XR Meets Bryceson’s Political Checklist?

As Extinction Rebellion ponders its future and conducts a re-strategizing exercise, at least in the UK, it faces the prospect of perhaps having to gain the support of a broad based majority rather than a narrow segment engaged in sustained activism.

XR’s current theory hinges on overthrowing government in order to bring about wholesale change to resolve the climate emergency, on the assumption that a non-violent rebellion by 3.5% of a population is highly likely to succeed.  But that derives from Erica Chenoweth’s study of revolutions aimed at overthrow of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes actively oppressing a population.

In contrast ‘XR’ is most active in democracies used to a free press, politics and campaigns.  They might be grumbling and fed up and be worried about climate change but they don’t feel they’re actively oppressed and that revolution is their only way out.  So an increasing number of critics, external and internal, (eg here, here,here and here) have pointed out that the ‘magical’ 3.5% rule probably will not apply in democracies, even if XR could succeed in mobilising several million people rather than tens of thousands it has to date.

I’ve been looking at the very interesting strategies of XR(UK) and the associated activities of Greta Thunberg and the amazing school strikes and hope to post more on it shortly but if XR’s to continue and succeed in winning a broader social madate and, or, in working with the much wider army of NGOs, businesses and politicians also very active on climate change, it will need to start thinking more about practical politics.

Gail Bradbrook of RisingUp! and a leading founder of XR once said (video) “we don’t need to convert the Daily Mail readers thank goodness”.  True perhaps for a 3.5% vanguard but not true if you want to build a broad majority of support for a ‘rebellion’, or what you hope will follow (the conclusions of Citizens Assemblies on climate).  XR has also made almost a fetish of promoting a sense of doom, gloom and grieving, rejecting ‘positivity’ and denying that campaigns and government have had any useful effect – solutions denial.  This is not motivating to most people, and not politically attractive.  So a rethink might need to be quite radical.

That’s a long story but one small thing that might help is the ‘Political Checklist’ produced by public affairs exec Simon Bryceson.  I first shared this back in 2005 in Campaign Strategy Newsletter 13 but as it’s short, relevant and applies more widely (even though it refers to some UK political processes).  It shows things from a politician’s point of view. Here it is.

Bryceson’s Political Checklist



UNIQUENESS: The political process is crucially concerned with the new. If your proposal appears to be a way of doing more efficiently that which is already done, it will be an administrative rather than political issue. You may find sponsors, you won’t find champions.

INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS: The above not withstanding, politicians love to show that their radical idea works very effectively elsewhere.

COST: Is this proposal likely to be financially viable? A standard process of financial assessment, not to be confused with Treasury assessment. (See below).

TIMESCALE: Are the alleged advantages of this scheme likely to appear on a timescale relevant to other factors? A project that is likely to encounter electoral opposition but not come to fruition before the next election is unlikely to be thought ‘interesting’.

PERSONAL ADVANCEMENT: Will sponsoring this proposal benefit my personal reputation? Is it an issue I am historically, and positively associated with? Can I take ‘ownership’ of the issue and, if so, how bad might the downside be?

MEDIA FRIENDLY: Is this an issue that the popular press are going to like/take an interest in? No publicity is normally perceived in politics as no advantage.

ELECTORALLY ACUTE OR DIFFUSE:  “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, nor perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than the introduction of a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new” Niccolo Machiavelli. 1532.

Do those likely to lose under the new scheme know? Do those likely to gain care? A small group of electors who care a lot always outweigh a large group of electors who have other things to worry about.

WRONGFOOTING THE OPPOSITION: Politicians have an inordinate interest in their continued occupation of office or the rapid acquisition of it. This, of course, is entirely a matter of the public interest since the other lot are so awful one has a duty to prevent them holding office if at all possible. If your proposal embarrasses the opposition it will have interesting aspects.

TREASURY POLICY: In most modern countries there is Government policy and there is Treasury policy, the trick is to be in accord with both whilst noticing that they are rarely the same.

ELITE SUPPORT: Will a clever dick who knows something about the area catch me out? Have the proposers of this idea checked to see where informed opposition might come from and indicated how it might be minimised?

PARTY FUNDRAISING: Politics is a very expensive game; there is therefore a constant need to raise money. Can you show that your project has desirable implications for this process?

The Red Rebels on a visit to Wells Next the Sea on 24 December 2019 to “raise awareness about sea level rise”

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A Strategy To ‘Fly As Much As You Like’ ?

photo: Juhasz Imre, Creative Commons

Greta Thunberg and XR have re-energised the public fight against climate change and facilitated a new and additional protest movement.  The call to recognize a ‘climate emergency’ has resonated with many politicians, especially those ‘closer to the ground’  but for that energy to translate into faster, bigger, more profound change it needs to become instrumental, meaning that it needs to bear on dis-aggregated, less rhetorical, more granular targets.

Here’s a proposition for a campaign bearing on aviation – DAC-only flying – to effect rapid and significant change in response to the ‘climate emergency’.

In this project, governments should impose a legal obligation on commercial aviation to offset carbon emissions using DAC (Direct Air Capture of CO2) technology, either with certificated credits granted for carbon locked into rock such as basalt, or, by using liquid fuels created by drawing CO2 from the ambient air (or both together).  This would prevent commercial flying using fossil fuels free from offsets, or offsets which we cannot be certain will remain effective (eg tree planting).  Flying with commercial airlines would be DAC-only.

Within the same system, the aviation industry should be made to invest, to pay for DAC technologies, so incentivising airlines to scale up these technologies and reduce their cost.  The directed, focused development effort and attendant commercial risks would then be vertically integrated: airlines would in effect own their own fuel supply systems, although they would not need to become DAC technologists themselves.  By ramping the introduction and level of the requirement, the trend-breaking impact on aviation R&D and business models could be as severe or gentle as it needed to be. 

At present the aviation industry is nowhere near a path to sustainability.  This proposal would convert offsetting from a voluntary practice that mitgates the impact of individual decisions to travel by air, into an end-game mechanism bearing on corporates, to rapidly contain and shrink the carbon footprint of aviation.



Air travel has long been an effective no-go or slow-go area for policy-makers attempting to coax their colleagues, governments and voters into taking meaningful action to reduce climate-changing ‘carbon’ pollution.  Many governments – ours in the UK being only one good example – have long made top-line political commitments to significant de-carbonization while simultaneously planning to expand air travel as it was assumed to be essential for economic growth, and voter happiness.  Air travel is a famous example of a behaviour which shifted in the lifetimes of older people alive today, from an activity restricted to a tiny elite, to a larger ‘jet set’ elite, to become mainstream and problematically cheaper in cash terms than more sustainable alternatives such as the train.

For decades, even the most dogged campaigns to oppose airport expansion have struggled, especially on climate-grounds.  Back in 2006 I proposed that not-flying for the climate would become the ‘new save the whale’ as a socially testing issue, and it would become fashionable not to fly.  Well maybe it is, only 13 years later!  In reality, self-imposed restraint from flying has been confined to the most committed individuals and organizations, not even adopted as a norm by the majority of ‘ethical’ NGOs, and until recently, widely ignored as an option even among academics, and with breath-taking incongruence, even by many climate scientists.

An at least-vague-awareness of the climate impact of flying is however very widespread.  The  discomfort very many people feel when deciding to fly, is resolved by drawing on a wide spectrum of motivated reasoning, such as citing compensatory behaviours in the personal climate-guilt register such as “I do a lot to recycle”, “I’m now vegetarian”, “I buy renewable electricity”,  to specific balancing investments such as “we bought an offset” or even higher ethical purpose [ethical excusers or Ethcusers] “as a campaigner for [ A  ] I will make a greater difference for humanity by taking this flight than spending X time going by [sea/ rail/ bus/ camel/ bike]”.

This has attracted quite a bit of campaigner or advocate attention, aimed at finding ways to get people to voluntarily give up flying.  That is necessary and important but as a political catalyst not in itself a reliable and rapid delivery route to end the aviation problem.  To achieve that we must confine and bind the dynamic driving aviation expansion and drive out the emissions.  The problem is cheap fossil fueled flights unconstrained (indeed encouraged) by public policy.


Proxies and Decoys


The air industry has of course titrated its PR efforts and investments in alternative fuels and technologies to try and maintain the equilibrium and hold the spectre of trend-breaking regulatory action at bay for as long as possible.  Like other sectors before it, the industry has tried to maintain a focus on comparative metrics of efficiency, per passenger emissions etc, which allow it to continue business growth as usual, and draw attention away from ballooning emissions.  Like the tobacco industry it has promoted ‘choice’ framing and offered the somewhat-less damaging options while signing up to vague commitments to be responsible.   These proxies and decoys have enabled it to continue growing and polluting while industries such as power generation have been slowly ensnared in carbon reduction.


Now, with climate change indisuptably happening all around us, and Greta Thunberg and XR raising the level of social activity,  flying is being more seriously questioned.   Numerous reports attribute Thunberg’s influence to a rapid increase in demand for voluntary offsetting and governments are creeping towards more taxes.  Yet experience with many other sectors, such as the spread of organic food, ‘green investment’, and sustainability certification for fish and forests, is that elective action can build a vanguard, prove concepts and, if values dynamics are engaged, transition behaviours from innovative to mainstream to ‘normal’ but it can take a long time.  If regulators stand back, it will also leave an unengaged ‘tail’ of unsustainable practice which can be very large (eg the great majority) while generating ‘best practice’ examples that can be gamed by politicains who want to avoid taking regulatory action.


Contain and Shrink


I suggest that we need to convert offsetting from a voluntary practice that mitigates the impact of individual decisions to travel by air, into an end-game mechanism to rapidly contain and shrink the carbon footprint of aviation.

This is a vast subject but a handy reality-check on the sustainability trajectory of the aviation industry was provided by Evan Davis’s BBC programme The Bottom Line on the future of commercial aviation, broadcast in July 2019 [see excerpts below, at the end].  Talking to three experienced industry insiders, Davis  gradually drew out confirmation that the industry is not on any credible trajectory to coming good on even its own climate commitments.  I thought two telling points were the low volume of air travel that is for business, and the impact of the Swedish fylgskam or flight-shaming movement, which has ‘stagnated’ air travel growth in Sweden in around 18 months.  As on so many previous environmental, Sweden along with California, still often acts as a pathfinder.


Davis mentioned that only 26% of travel at Heathrow Airport is for business.  The vast bulk is recreational.  Viewed with one assumption this makes the present air-travel business look politically unassailable but if you see it otherwise, as a social behaviour on the move like the real and rapid shift to eating less meat in the UK,  it could indicate political vulnerability.  In addition, while policy wonks think about tech and statistical sectors, the public encounters this through airline brands that, like banks, are often resented.


However, unlike eating every day or doing food shopping every week, the personal social touchpoints of flying are, for most of us, few.  Most people in most countries don’t fly very often (Swedes fly a lot).  This makes campaigns which rely on social contagion rather harder to sustain.   On the other hand it also means that ‘doing the right thing’ can be relatively low cost in terms of personal investment, especially if some flying remains a possibility.


