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