Re-Purposing Offset Technologies


It’s true that until recently, many long-term climate campaigners (me included) have resisted devoting much attention to carbon-capture proposals and the wide range of speculative ideas for planetary geo-engineering, and I think, for good reasons.   For example because many proposals were for devices attached to continued or new use of fossil fuels in electricity production (eg Carbon Capture and Storage).  In other cases they included vast and uncontrollable manipulation of ecosystems, such as ocean fertilisation.  And in nearly all cases they could divert public concern and attention, and thus political attention and action, away from regulation and investment change required to decarbonize economies in proven ways such as switching to renewable energy, raising efficiency and cutting waste.


Actual climate change is now happening as anticipated by models and other science but far faster than was widely expected.  What we feared to see in the second half of this century is already happening today.   Movements like XR and Rapid Transition are partly inspired by this realisation but to exert change-making pressure they need dis-aggregated targets, instrumental campaigns rather than just protest, and propositions more granular than ‘nobody is doing anything’, ‘the system needs to change’ and ‘we need deep adaptation’.  Aviation offers one such opportunity.


Air travel contributes a small part of the overall pollution causing climate change but it is growing rapidly and hugely important both politically and psychologically.  It’s been largely untouched by the mainstreaming of ‘mitigation’ carbon-reduction measures that have been transforming electricity generation and biting into vehicle emissions (electric cars etc) and other sectors.  Not only that but it’s been aspirational, emblematic of the ‘innocent’ pre-sustainability world in which air travel was associated with freedom and enjoyment, holidays and tourism, and business success, built on untramelled climate pollution.


Over-Ripe For Disruption


The aviation model is over-ripe for disruption, and in many ways could be far easier to deal with than other sectors such as land-use and farming or domestic energy use and terrestrial transport, for a number of reasons.


  • Decisions about aircraft design and manufacture are mainly taken by just two giant companies, Airbus and Boeing (although as with other sectors, radical disruptive innovation may well come from new market entrants)
  • At present the architecture of consumer choice is constrained: if we fly we have to buy the service from an airline. Almost none of us own our own aircraft (and regulators should act before many do).
  • Jet fuel is already heavily regulated and monitored and therefore totally responsive to action through existing regulatory machinery
  • Airlines are constrained by slots at a small number of airports, similar to rail services arriving and departing from railway termini. This also means that nation states or supra-national bodies like the EU potentially have leverage over the fleet mix – certain types of plane and fuels could be excluded or treated differently, as cities have done with ground transport.
  • Because of this the problem is simple: essentially, more is progressively worse, less is progressively better, and it is the same everywhere: at present the world has one dominant model for air travel, one source and type of emissions, one set of technologies and few players. It is not a very ‘wicked’ problem.


So there are few decision makers, and a handful of regulators and companies make critical decisions, not the millions of airline users (international shipping is similar in that the vast number of cargo shippers and product end users all buy essentially the same service, and it has also remained comparatively untouched by climate policy).  Thanks to technological domination and globalisation it is a far simpler problem than say, emissions from agriculture and other land uses which are hideously diverse and complex at multiple levels.


This makes aviation a straightforward way to deliver significant radical change, if one can convince regulators that it is urgent, and technically, economically and politically feasible.


Manifestation of public concern and attributable events are providing evidence of urgency.  Meanwhile the track record and plans of the aviation industry show that its incremental iterative approach to change is more a PR shield than a radical change programme, and will not do the job.  As Evan Davis concluded, “there is no plan” in the aviation industry which can reach sustainability.


Aside from the adoption issue (getting consumers to use it), a much-discussed problem with offsets is the lack of certainty in the fate of compensating carbon ostensibly captured and sequestered (stored) by NETs (Negative Emission Technologies).  Even if one can guarantee that initial funding has the intended effect such as installing more renewables, that only cancels out the flight emissions if it displaces carbon electricity generation, which in turn requires a bounded regulatory system and an enforced carbon-elimination policy.  Not many countries have that.  Even less certain is what happens to offsetting such as tree planting or forest conservation (essential though I agree those are).  It relies on having a guarantee that the initially captured carbon will remain in the soils or timber, and not be released, for instance, through burning or land clearance.




Of the many NETs under discussion, in development and in use, two seem to me to offer a potential route to divert the aviation industry from its current comfortable flightpath, which for the planet and humanity is disastrous.   Both involve DAC or Direct Air Capture of CO2, also known as DACC, Direct Air Carbon Capture.  A few years ago these were in the realm of ‘science fiction’ but no longer.


There are several main DAC technologies with different ways of locking carbon back into rocks, effectively mimicking the result of natural carbon storage as limestone and chalk were laid down with calcium carbonate derived from the bodies of small sea creatures, and coal, oil and gas were created from ancient plant material.   In theory at least, such geological fixing of carbon should be more dependable than for instance, injecting CO2 into solution in old oil reservoirs.  Geological fixing removes carbon from the biosphere and atmosphere whereas DAC used for instance to create a stream of CO2 gas taken from the exhaust of a gas fired power station will quickly release it again if that is used to make fizzy drinks.



The world’s first commercial DACC system is the Swiss-based Climeworks which describes itself as ‘a technology to reverse climate change’.    Climeworks say  (video) their vision is to capture 1% of global CO2 emissions in 2025, requiring 750,000 shipping containers of equipment, equivalent to the number passing through Shanghai in a fortnight.  Double that and you have emissions from commercial aviation. In Iceland (video) Climeworks is working with other companies in a demonstration Carbfix project which reacts and fixes captured CO2 in basalt rock (a very widespread family of igneous rocks formed in areas of volcanic activity).


A well known objection to anything relying on DAC is cost.  As Fuss et al note ‘Most of the discussion around DACCS potential has been dominated by cost considerations as the key parameter determining the viability of the technology’.   Much effort is going into reducing cost so that carbon captured this way comes within the ballpark of existing carbon reduction options.    Cheaper will indeed be better but rather than relying on limited government grant aid and venture capital raised by start-ups,  this proposal is to make the aviation industry reliant on DACs, and for them to be locked into funding it, so long as conventional fuel is used.


Another application of DAC is to take CO2 from the air and recycle it into jet fuel.  In 2018 National Geographic reported ‘Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company, is already making a liquid fuel by sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and combining it with hydrogen from water. This is an engineering breakthrough on two fronts: A potentially cost-effective way to take CO2 out of the atmosphere to fight climate change and a potentially cost-competitive way to make gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel that doesn’t add any additional CO2 to the atmosphere’.  It added ‘they hope the economics will be in their favor’.  A similar process was backed by Bill Gates in the US in 2018, and in 2019 Climeworks announced that with others (EDL Anlagenbau Gesellschaft GmbH), it is to produce carbon-from-air jet fuel with Rotterdam The Hague Airport in the Netherlands.

Both these systems could be made manadatory within a DAC-only flying regime.


In short, under the system proposed above, aviation as a sector and flying as a consumer choice would become by ‘guaranteed’ DAC-offset-only.  DAC-flying would be the only commercial option.  This would:


  • End reliance on individual consumer or individual corporate initaitives to buy offsets in order to mitigate and eliminate the impact of aviation on climate
  • End regulator blind-eye tolerance of the aviation industry’s “hot air” PR based on illusory promises about iterative efficiency gains from a business as usual system
  • Create a high-certainty stream of finance for mass development and deployment of DAC technologies with a powerful fast-track incentive, in a similar model to wartime technology-forcing policies
  • Provide a simple policy option in international government discussions to ‘resolve’ and take emergency action on a key part of the climate crisis which until now has been very much ignored
  • Give the aviation industry a bridging option as new technologies such as electric power are developed
  • Be consistent with established regulatory models already shown to be effective in other sectors, such as Non Fossil Fuel Obligation schemes
  • Enable governments to focus near-term climate-crisis public expenditure on more complicated and wicked problems such as those related to land-use, by chopping of a bit of the problem where the polluter can be made to pay


Of course this is not a fix to all the other problems associated with air travel.   It is also highly likely that any significant near-term ramping up of the requirement to use DAC would mean that air travel would become more expensive but it would not become impossible, and those who travel by air most are both the richest and would pay most.


* Elements of this have been discussed in many blogs, learned reports and articles on aviation offsetting and NET technologies eg Royal Society 2009,  Lomax et al 2015,  Choice 2017, Sabine Fuss et al 2018, Wired 2018, Aviation Environment Federation 2019,  I’m not aware of this particular proposal being made before but do let me know if it has been.




BBC ‘The Bottom Line’ programme Radio 4, 27 July 2019, presented by Evan Davis: ‘The Future of Commercial Aviationhttps://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000713p – segment on emissions (second part of programme).  Below is my rough transcript of excerpts.


Interviewees: (three trade insiders) Paul Kahn, president, Connectivity, Cobham Plc; Volodymyr Bilotkach, economist, author of The Economics of Airlines; Rob Morris, head of Global Consultancy, Ascend by Cirium.  Interviewer: Evan Davis


* * *


Those of you in the UK can listen to the programme here.  Those outside the UK may struggle if you do not have a VPN.  So here are my approximate transcript extracts (I found it hard to distinguish Paul Kahn and Rob Morris so I’ve notated them as C for contributor and V for Volodymyr and ED for Evan Davis – sadly there is no BBC transcript at the website)


* * *


C: growth is 5% per annum … there are about 25,000 passenger aircraft in service … it’s cost driven [by cheapness] we fly more for business and leisure


V: growth is about 10% per annum in Asia


ED: if we do nothing we expect it to continue to grow


C: expect 5% compound … 20% savings on emissions from new plane designs … 15% for a specific model, completely new aircraft


ED: is efficiency gain keeping up with passenger growth ?


C: it will take until 2026 before the new-engined [more efficient] fleet is bigger than than the existing fleet of aircraft


V: load factor has increased from 75% to 85% in 20 years, [airlines like] RyanAir achieve 95%, the fleet is growing overall 3.5% and [business] 5% due to productivity


[airlines and manufacturers are] reducing size, weight, power [per passenger per aircraft]


ED: Growth is exceeding capability of the industry to reduce its emissions – what are you guys going to do ? I mean come on – 2050 we are meant to be on net zero carbon. What is the aviation industry expecting to deliver by 2050?


C: IATA … ten years ago pledged to grow neutrally with respect to carbon by 2020. Its 2019 … haven’t been able to


V: [it was/meant to be] a 50% cut by 2050


ED: assume Paris Compatible by 2050 – how ?


C: must see some sort of break with technology – most significantly hybrid electric


ED: how?


C: transform design of the plane [no longer need engines under wings etc] – debate [will be] hybrid versus electric … batteries too heavy for long distance [or heavy load]


ED: so why is half a battery better?


C: for an air taxi it’s ok [but not larger longer flight aircraft]


V: once cars became more efficient people drove more – the rebound effect [I wonder if the same is happening in air travel] – airlines may think it’s [a] more efficient [aircraft] I can fly it more – what effect on emissions ?


C: some are growing at 6% – price stimulation of demand … [we] get to shaming of flying – whether [it’s right to] just have three or four long weekends in Eastern Europe from London, just because you can ?


ED: what you are saying is that you don’t have an answer.  Hybrid plane – how far away ?


C: long haul ? 10 years at least


ED: [this is] not even remotely close


C: Airbus is flying a four engined jet [in Europe with one electric engine] hybrid [test] just starting


ED: so 2035 for big hybrid planes?


C: right order of magnitude … 14 new types of aircraft in next … years … more iterative than disruptive … [it’s a] challenge the industry is investing in


ED: this is the hot air we’re used to from the aviation industry [paraphrasing] “we’re taking this very seriosuly, we’re signing up to these targets, [and] by the way we missed it the last time we did it … but we are ever more ambitious in the targets were going to sign up to …” – there’s no plan


C: I agree but you still want to fly and so do I … [there is a] clear alignment between environmental impact and the operating costs for an airiline …


ED: Except, except, except I would rather be a big airline growing with more passengers …do we think that for the climate-conscious flyer, does it become a little more taboo ?


C: [it’s] beginning to happen – in Sweden growth in the industry has slowed or in fact stagnated very recently – so it will happen but the cat’s out of the bag and we travel for leisure and we travel for businesss …


ED: Well I just want to say, we don’t travel that much for business, I was shocked researching this to find that Heathrow is 26% of flights are for business – most are holiday or visiting friends or relatives


V: because the price is right so people fly, if you want people to stop flying just introduce a tax on them


ED: so … we are going to make a choice – you’re going to do your best to keep emissions per passenger very low, it’s not going to be enough with unconstrained growth and isn’t constrained  non-growth the only way that the world will reconcile it’s stated targets on emissions and the aviation industry ?


C: technological progress can make a massive difference


ED: you haven’t managed to convince me you have any route to achieving sustainability [although note that] only 2% of emissions [CO2] are from aviation


C: fuel is 25% of airline’s overall costs and it’s now $US/gallon, when in 2011/12 it was $US3/gallon still aviation grew … made efficiencies


V: [the] CORSIA cap and trade offsetting ICAO initiative, interntional flights only, [in] 2030 pretty much manadatory except very poorest countries – it’s a start [see CORSIA wikipedia]


ED: what about carbon capture – does that remotely work as an option? Planting forests … ?


C: as V explained carbon pricing [has to be] applied to aviation, it’s all about introducing those sort of complex models to incentivise the right behaviour [and] the right investment choices for a more sustainable future.




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Killing the Wind of England

How The Values-Politics of Eurosceptic, Climatesceptic Conservatives Halted Wind Energy in England

Chris Rose

long post – download as a pdf

[This post follows up the previous blog ‘Brexit Values Story 2.2’ or the campaign ‘lessons of Brexit’ in values terms.  For sources related to the below text see links in Full Wind Politics Timeline.  See also Condensed Timeline, slides, and Political Actors].

Delabole – Britain’s first commercial wind farm (started up, 1991), Cornwall. Pic: Good Energy

This is a case study in how a ‘counter-revolution’ in values-politics set back progress in tackling a major social threat, namely climate change.

It is true that resistance from oil, coal and gas interests, business as usual momentum and feeble political commitment has been effective in stifling ‘climate progress’ on many fronts in the UK: for example continued development of oil and gas, new airport capacity and ‘offshoring’ of carbon emissions embedded in imported goods.  But this case is unusual.  It was a notable victory for climate sceptics in which an effective pro-climate policy was stopped, rolled back and effectively killed off.

It’s the story of how Britain or more specifically England, came to set aside its abundant resources of wind energy as a result of organized campaigning by right-wing Eurosceptic and Climatesceptic Conservative politicians.  They used the threat of values-based competition between UKIP and the Tories to drive the Conservatives towards the authoritarian Settler right.

Many of the same network, certainly inspired and perhaps helped by US neocon organisations, then orchestrated the same values dog-whistles to drive the vote for Brexit in 2016.

This campaign drove David Cameron and the ‘social liberalisers’ to abandon their attempt to modernize the UK Conservative Party, turning it from pro- to anti-wind.

It’s left Britain with a UKIP-style energy policy: an effective ban on its cheapest form of new renewable energy but subsidising fracking for gas.  As a result the UK now faces significant problems in the struggle to decarbonize its economy.  It was a significant success for climate sceptics who want to keep fossil fuel industry alive, and it happened largely below the radar of public concern.

The banishment of new wind power from England came about not through any change in public opinion – it has remained overwhelmingly positive from the 2000s to date – but through a failure of environmental NGOs and the renewables industry to turn expressive support for wind into instrumental political support at a local level.  In contrast, anti-wind campaigners succeeded in manipulating party politics to drive the Conservatives away from the political ‘centre’, and back towards fossil fuels.   It was a struggle between the past and the future, in which the past won.

The Roots of the Political Backlash Against Wind

It could be said that former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher instigated both sides of the fight.

On 20 September 1988 her Bruges speech warned against development of a “European Super-state”, and inspired a new generation of UK Eurosceptic Conservatives.

Just seven days later she delivered her equally famous ‘climate speech’ to the Royal Society in London, in which she warned humanity had “unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself …. “a global heat trap”.

Margaret Thatcher calls for urgent action on climate change at the UN, 1989.   We need “new technologies to clean up the environment” and “non-fossil fuel sources” of energy.

Thatcher’s enthusiasm for climate action lasted a few years.  She redoubled her urging for international climate action in 1989, and launched the Hadley Centre into climate research before being deposed by her cabinet in a row over Europe in 1990.  By then Britain had its first ‘non fossil fuel obligation’ to fund alternative energy and in 1991, its first onshore wind farm.  After that, and in line with scientific findings and international agreements including EU policy, successive British governments gradually ramped up their ambitions for renewables, including onshore wind which was cheaper and easier to deploy than offshore wind.

Meanwhile a cohort of mainly young Eurosceptic British Conservatives joined the European Parliament in 1999, and many set about harrying the European institutions, seeking evidence of corruption and generally criticizing and obstructing process as much as possible.  They included Martin Callanan, and Daniel Hannan, Chris Heaton-Harris, and an older man, Roger Helmer who together termed themselves the ‘H-Block’.

Roger Helmer, Daniel Hannan and Chris Heaton Harris, members of the MEP ‘H Block’ in the European Parliament

Helmer and Heaton-Harris shared an office in the East Midlands where they employed Sally McNamara as a press officer.  She moved with them to Brussels and went on to the US to work for the right-wing lobby group ALEC, whose conferences were subsequently attended by all four MEPs.  McNamara became ALEC’s International Relations Project Director building up networks of contact between ALEC and right-wing British and European politicians, as well as being a columnist for The Bruges Group, named after Thatcher’s seminal ‘Bruges Speech’.

Sally McNamara (from Roger Helmers’ blog)

Quote from Roger Helmer’s blog in 2011   Bill Newton Dunn subsequently left the Conservatives over their drift to Euroscepticism and joined the Liberal Democrats. His son is Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of The Sun.  McNamara went on to work for US defence contractor Raytheon (see also ‘Political Actors’)

Hannan had been the first director of the European Research Group in 1993, and went on to become a founder of Vote Leave, the official Leave campaign in the 2016 Referendum.  Heaton-Harris later said that he was a “a bit of a greenie” when he first joined the European Parliament but became a climate sceptic after meeting Bjorn Lomborg in 2001.  Helmer also credits Lomborg for his antipathy to action on climate change, and used his position in the European Parliament to host meetings of well-known professional sceptics, and even fund anti-wind energy posters in the UK.

Back in Britain all that many people knew about ‘Europe’ was the continuing civil war inside the Conservative Party which had dogged Prime Minister John Major before his defeat by pro-European Tony Blair in 1997.  That and stories about rules on bent bananas created by Daily Telegraph writer Boris Johnson.

In real life, Britain was also changing.   From the 1980s to the 2000s the balance of values in UK society had inverted.  Settlers went from being the mainstream to the smallest values group, and the Pioneers took their place.  ‘Tribal’ political alleigances were diminishing because such identity politics is an inherently Settler feature [1].  Consequently, the Pioneers and Prospectors were increasingly important in determining elections.  CDSM values surveys showed that Blair appealed to many Prospectors as well as Pioneers and with the help of his deputy John Prescott, Blair’s New Labour hung onto enough of the traditional Settler vote to win two more General Elections in 2001 and 2005.

No More Nasty Party?

Reliance on a traditional authoritarian Conservative pitch appealed to the Settler base but that was shrinking and it was not enough for Michael Howard to win the 2005 General Election.  So a Conservative leadership contest began, and young David Cameron entered it with a modernizing agenda, wanting the ‘detoxify’ the Conservative Party and attract more younger and female voters (Prospectors and Pioneers) on the Blair model.  Cameron’s ideas were supported by Theresa May who in 2003 said that people saw the Conservatives as the “nasty party” and that, had to change.

But in Brussels the newer Eurosceptic MEPs seem to have found a political ‘madrassa’ and agitated against the old guard of pro-European Conservatives, wanting a break with the mainstream European Parliament conservative bloc the EPP.

They rallied around rightwing candidates for the leadership, such as Liam Fox.  So to attract the support of the Eurosceptic wing of the party, Cameron promised that if leader, he would break with the EPP and form a new group of conservativse in the European Parliament.  It proved a fateful decision, putting Cameron on a slippery slope of trying to appease the right and being pulled rigthwards.  As the Europhile centrist Tory Kenneth Clarke said later, “If you want to go feeding crocodiles then you’d better not run out of buns” as if you do, they come for you.

The BBC reports Cameron’s leadership campaign success

Elected Leader in December 2005, Cameron symbolically changed the Conservative ‘torch of freedom’ logo to a green tree.  He actively courted socially liberal Pioneer causes such as overseas aid, and groups like Oxfam but in 2006 he also made good on his commitment to the Eurosceptics and pulled his MEPs out of the EPP. This created a new more right-wing bloc, the ECR.  Ultimately this break with the EPP would isolate Cameron from mainstream conservative leaders in the EU, undermining his attempts to win a referendum on European membership by first securing a ‘better deal’.

At home Cameron ran the local election Conservative campaign with the slogan “vote blue, go green”.  To demonstrate his commitment to acting on climate change in 2006 he visited the Arctic with WWF and ‘hugged a husky’. He also pledged support to the Friends of the Earth campaign for a Climate Change Bill.  By this time Cameron was pulled in two directions: one ‘progressive’ and ‘reflexive’,  reinventing the Conservatives to attract Prospectors and Pioneers, the other, ‘anti-reflexive’, a rearguard action, retrenching to please ageing, increasingly right-wing party membership. The Eurosceptic outriders of the ERG hated the greenery and new softer more liberal Conservative agenda.  In 2007 Cameron had a wind turbine fixed to the roof of his London house but he was under increasing pressure from the Eurosceptic right and the green tree logo went blue by August.

Cameron’s roof gets a turbine (PA)

At the 2010 General Election Cameron declared that if elected, the Conservatives would form the “greenest government ever”, although by now the tree logo had morphed into Union Jack colours.

Tory Party logos 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010 onwards

Cell-Mates Rather Than Soul-Mates

The Conservatives won the most seats of any party but failed to get a majority and went into coalition with the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg.  The LibDems were committed supporters of more renewable energy but their long-standing values base was a small tight section of the map, lying almost entirely in the Pioneers.  As the survey below shows, it was the mirror image of the Conservative values base at the time.  In government the two parties were more cell-mates than soul-mates.  The coalition was an alliance of convenience rather than conviction.  Although after the inconclusive result of the General Election, many saw co-operating to form some sort of government as in the broader national interest, the partnership threatened the political integrity of both partners.  There was some ideological overlap between libertarian free-traders of both parties but they were atypical members.    With almost no values overlap (values = deep seated attitudes and beliefs), it was an inherently unstable partnership which didn’t feel right to most of the natural supporters of either party.

Values maps of the political parties in 2012/3.  There is almost no overlap between Conservative and LibDem, making the coalition feel un-natural to most supporters, and inherently fragile.  But there is total overlap between UKIP and the Conservatives, making the Tories vulnerable to defections.

However, the Conservatives were electorally threatened in a very direct way by the rise of UKIP, whose values base (right arrow) was entirely inside the Conservative one, and very Settler.  UKIP’s share of the vote at General Elections had increased from under 1% in the 1990s to 3% in 2010, and its share of the vote at European Parliament Elections rose to 17% in 2009.

So Cameron was in a values bind.  He had embraced a modernizing project to take the Conservatives into power by attracting Pioneer voters but ended up as the leader of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  They were almost entirely Pioneers but their members mainly disliked the Conservatives, and the LibDems were in turn seen as ‘holier than thou’ and ‘do-gooders’ by many in the Settler and Golden Dreamer (Prospector) wing of his own party, who were ‘instinctively’ climate sceptic and preferred UKIPs ideas to those of the LibDems.

Climate scepticism came easily to the socially-conservative Settler motivational values group as it is pre-disposed to avoid change and signs of change, whether to the landscape or to culture (eg immigration).  As a result, across the world, Settlers are at the epicentre of climate scepticism where it exists, and invariably the last to support new behaviours, ideas or technologies.   As it happens, although they are only 25% of the population (and 30% of the electorate), the UK has a larger proportion of Settlers than almost any other country.

The overlapping values base of UKIP and the Conservatives meant both were competing for the support of the most instinctively climate sceptic people in the UK (below).   Which meant the seemingly esoteric issue of wind technology could be a live electoral issue in Tory-UKIP competition.

This climate scepticism also coincided with anti-immigration sentiment – agreement with “there are too many foreigners in my country” – and, as seen earlier (Brexit Values Story parts 1, 2.1 and 2.2), disapproval of the EU.  So although UKIP’s three main policy planks – anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-wind – were often seen as limited and eccentric by more mainstream politicians in the early 2000s (Cameron called UKIP ‘fruitcakes’), they made perfect sense as a values platform with which to peel away support from the Conservatives.

In January 2006 David Hanley of the University of Cardiff wrote in Politico that ‘Tories of all shades remain very frightened of UKIP, especially younger candidates who have confronted it and had to explain why Tory policy on Europe is less red-blooded’.

Luff’s Bill

In 2009 Conservative MP Peter Luff proposed a wind farm (habitation) bill, to keep larger wind turbines 1.5 miles away from houses.  Luff said he was not a climate sceptic but pointed out (rightly) that rules for compensating local householders and planning restrictions were both more robust in other countries than in England and  Wales.  He had been contacted by “extraordinary” numbers of people from around England, concerned about large wind turbines that were going to be put up near their homes.

Luff’s bill was introduced under the ’10 Minute Rule’ and got nowhere but it created a template for policy opposition, and help was on the way.

Chris Heaton-Harris began campaigning against wind farms as early as 2008, at Brixworth in Northants, while he was still a MEP rather than a MP.

From the Brixworth Bulletin in 2008  The author seems sceptical that the meeting had in fact been organised by local parish councils

When elected in 2010, Heaton Harris used his maiden speech to attack the “folly” of wind farms and reintroduced Luff’s Bill as a ‘proximity’ Bill.  That too failed but when in 2010 the government tried to rationalise planning rules in a NPPF or National Planning Policy Framework, anti-wind campaigns were gifted a way to make their cause part of a national issue and to align with established groups such as the CPRE (Council for the Protection of Rural England).

By 2011 a raft of larger countryside groups were opposing the NPPF and the Daily Telegraph had started a ‘Hands off Our Land’ campaign.    Heaton-Harris pointed out that the NPPF contained a ‘presumption for sustainable development’, which he said meant a presumption in favour of wind farms.

Heaton Harris’s book on Kelmarsh and a UKIP guide to fighting wind farms, both published in 2012

In early 2012, prompted by an Inspectors decision in favour of the Kelmarsh wind farm despite opposition of local councils, Heaton-Harris, who was Chair of the ERG from 2010 to 2016, invited all Conservative MPs to a meeting.  On January 30, 101 of them and a few other MPs signed a letter to David Cameron.  It demanded a ‘dramatic’ cut in funding for onshore wind, and a rewriting of the planning rules so that ‘local communities’ could easily stop wind farms.

A meeting with Cameron and his energy and planning Ministers soon followed, and the Conservative pro-wind policy started to be dismantled.  It began the slow death of Cameron’s seven year experiment in greening the Tory Party and his attempt to steer the Conservatives into Prospector-Pioneer territory.  In 2015 the Conservative manifesto would announce that ‘we will halt the spread of onshore wind farms’.

By March 2012 it was reported that local opposition to windfarms had tripled since 2010 following political and media attacks focused on landscape impacts and subsidy, even though most people still supported having wind farms nearby.

By April 2012 Chris Heaton Harris was announcing “the beginning of the end” of onshore wind, and in June Lincolnshire County Council adopted a policy of not approving wind farms within 10km of any village, effectively excluding new wind from the county.  In October that year Heaton Harris launched a lobbying company ‘Together Against Wind’ to coordinate and raise funds for a national network of local campaigns to pressure Ministers.

The Together Against Wind campaign run (2012 – 17) by Chris Heaton Harris and later his protégé Thomas Pursglove MP – from the internet archive.   It was most active in 2012.  See also Political Actors doc.

Acute versus Diffuse

While public opinion remained overwhelmingly pro-wind, strong opposition to wind was concentrated in a small segment of older right-wing voters likely to vote for UKIP or the Tories.  Yet only a handful of activists were needed to manifest local ‘community’ opposition, and to populate a photo for the local press or a Facebook post.

Roger Helmer MEP and Chris Heaton-Harris MP in 2013 meeting with REVOLT campaigners in Lincolnshire

It is possible that the anti-wind campaign recruited some supporters from the ‘Countryside Marches’ co-ordinated by the pro-hunting group Countryside Alliance in the 2000s.   In a Values and Voters Study (2005) I wrote

‘The Countryside Alliance and its campaign for ‘rural values’ and foxhunting, pitted a Settler-dominated group against a largely disinterested and mostly esteem-driven ‘urban majority’. (Although in London, over 40% of the population is made up of inner-directed Pioneers). At first their numbers panicked Ministers but it soon became apparent that demographics were against them: they represented a highly mobilised but tiny group of people, and for all their huffing and puffing, were natural followers rather than activists. In a war they would have been natural soldiers but in a political campaign their traditional conservatism and inability to make common cause with other groups in society, worked against them.’

The Alliance held ‘marches on London’ which reached 300,000 (2002) but as these went on it showed their real base was limited.  The anti-wind campaign did not make this mistake: it organized a top down co-ordination of protest populated with ‘community’ actors.  It focused on organising and pressuring MPs locally, where its numbers seemed big enough, and on letter writing to Ministers who were in any case already being briefed to respond to their demands.  It then aligned with other established organizations on a case by case basis.

Since 2011 Heaton-Harris had been publishing a guide ‘Fighting Wind Farms’ and offering to help local campaigners around the country.  The anti-wind movement set about organizing constituency by constituency support to local groups, while the mainstream environmental movement mainly remained focused on national and international climate policy.  The anti-wind campaign had the upper hand as it mobilized a small number of very motivated people who could exert acute pressure on a very sensitive target (Conservative electoral fears), whereas the pro-wind lobby was vast but its effect was very diffuse.

Like Major before him, Cameron was now dogged by Eurosceptic insurrections.  In October 2011 he suffered the biggest ‘biggest ever’ rebellion by Tory MPs over whether there would be a referendum on Europe and only avoided defeat through support from the Opposition.  LSE political Blogger Pete Radford wrote that Cameron had ‘little room to manoeuvre’ and the right were ‘picking apart his liberal conservative project’. Of the 81 Conservative rebels, ‘a massive 49 were new MPs, elected in 2010’ and, noted Radford: ‘the party is no longer split between sceptics and non-sceptics but … hard sceptics and soft sceptics’.  Since May 2010, there had already been ‘22 Conservative rebellions over Europe’.

A Systematic Shut Down

Over the three years following the 2012 Heaton-Harris letter, Cameron’s Ministers conducted a systematic shut-down of the onshore wind industry, which continued from 2016 under Theresa May.

First the industry was demonized and existing funding was wound back. Then planning rules were turned upside down to create a presumption against onshore wind, making wind farms almost impossible to build.

To achieve these ends, the Conservatives overcame opposition from their junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.  Anti-wind politicians were installed to deliver the change, such as Conservative Energy Minister John Hayes who Cameron asked to “deliver a win for our people” on wind farms.

Eric Pickles – as planning Minister, called in and cancelled many wind farms

Local Government Minister Eric Pickles was deployed to put the brakes on wind projects already in ‘the pipeline’.  In 2013 he revised planning rules to give more weight to local concerns about landscape and ‘heritage’, and by March 2014 had intervened to take 35 wind farm planning appeals away from inspectors.  He took extra powers to intervene and extended them until the 2015 election, and by November 2014 he had halted 50 wind farms. This, it was said, at the cost of £500m and 2000 rural jobs.  At least one wind farm was stopped despite having local Council support.

2014 – Pickles kills off Killington wind farm despite community and Council support

A new financial ‘framework’ was introduced, ostensibly to protect consumers from higher energy bills but in practice it was used to cut funds for renewables while subsidies for oil and fracking were increased.

Finally, when the rapidly falling cost of new onshore wind and largescale solar-pv meant they became by far the most cost-effective way to generate electricity, and so would have beaten bids using coal, oil, gas or nuclear in the Contracts for a Difference auctions, large onshore wind and solar  were excluded from the government-controlled energy marketplace when the government simply did not hold the relevant auctions.

While this process wasn’t exactly secret (see the large number of media reports cited in the Timelines), it was stealthy and obscure, involving gradual adjustment to  technical orders way below the radar of popular attention.   The mainstream media mainly covered the issue through individual site conflicts with a particular angle of interest (eg at Naseby Battlefield in Northants or at Big Field in Cornwall where it divided the Church of England and its sustainability policy from some parishioners).    Changes to energy policy often explained through personality conflicts within the coalition government (2010-15), such as when pro-renewables Ministers like Ed Davey or Greg Barker were replaced or stood down.  In the classic manner of a government u-turn, the throttling, starving and eventual exclusion of onshore wind avoided any dramatic moment of decision that might create an opportunity to critics.

A 2014 story from The Guardian about a long running battle to win approval for Good Energy’s ‘Big Field’ wind farm in Cornwall which divided a community (and split the church), and led some people to say they would switch from voting Conservative or LibDem to UKIP (it was ultimately rejected).

The natural proponents of wind were the renewables industry and the green NGOs but the task of organizing a meaningful defence seemed to fall between them. The wind industry itself relied on a legalistic approach and proved generally inept at mobilizing public support, in some cases becoming its own worst enemy.  The wind-delivery system was high handed and remote, designed to be backed by top-down central government policy, not to have to win support bottom-up against local opposition.

Divided ‘Greens’

The environmental NGOs failed to organize constituency-level campaigns for wind, perhaps partly because they had relatively little engagement with Conservative voters, and perhaps in part because it was assumed that the provisions of their great achievement, the Climate Change Act, would ensure energy policy kept moving in the ‘right direction’.   The NGOs secured sustained cross party backing on climate policy (with the exception of UKIP) but not on energy policy.

The NGOs were also split, with local CPRE groups and sometimes the National Trust and Wildlife Trusts taking an active role in opposing wind farms, which in practice helped fuel and legitimize the Heaton-Harris campaign.

Most active NGO engagement focused on the readily achievable, such as promoting school or community renewables projects, or on advocacy of policy arguments rather than organizing.  There was for example, no demonstration of the scale of the wind or solar industry in terms of jobs, such as by bringing workers together when it was still a burgeoning business.  The wind industry and the green NGOs never turned overwhelmingly favourable public opinion into an effective lobby.   In contrast, although the anti-wind lobby represented just a tiny sliver of public opinion, when their activism was inserted into the machinery organised by Heaton Harris and his fellow travelers, it exerted enormous political leverage.

From Blown Away by the ECIU, 2017

‘Green Crap’, ‘Green Taliban’, ‘Green Blob’

If a British government is hell-bent on pushing through a policy and using its many opportunities to propagandize to support it, then unless there is some telling moment of conflict for opposition to rally around, it is almost impossible for civil society to withstand it.

In 2010 the Conservative Manifesto Conservative manifesto promised to ‘unleash the power of green enterprise and promote resource efficiency to generate thousands of green jobs’.  It spoke of ‘our responsibility to be the greenest government in our history’.  Its vision is for Britain was to be ‘the world’s first low-carbon economy’.  All that went out the window as the Tories aped UKIP.

With a political strategy of trying to out-UKIP-UKIP, Conservative Ministers did little to challenge the barrage of anti-environmental propaganda emanating from Nigel Farage, who for example wildly exaggerated the size of wind subsidies (six fold).  The new narrative about onshore wind held that at best, it was a necessary evil, and invariably an imposition on communities and a burden on electricity bill payers.

George Osborne used the 2011 Conservative Conference to denounce green regulation

In 2011 amidst widespread criticism of ‘austerity’, Chancellor George Osborne singled out “a decade of environmental laws and regulations” for “piling costs on the energy bills of households and companies”.   In 2012 Osborne took to calling green industries, environmental NGOs and government energy officials the “green Taliban”.    In 2013 Cameron told aides to “get rid of all the green crap” from energy bills.  Rather than fighting climate change by creating the world’s first low-carbon economy, investment in renewable energy was framed as a danger to be controlled.  Osborne had a ‘Levy Control Framework’ set up.  Opposing onshore wind farms became the poster-child for a more general abandonment of environmental ambition.  In 2014 Owen Patterson declared he was proud to have fought against environmental NGOs as Environment Secretary, denouncing them as the “green blob”.

On losing his job at DEFRA Owen Patterson MP denounced the “green blob” and then delivered a talk promoting fracking at the climate-sceptic front group the GWPF

Following Cameron’s capitulation to Heaton-Harris’s 101 Tories in 2012, Ministers adopted the framing of communities as victims of wind energy.  John Hayes, who Peter Lilley found “on my side” and “useful” at the Department of Energy, announced “we can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities”.  In 2014 Energy Minister Michael Fallon promised that if the Conservatives were elected in 2015, “changes to planning rules will … give communities more power to reject onshore wind”.  In 2015 Kris Hopkins, a Conservative communities minister, said wind turbines could be “a blight on the landscape, harming the local environment and damaging heritage for miles around”.

The message was clear: the Conservatives were no longer on the green side but on the side of those who climate-sceptic journalist James Delingpole described as Shire Tories (or those aspiring to be) who believed ‘their country home …  is their castle’ and did not expect ‘to have their peace disturbed’, or ‘their views ruined’.

‘UKIP Can Deny Us A Majority With 5%’

On the other hand, to extract political benefits, the government still had to signal the political logic to its own followers.  Most of this can be found in conservative blogs and comment pieces in conservative newspapers citing ‘sources’.  For example in May 2012, the creator of ConservativeHome website Tim Montgomerie, who had previously explained the electoral benefits of Cameron’s green repositioning, warned:  “UKIP doesn’t need to get 10% to cause us damage. A 5% or 6% vote share will be enough to stop us winning many of the marginal seats that are necessary for a Conservative majority”.

The next month Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph wrote that George Osborne would throw ‘red meat’ to party members and use finance to ‘kill’ onshore wind ‘stone dead’.

The Guardian reports a Greenpeace sting video in which Chris Heaton Harris explains how he arranged for an ‘anti wind’ candidate to stand in the 2012 Corby by-election, and “there’s a bit of strategy behind what’s going on”.

Other Conservatives were prepared to tolerate support for UKIP  so long the overall effect was to make the party more Euro- and Climate-sceptic, and anti-wind.  At the Corby by-election Heaton Harris was caught on camera by Greenpeace saying he “didn’t give a toss” if the ‘anti-wind candidate’ James Delingpole (who Heaton-Harris had helped to stand despite himself being the official manager of the Conservative campaign), was to endorse UKIP.  He simply wanted to get opposition to wind energy “written into the DNA” of the Tory Party.  His fellow East Midlands Conservative MP, arch Euro-sceptic Peter Bone, wrote in 2014 that UKIP was a ‘good thing’ because it would pull the Conservatives back to the right.

Bone, Farage and (right) Pursglove in Northamptonshire for the launch of GO Movement (Grassroots Out) a pro Brexit group, in 2016.  Bone and Pursglove both spoke at the UKIP Conference despite being Conservative MPs.  Photo from Northampton Chronicle 

Enough Wind Already

Many reports had it that Osborne and his Treasury team were pro-gas including fracking, and it suited them to divert financial support to the fossil fuel gas rather than wind.  At least in the short term, the growing public dislike of fracking was simply ignored, and once fracking development began, it was mainly in Labour not Conservative constituencies.

To maintain some claim to no longer be the ‘nasty’ party, Osborne ring-fenced funding for the NHS but sacrificed greenery.  Private polling may well have indicated that this was a bulwark against loss of Conservative votes to Labour, which was more important than any loss to the LibDems or Greens.

An awkward obstacle remained the statutory carbon budget system set up through the Climate Change Act which had become law in 2008 under the Climate Change Committee.  The clear logic of this is to reduce Britain’s carbon emissions and progressively decarbonize the economy.  But so long as the government could show overall emissions were falling (which they did, mainly because the final tranche of coal power stations was being closed down) the government could claim its climate policy was succeeding.

As well as overall emission targets and carbon budgets, the government had energy plans with targets and obscure sub-targets for proportions of power to be generated by renewables.  Chris Heaton Harris used these to frame onshore wind as having already received ‘too much’ funding. Then by focusing on the short not even the medium term, the government used this to justify withdrawing “subsidies”: it found a way to claim that there was already ‘enough wind’.  The reference target was 2020, and an end to finance was brought forward a year to 2016.

Political Consequences

Cameron and Osborne dropped wind energy in a short term bid to see off the Eurosceptic Tory right.  In the end it failed because the same lobby also forced them into an EU referendum which they lost.

ES we are out headline

Chris Heaton Harris became a government whip under Theresa May and then in 2018 a Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union (DEXU) responsible for preparing for a no-deal Brexit, until he resigned on 3 April 2019 over a delay to Brexit.  Last year he caused outrage in Universities when he wrote asking for the names and notes of academics lecturing on Brexit.   According to his constituency website he is still campaigning against wind and offering to help local campaigners object to wind farms.

Voices That Were Not Heard

Since Cameron’s volte face became apparent in 2012, the wind industry, carbon finance and risk experts, NGOs, the Climate Change Committee and Parliamentary committees have repeatedly criticised the government for stifling onshore wind just as it has become the cheapest form of new energy.  They point to an opportunity cost: onshore wind offers huge economic and climate benefits, and lots of skilled jobs.  But finance for renewables projects and the wind-construction industry itself is highly mobile, so when there are more favourable opportunities elsewhere, the investment simply moves and its voice is no longer heard.

The larger wind companies are also invested in offshore wind, complicating their relationship with government which has been able to point to significant increases in offshore generation as a success story.  Plus although community energy schemes have been a victim of the jihad against wind, nearly all of Britain’s onshore wind has been delivered by large companies.  The paucity of community owned schemes (common in countries like Denmark) also meant that there were few community level voices raised to express support for wind when the campaign began.

Stirrings Of A Rethink

When Osborne and Cameron backed a reversal of policy on wind, Osborne in particular promoted fracking as an energy alternative. Quite aside from the obvious contradiction between a new dash-for-gas and climate policy, and the likely unpopularity of fracking locally, from the start, geologists had warned that the UK’s frackable gas resources were not comparable with those in the US.  They expressed doubts about the viability of the putative UK fracking industry.

By 2018 Cabinet Office documents unearthed by Greenpeace showed that whereas the shale gas industry had anticipated 4,000 horizontal wells by 2032, government projections now put the figure at just 155 by 2025.  For several years opposition by environment groups and local communities delayed any commercial fracking.  (In April 2019 INEOS and Quadrilla, the only firms to actually try fracking for gas in the UK, were lobbying for relaxations of earthquake rules, with INEOS saying it might pull out altogether).

Yet over the same time period of 2012 to 2019, costs of new onshore wind generation fell dramatically.  It was not surprising that this happened as the technology matured.  It had been predicted and the falling cost of onshore wind and solar pv was, after all, one reason the government was already considering a cut in ‘subsidies’ in 2012.

Even so, Together Against Wind was claiming in 2014 that ‘new forms’ of generation would cost twice as much as coal or nuclear (at £50/MWHr). By 2017 Arup said new onshore wind would be as cheap as gas and half the cost of nuclear at Hinkley.  The subsidy requirement for offshore wind, which was still allowed to compete in auctions, fell by 50% between 2015 and 2017.  In 2017, Cornwall Energy put the cost of new onshore wind at £40/MWH, others at £46/MWH, both less than new gas.   In 2018 the Climate Change Committee urged the government to use “simple, low-cost” options such as onshore wind and efficiency to cut emissions in the 2020s.  Ostensibly, it has always remained government policy to de-carbonize at ‘least cost’.

No doubt this prompted some in Whitehall to argue for policy on wind energy to be ‘revised’, although by now a lot of investor interest has been lost. In 2016 ENDS reported that the UK had dropped to an all-time low of 14th place in Ernst and Young’s ranking of country attractiveness for renewable energy Investment (behind Morocco, Brazil, Mexico and others). In 2018 the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee called the fall in renewables investment “dramatic and worrying” and questioned the UK’s ability to meet its legally-binding carbon reduction targets.

Even in the Conservative Party, voices have once again been raised in support of onshore wind.  In 2017 Sam Hall from Bright Blue wrote at Conservative Home‘Polling shows ‘70 per cent of Conservatives are concerned about the impacts of climate change’  and ‘Conservatives have a more positive view of renewable energy forms like solar, tidal, offshore and onshore wind, and biomass, than they do of nuclear and fossil fuels. Even more remarkably, new onshore wind developments, which the last Conservative manifesto pledged to halt, are supported by a majority (59 per cent) of Conservatives, provided they did not receive any subsidy’. Also in 2017,  Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland wrote an article at Conservative Home: The case for lifting the national bar on onshore wind’.

It seems that like Europe, wind energy is a political football within the Conservative Party, and is being kicked about by the same two sides.  In 2018 the Daily Telegraph reported that the row over onshore wind ‘threatens to re-ignite’ within the Tory party after ‘energy ministers Claire Perry and Richard Harrington alarmed their backbench colleagues by revealing that they are working on ways to support future projects.’

Some Tories open to onshore wind: Claire Perry MP, Richard Harrington MP, Sam Hall of Bright Blue and Simon Clarke MP

In 2018 Business and Energy secretary Greg Clark announced that the “energy trilemma” was “coming to an end”. Cheap power, ‘ he said “is now green power”.  Zero subsidy say Clark should be a principle, and “it is looking now possible, indeed likely, that by the mid 2020s, green power will be the cheapest power. It can be zero subsidy”.

It would probably be wrong however to imagine that the Civil Service is wholly impartial or united on this topic, or that economic and ecological rationality outweighs values judgements or ideology in Westminster, and therefore onshore wind power is now certain to be re-started.  

For one thing, a decade of sustained anti-wind propaganda has left a mental footprint in the perceptions of MPs.  A July 2018 YouGov found just 8% of them knew that onshore wind farms are now the cheapest new source of electrical generation. 12% thought it was nuclear.  They also overestimated opposition to onshore wind.  The latest government survey showed just 2% strongly oppose onshore wind but only 9% of MPs believed the figure to be less than 5%.  Most guessed that ‘strong opposition’ was above 20%.

Source: Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker, BEIS – from Chris Goodall’s blog

Source: Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker, BEIS from Chris Goodall’s blog

In 2017 a detailed analysis of the long-running government tracker poll on wind by Chris Goodall, blogger at ‘Carbon Commentary’ revealed that ‘just 1 person between 16 and 44 from the entire interview panel [of 2000] was ‘strongly opposed’ to wind’.  Goodall wrote: ‘Across all age ranges, wind seems to be rising in popularity. The only group with more than a few opponents are those over 65. And yet the reduction in those opposing onshore wind has been fastest in this age range. Media coverage shouldn’t start from the assumption that people don’t like turbines. Wind power is popular. Vastly more popular than fracking’.

I’m told that confronted with this evidence and even the fact that onshore wind is more popular in rural than urban areas, a senior Conservative MP just flatly refused to believe it as it did not reflect his postbag.  The obvious explanation is an effective and well organized campaign of a very few people made to appear like a lot.

In autumn 2018 energy blogger Professor David Toke asserted that the Treasury still aimed to change policy so that ‘almost all future development for renewable energy in the UK will be stopped. Continued incentives and tax breaks for nuclear power, shale gas and conventional power stations will, however, remain in place.’ It wanted to end Contracts for a Difference (CfDs),  end ‘all incentives to solar pv, including for solar power exported to the electricity distribution system’, and ‘the carbon price floor which makes fossil fuel more expensive and non-fossil sources relatively cheaper’.  The war is far from over and as things stand, the anti-wind lobby is winning.

Enemies of Science and Regulation

Matt Reed’s blog investigating UKIP and wind

‘Reflexivity’ and ‘reflexive modernity’ is an esoteric idea but an important part of it is that society reinvents itself and its systems by acting on scientific advances in understanding.   As Matt Reed wrote in a 2016 blog, UKIP’s online propaganda activity on wind farms it is part of an anti-reflexive backlash or counter-revolution, in which scientific knowledge and understanding is rejected.  This is why it aligns with same psychological, political and ideological divide as, for example, climate scepticism and rejection of scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking.  He quotes Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, in their book (and film) Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming:   “the enemies of government regulation of the marketplace became the enemies of science”.

From Roger Helmer’s blog

Farage doing a bit of values signalling (the packaging refers to health warnings)

So the staying of wind in England is very much about an interruption of modernity and a sacrifice of the public interest in favour of those private interests with a vested interest in perpetuating the profitable conditions of the past.  Which is why it is not surprising that rejection of the seemingly apolitical option of onshore wind power became a symbol in the service of ‘Euroscepticism’, and a way to actualize a dream of how some would like the world to be (we don’t need renewable energy), rather than how it needs to be (actually we do).

Conspiracy Footnote

There was obviously a co-ordinated campaign by ERG members and other Conservative right-wingers to get the Cameron government to drop wind, and then a campaign by many of the same MPs, in collusion with Ministers, to dismantle the onshore wind industry in England.  This seems to have involved Tory right-wingers well beyond Heaton Harris, such as Peter Lilley.

But was there a conspiracy or an organised effort with foreign influence behind the killing of the wind in England?   I don’t know.  More like a convergence of interests perhaps.

Reed suggests that opportunism rather than strategy explains the largely imaginary mobilization of a ‘rural vote’ by UKIP but the line between opportunism and planned action, is a rather grey one, as has been the line between UKIP and the right wing of the Tory Party.

It is true that there is a trail of breadcrumbs which certainly show connections.   The political bonds between players such as ALEC in the US who Heaton Harris asked for help from in his political project and who responded positively (what the help was, we don’t know), and Bjorn Lomborg and his fellow Eurosceptics like Liam Fox and Roger Helmer and Daniel Hanahan are real enough.  As were theirs also to the US right-wing.   As are the links between the climate sceptics of Tufton Street in London and the US right-wing funders, and those from them to the fossil fuel industry (sometimes one and the same).  NGOs like Desmog and journalists like George Monbiot have spent a much longer time looking into the Eurosceptic-Climatesceptic ecosystem.

As to Heaton Harris’s links to Trump whom he hoped would speak at an ill-fated fundraiser for his campaign front ‘Together Against Wind’ back in 2012, was that imaginary or real?   Trump, he told putative donors, was one of his ‘biggest supporters’.

One of my ‘biggest supporters’ wrote Heaton Harris in a mailer for an anti-wind fundraiser

At the other extreme perhaps, it may be just a coincidence of values, the politics of property interests, and the unintended side effects of the NPPF, which brought together groups like the CPRE and the Eurosceptic-Climatesceptic right-wing, through figures such as David Montagu-Smith.  He was Chairman of West Northamptonshire CPRE and is and was Chairman of Rathlin Energy, an oil and gas firm involved in fracking.

David Montagu Smith of CPRE and Rathlin Energy (from a Protect Our North Coast video)

Protect Our North Coast opposed fracking development by Rathlin in Northern Ireland

Others don’t think it is coincidence, for instance Renewable energy consultant Alison Fogg.  She wrote at Spin Watch about her experiences of anti-wind campaigning in the South West in  ‘Connecting The Dots: A Firsthand Account Of How The UKIP Surge Drove The Tories To Sabotage The Renewables Industry’.  That describes how in 2014 she found that it was almost impossible to get positive press coverage in the local North Devon Journal because of links between UKIP, the “Slay The Array” campaign against an offshore wind farm, and the local branch of the CPRE, whose chair, Penny Evans, had stood for UKIP.  She recalls that: ‘At one Slay the Array meeting, a 59-year-old supporter of the Array plans was ejected after asking too many questions. This man was then beaten up. And that was at a renewable energy event’.  The main suspect ‘was described by police as “wearing a purple jacket with a UKIP badge”’.

The US right-wing still funds anti-renewables campaigns and the authoritarian anti-modern British right – such as the ERG and UKIP – which so successfully inflamed Settler reflexes, has links to its American cousins.  They share a joint dislike of the ‘progressive’ public interest politics of the EU, making them bedfellows over Brexit.  It is their attitudes and beliefs rather than that of the people of England who have so far won out in determining energy policy.

View a timeline in slides:


[1] ‘Security-driven’ with an unmet need for safety, security and identity.  As a result they are cautious and change-averse (change being a risk), and seek certainty, leading them to generally conclude that things should be left as they are, or preferably returned to the past, the ‘good old days’.  Settlers desire to be ‘normal’ and are pained by change if it redefines normal and requires them to change in order to stay ‘normal’.  This social conservatism has always predisposed Settlers to resist or avoid new technologies as long as possible, to uphold tradition and to seek out reassurance in terms of continuity, from recreations and food to manners and social signals in general that cultural continuity is being conserved.

This makes Settlers ‘naturally’ averse to obvious new changes such as large white wind turbines appearing in their local landscape.  Later once these are normal, Settlers may become guardians of the new normal – exactly this happened with old style windmills, originally opposed as foreign intrusions, now treasured heritage.

Many Settlers also have a strong sense of local identity and resist changes to it, whether rapid cultural change in the shape of visibly different immigrants, or new developments that make a place ‘unrecognizable’.



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Brexit Values Story 2.2: Brexit Warning

Brexit Warning  (Brexit Values Story 2.2)            

(long blog – download as a pdf here)

Brexit is causing a crisis in British politics but the values split which it revealed could affect many other countries, particularly post-industrial democracies.  Those countries experienced what Ron Inglehart called the ‘Silent Revolution’ of progressive values in the 1960s and 1970s, which became part of a mainstream consensus.  However they are now susceptible to counter-revolutions such as Brexit, the rise of authoritarian populism and ‘anti progressive’ protest movements such as the Yellow Vests.  These changes raise serious questions for politics but also for the model of ‘progressive’ campaigning which has become conventional since the 1970s.

For campaigners I suggest the three main ‘values-lessons of Brexit’ are:

  1. The change model: for change to have sufficient legitimacy to last, it must respect values diversity. By this I mean that it must be endorsed through adoption in all the main values groups of society (Pioneer, Prospector and Settler), on their own terms. Values-bombing (eg PCness) does not do this.

  2. Progressives should design and invest in campaigns to engage people unlike themselves and avoid the default mobilisation of their fundraising base as the way to win campaigns.

  3. Politicians, governments and campaigners must work actively to maintain the ‘social elastic’ of common experiences, inter-dependencies and behaviours with cross-values appeal to prevent society dividing into disconnected values silos, not just online but in real life.

Brexit Car Crash

The immediate British crisis over Brexit (March 2019) hinges on how to implement the results of the 2016 referendum on membership of the EU.  As explored in Brexit Values Story Part 1 and Part 2.1, the vote split the country on values lines but in so doing, it has also split the two main political parties, Conservative and Labour, into ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ camps.  As Leave-Remain public opinion is ranged not along a left-right axis but a values axis from Settler to Pioneer, or in Ingleharts terms from Authoritarian/ materialist to New Politics (post-materialist), this has also split the main parties, and that has  disabled and destabilised Westminster politics, leading to a slow-motion political car crash of epic proportions.

Diagram from British Politics is Undergoing a Values Realignment

One reason Britain’s negotiation with the EU has been so agonizing is that political choices have separated as values choices but both Theresa May (Conservative) and Jeremy Corbyn (Labour) have tried to suppress this reality as they prioritize keeping their parties intact.

As I described in the February blog Britain Is Undergoing A Values Realignment, defections from the main parties have led to the emergence of one new political grouping:  the TIG The Independent Group, now a nascent political party to be called ‘ChangeUK’, in the same Pioneer values territory as the Liberal Democrats and Greens (and most Labour voters).

At the opposite pole, UKIP is now joined by the ‘Brexit Party’, and their values are similar those of the Ulster DUP which May has depended upon for a working majority, and the ERG or European Research Group.  The latter are regarded as a party-within-a-party at the extreme right of the Conservatives.

This realignment process is not finished yet and will occupy the attention of political media but the underlying values dynamics are more important for the future of campaigns.

Not Just in Britain?

Public opinion in both Britain and most of Europe has swung to be more not less pro-EU since the UK Referendum (probably out of horror at the consequences of Brexit and counting the benefits of EU membership) but the underlying pattern of pro- and anti-EU sentiment that was revealed by pre-referendum surveys and confirmed in the vote, is also found in some other European countries.

The UK values split over Europe disproportionately pitched Pioneers and Now People Prospectors against Golden Dreamers and Settlers thus splitting the values map across the middle (see explanation in Brexit Values Story Part 1 with the voting data in Brexit Values Story Part 2.1).  This was evident as a social values cleavage in other EU Member States such as Italy, France (yellow vests, Front National) and Germany (AfD) before Brexit.  It’s just not been activated in the same way in those countries (and doesn’t by the way apply in Spain).

Leave Remain data as values terrain maps from Brexit Values Story Part 2.1 – it’s not just Britain which could split over Europe along values lines

The Great Inversion

Campaigners are used to thinking of themselves as the ‘insurgents’.  They forged effective strategies on this basis in the mass media age of the 1960s – 1980s.  Their role was to be non-governmental organisations, pressuring and showing the way.  Government would then deliver and politicians would do the necessary politics to embed and secure change.

As most campaigners are Pioneers, they also have the highest sense of self-agency and are most comfortable with risking controversy or failure, allowing them to also be innovators.  So although todays long-established campaign groups truly were innovators and insurgents back in the 1970s, today their values group may still be the social innovators but they are politically no longer the insurgents.  This is because the ‘values pyramid’ as deduced by Abraham Maslow in the 1950s, has been turned upside down.

Society as it was deduced by Abraham Maslow (top) and probably was for millennia (bottom) – the ‘pyramid’ of the three main values-needs groups.  When most of society was security-driven (Settler) it had inbuilt social ballast, ‘tribal’ loyalties, relatively predictable behaviours and deference to authority.

The inversion of the ‘pyramid’ of values groups as measured by CDSM between 1973 and 2016. (Slides from Brexit Values Story Part 1)  In the UK Pioneers went from the smallest to the largest group and their ideas from fringe to mainstream.  Settlers felt an increasingly marginalised minority. The proportion of Pioneers is even higher in some other developed countries (eg Australia, Germany and the US).

This inversion happened through the natural values dynamic of people transitioning from one dominant values set to another if they meet their needs for safety, security, identity and then esteem of others and self esteem.  In the ‘good times’ of improving real prospects, better social and economic conditions and greater opportunities, these  ‘intergenerational’ changes as Inglehart calls them, or  the ‘values conveyor’ as CDSM term it, led to more people meeting their security needs and esteem needs, with the result that by 2016 far more had become Prospectors or Pioneers than in the 1970s.

Innovators But Not Insurgents

Most change-campaigns across the world are dominated by Pioneers (the values mechanisms of how this happens are detailed in this blog on the ‘Usual Suspects’).  As a group, Pioneers were always in the vanguard of change but now, even if not in themselves an outright majority, they are often the largest values group in developed democracies.  Furthermore, many of their ideas have been consolidated in a mainstream consensus.  If they are joined, as they often are, by the Now People Prospectors, they are even more likely to form an outright majority.

This raises the question of what change strategies such groups should adopt today.  The insurgent positioning is a piece of cultural baggage which may not be optimal if you are representing the mainstream.  At the very least, if you do not bother to win the support of smaller values groups very unlike you, it makes you vulnerable to being perceived as part of a disinterested establishment.

As the largest values group, Pioneers are sometimes capable of exerting a values-hegemony: they may have the power to project their values at others, manifest as Political Correctness, which in values terms is a sort of ethical force-projection or ‘values bombing’.   Resentment of PCness was a strong predictor of voting for Trump in the US and in the UK the equivalent was rejection of ‘isms’ like feminism and environmentalism amongst Leave voters.  Some of the strategies and tactics of campaign and cause groups – and ‘progressive movements’ – may have themselves contributed to values-polarisation, although compared to the effects of job insecurity and immigration identified by Inglehart, their precipitating contribution to Brexit would have been marginal (see Political Correctness, Brexit, Trump and Campaigns).

Activation of ‘PC’ and a values divide – from  A Possible History of Political Correctness in Values Terms

End stage from A Possible History of Political Correctness in Values Terms – opposition to PCness in the US was a powerful predictor of voting Trump while in the UK the equivalent for Leave was opposition to ‘isms’s such as multiculturalism, feminism, environmentalism.

A great deal of effective campaigning depends upon having natural justice onside.  It hardly needs saying that many of the opponents of progressive causes plainly do not.  For example the fossil fuel industry continues to exploit its entrenched financial influence over politics – especially but only in the United States – to enable to it continue doing incalculable damage.  But as ‘progressive’ groups gain greater mainstream influence, directly or indirectly, they need to engage more not just in pointing to desirable destinations but in the delivery of sustainable change.  This means securing a mandate for change from all the main values groups.

The Natural Change Dynamic

The natural human dynamic for the sustainable spread of change across values groups, requires its voluntary adoption, by emulation from Pioneers to Prospectors, and then by norming from Prospectors to Settlers.  This requires more work than simply generating support from within the 38% [UK] of Pioneers but achieving it means values endorsement, the opposite of a values split.

The first step requires the behaviour (or idea) to appear successful to Prospectors.  The second step requires it to appear ‘normal’ to Settlers (sufficiently familiar and widely adopted).  This has to be on people’s own terms, which requires respecting their values (to be successful and to be normal, respectively), and not trying to project Pioneer values onto them (Political Correctness).  It’s about strategic enabling of behaviour change, not ‘changing minds’ or imposing values.  It means accepting that people may do the same thing, for different reasons.

Slide 12 from Brexit Values Story Part 1 taken from What Makes People Tick: The Three Hidden Worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers

Resorting to projecting your own reasons and calling on others to adopt them,  is usually motivated by a desire to get change to happen quickly fast but rather than catalysing change, Pioneer projection at Settlers or Prospectors tends to act as a blocker, like a catalytic poison deactivating change.  If forced upon people, it can cause a backlash of active rejection.

Attempts to project Pioneer values at Settlers or Prospectors rather than emulation and norming. Slide 53  from Brexit Values Story Part 1

Although the natural change dynamic can happen quite quickly (as with consumer goods and styles) it may appear ‘too slow’ for campaigners dealing with ‘urgent issues’.  It’s attractive then to find ways to produce significant outcomes without involving the voluntary social spread of ideas or behaviours.  The problem with this is that if the changes are vulnerable to reversal, they have no supportive ‘constituency’ to defend them, and there is no more entrenched form of approval than one embedded by daily participation or familiar behaviour, because we all tend to rationalise and defend our behaviours as ‘making sense’ (Track 1).

This is also why if something is adopted through individual choice without us being made aware that  it’s something others think we ought to do, it is likely to spread more efficiently.  The main mechanism for doing this is often the market in products and services.  The spread of rooftop solar pv in the UK followed just this pattern, albeit a decade after Germany.

From the 1970s until the 1990s solar pv in Britain was confined to Pioneer projects and campaign demonstrations (eg Greenpeace 1997 x2, above).  By the late 1990s experimentally minded green architects were putting in larger solar pv installations (eg BedZed 2000), inspired by the German example led by politician Herman Scheer.  In 2001 (yellow building) our house was the first with solar pv and thermal in our town – which led to curious locals knocking on our door to ask if it worked.   UK Feed in Tariffs did not come in until 2010, so at this time the householder motivation to use solar in the UK was ‘ethical’.

Over the next decade solar pv became aspirational.  Prospectors started to get it along with Pioneers.   A major influence in the UK was a tv programme ‘Grand Designs’ which featured many ‘dream’ homes with solar.  The out-take was ‘rich successful people are doing this’.  In 2006 Arnie Schwarzenegger, Governor of California launched a million solar roofs programme.  Green minded celebrities installed it, providing fashionable endorsement.  Mainstream brands like Curry’s appeared with domestic solar at the Ideal Home Exhibition.

By the 2010s solar pv was no longer novel but becoming normal.  Conservative UK Settler brands like Anglia Windows offered it.  In this case the selling point was not ethical climate-saving but the risk-avoiding strength of the brackets fixing it to the roof, in case of extreme weather.  Around the corner from my house, a UKIP voter (sometimes he flies a UKIP flag – UKIP’s base is Settler) put in a large solar pv installation.  Normalisation: he assured me it would pay for his pension.

This process of Pioneer innovation, success-bridging to the (Now People) Prospectors through emulation, and eventual norming  and uptake by Settlers, is the usual way new things spread across society, if they are going to.  Key to the contagion is that people adopt it for their own reasons (values).

Had Prospectors been told by Pioneers that they were wrong bad people not to have solar pv, their answer would probably have been “get lost”.   Had Prospectors told Settlers they should get it to be fashionable, the response might have been similar.  Settlers are not smitten by fashion.

Had it become a politically charged ‘wedge issue’ (which in the UK has happened with onshore wind power when the Conservatives dropped it and adopted UKIP style anti-wind policy, distancing themselves from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners), it would not have spread so effectively.  A campaign of ethical values projection could have stymied the spread of solar pv in the UK outside of the Pioneers.

Had solar not ended up on the rooftops of so many Conservative and even UKIP voters, it might have experienced the same fate as onshore wind.

Although the two are different in that small scale solar is less visible than a large wind turbine, onshore wind could become a values-hate-symbol in England partly because local individuals were not ‘bought into it’ in the same way as communities were in countries such as Germany and Denmark where there was a high degree of community ownership.  It just appeared in their area, they had no personal connection and there was no way for local residents to make a positive connection.

This meant there was no local human constituency endorsing and identifying with wind, making it easier to ‘other’ as an alien presence, and to dislike.  At least in England, at local level it is having to oppose a person which often stops potential activists doing anything about an activity that really troubles them: for example, hating to see farmers flailing hedgerows but not wanting to confront any individual farmer.

A UK example with practical consequences for climate campaigners, is the setback to greening Britain’s economy and tackling climate change, caused by the abandonment of its premier source of renewable energy: onshore wind.

Until 2012 onshore wind (the cheapest form of new renewable electricity and now the cheapest of any form) was promoted by all UK governments.  The only party to oppose it was UKIP, for whom it was one of three values-signature policies (the other two being opposition to immigration and withdrawal from the EU).

Chris Heaton Harris MP, climate- and euro-sceptic slayer of wind energy (photo Chris McAndrew)

Then a campaign organised by right-wing Conservative politician Chris Heaton-Harris, Chair of the ERG, forced Prime Minister David Cameron to kill off onshore wind energy in England.  With it went Cameron’s whole ‘reflexive’ project to green and modernize the Conservatives (and attract more Pioneers and Prospectors), begun in 2005.  By 2015 the Conservatives had an anti-wind energy policy like that of UKIP, driven by competition between the two parties for the approval of a tiny, almost entirely Settler group of older right-wing voters, who were also climate-sceptic, euro-sceptic and against immigration.  Opposing wind energy became a values-standard raised in the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union – with the Conservatives co-opted into UKIP’s ‘anti-reflexive’ counter revolution so that they could grab the standard and wave it themselves.

Ultimately of course it all went wrong for Cameron.  He threw wind energy overboard to please the Euro/climate-sceptic right, along with other concessions but he then lost the referendum and resigned.  Britain is left with an energy policy which supposedly mandates the use of the most cost effective technologies to decarbonize its economy on the one hand, while simultaneously ruling them out on the other.  It’s a mess although only a small satellite of the Brexit mess.

Lessons for Campaigning

Campaign groups should design campaigns to avoid contributing the Brexit-type values divides in society and to reach across values differences to engage people unlike themselves. To secure sustainable positive change, they should respect a diversity of motivational values, and NGOs should press and support governments to maintain values cohesion within society.  For me the three principal campaigning take-aways from the Brexit divide are:

  1. For Lasting Change Embrace Values Diversity

As discussed above, plan to introduce and embed change by using the natural values dynamic of Pioneer to Prospector by emulation (typically with Transcender Pioneers to Now People Prospectors as ‘the bridge’) and then Prospector to Settler, by norming.  (In countries with a large Prospector population, such as many developing countries, the key change is often from Now People to Golden Dreamer, again by emulation).  Do not try to speed this up by projecting Pioneer values at Prospectors or Settlers (including through admonishment in Political Correctness).  That’s likely to be resented and to prompt values divides, as evidenced by research by Greenberg in the US (Trump election) and Ashcroft in the UK (EU Referendum).

Enable people to adopt change for their own reasons, rather than trying to change the people.  Our Values Modes result from our life experiences, not from a conscious choice or being told what our values should be.  Afford values diversity in the same respect as you would to ethnic, cultural or other social diversity.

  1. Invest in Audiences Unlike Yourselves.

Because campaigns often cannot be conducted without reaching a point where actors and followers ‘take sides’, the default should be to maximise engagement with unlike values and social groups.  This is the opposite of just mobilising those who already most support your cause or organisation and of ‘identity politics’ campaigning.

A good example of a winning referendum campaign on a potentially divisive issue which did this was the Irish Yes Equality campaign of 2015.  That effort is unusually well documented in the book Ireland Says Yes by Gráinne Healy.    Every strategic step that campaign took had the effect of reducing rather than increasing difference between the ‘two sides’.

The three greatest obstacles to this for campaign NGOs are all mundane.  First, the reluctance of many campaigners to engage positively with anyone outside their base.  Second, the default use of the fundraising base as the mobilisation base for campaigns, because it’s easy and cheap (and in the worst case, if a change campaign is instructed to raise money).  Third, even where a campaign does actually do research into what might induce the disinterested or opposed to become supportive, it is of no value unless the results are acted upon (as Yes Equality did).

Above: my summary of the Yes strategy.  If the Remain campaign had adopted a similar approach I think it would have won at the 2016 UK EU Referendum

  1. Maintain The Social Elastic

Several studies have shown that since the ‘European Referendum’, being a ‘leaver’ or ‘remainer’ has become a stronger identity factor than being a supporter of one of the two main British political parties, Conservative and Labour.  This is not so dramatic as it might sound.  In reality politics was always way down the list of identity factors for people in the UK:  ‘my political convictions’ ranked 27th of 31 options in a large 2014 survey, which may not have surprised anyone except some tribal political activists.    Also in reality, smaller parties such as UKIP (strongly Settler) and the Liberal Democrats (strongly Pioneer) have always had more distinct values bases.

It also has to be borne in mind that not all Pioneers voted Remain (54% did), and not all Settlers voted Leave (65% did), and Prospectors were both the most divided and the least likely to have voted (15% didn’t).

(Above: Table from Brexit Values Story 2.1 – see post for fuller explanation).

But as is always the case, values differences were most pronounced amongst those with the strongest convictions, who most ‘make the weather’ in social issues and politics.  Overall, the EU referendum and its aftermath have, so far at least, almost certainly increased rather than decreased perceptions of difference between values groups.  Numerous pollsters suggest that views have tended to polarise, although there is now a consistent lead for ‘Remain’ of around 8%, which is why the Leave side doesn’t like the idea of a Second Referendum.  Media imagery of course, promotes archetypes.  Many demonstrations and their online equivalents have led both sides into polarised self-parody:  xenophobic angry nationalism amongst Settler/ Golden Dreamer Leavers, contrasting with smug, sneering disdain for Leavers from Pioneer Remainers.

One of the better non-smug non-sneery placards from the vast gathering of mainly Pioneers at the 1m plus march for a sceond referendum in London on March 23

I believe that a lesson Government, politicians and NGOs should all take from this is that it is important promote cohesion between values groups, and maintain the ‘social elastic’ which keeps people with different values together or at least in contact.  There is a considerable risk that if and when the country ‘calms down’, this will be forgotten, and with it many of those who were rightly or wrongly led into blaming the EU for their problems but who had very justifiable reasons to feel forgotten and unfairly treated by life.

At a practical level, and nothing to do with the particulars of Britain and the EU, social bonds across values groups are created through real-life inter-dependencies and common experiences, such as reliance on public services (and in the UK, the NHS especially).  Many of these are susceptible to public policy, for example by making public rather than private transport the best option for travel.  Or by encouraging and celebrating activities with wide values resonance such as, in the UK, charity or community projects to benefit children, or caring for nature, or by promoting inter-generational connections, for instance within families, around the prospects of the next generation.

Another practical risk faced by anyone trying to redress values divides will be to reach for social media as the quick and cheap option.  Unfortunately the algorithmic online ecosystem and culture of most social media tends to create the exact opposite effect.  Wifi-free and mobile network-free zones might have a beneficial effect!

NGOs can catalyse or demonstrate such efforts but they should be a basic duty of governments, and achieving that in itself requires reaching across values differences in politics itself.  Once the elastic snaps, trust disappears and society risks a descent into unpredictable cultural warfare.

Slide 15  from Brexit Values Story Part 1

Slide 14  from Brexit Values Story Part 1 

Exploring New Politics

It’s no good expecting a good reading of philosophers, or economic tracts from Karl Marx, J M Keynes, Adam Smith or Thomas Pikkety to tell us how to tackle problems of values conflict.  These are the condundra of ‘new politics’, and occur where psychological values, politics, cultural change and economics come together.

In 1977 Ron Inglehart (of the University of Michigan and inventor of the World Values Survey) wrote a book about politics and values called The Silent Revolution. By  “silent revolution” he meant the rise of progressive values.  Or as the book blurb put it, ‘a gradual but fundamental change to political life throughout the Western world’ which included ‘a shift from an overwhelming emphasis on material values and physical security toward greater concern with the quality of life; and an increase in the political skills of Western publics that enables them to play a greater role in making important political decisions’.

Slide 35 from Brexit Values Story Part 1

That describes the values-conveyor-effect of the post-war ‘good times’ described in Brexit Values Story Part 1, up to the 1970s.  From then on,  small-state Reagan-Thatcherism, neoliberal economics and globalisation started to reduce the real wealth and prospects of many workers and then of the economic ‘middle classes’, both in Britain and the US.  The same has happened in some other first- generation industrial countries.  This in turn began to trigger a push back from those who did not like the way that the system was changing.

In their 2018 post-Brexit book, National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin credit Pero Ignazi of Bologna University as being one of the first to notice a social and political backlash against the silent revolution.  In 1992 Ignazi published The Silent Counter Revolution Hypotheses on the emergence of extreme right-wing parties in Europe [which is short and worth reading].  He charted the rise of Extreme Rightwing Parties or ERPs, most of which were not in the old fascist mould but a new breed with ‘a right-wing antisystem attitude’.

Ignazi found that by the 1980s, European politics was increasingly volatile, old party ties were ‘decomposing’, voters were losing interest and parties were losing members, ‘and established parties … progressively fading away, thus enabling the emergence of new parties and/or new agencies for the aggregation of demands’.

Social and economic change had ‘liberated the citizen’, and encouraged ‘self-affirmation (as opposed to group solidarity)’ so voting was ‘no longer the confirmation of ‘belonging’ to a specific social group but becomes an individual choice (not necessarily a rational one), an affirmation of a personal value system: the ‘issue voter’ tends to replace the traditional ‘party identification voter’.

‘It could be said’ wrote Ignazi, that the Greens and the ERPs were ‘respectively, the legitimate and the unwanted children of the New Politics; as the Greens come out of the silent revolution, the ERPs derive from a reaction to it, a sort of ‘silent counter-revolution’.’

Inglehart has recently attempted to resolve the effects of values and economic effects in his book Cultural Evolution and a paper The Silent Revolution in Reverse: Trump and the Xenophobic Authoritarian Populist Parties (also here).  Inglehart writes:

‘During the past three decades, a growing share of the publics of high-income countries has experienced declining real income and job security, in context with a large flow of immigrants. This has fueled support for xenophobic populist authoritarian movements such as British exit from the European Union, France’s National Front and Donald Trump’s rise to power. The Silent Revolution dynamic is still at work, but it is now moving in reverse’.

He explains:

‘Support for xenophobic populist authoritarian movements is mainly motivated by a backlash against cultural change. Since the 1970s, younger Postmaterialist birth cohorts have disproportionately supported socially liberal environmentalist parties, while older, less secure people supported xenophobic authoritarian parties, in an enduring intergenerational value clash. But rising inequality, declining existential security and massive immigration explain why support for these movements is greater now than it was thirty years ago. We are dealing with a combination of intergenerational value change and two mega period effects’

The two ‘mega period effects’ are cultural change and in particular immigration, and deteriorating real economic prospects for many people.  The same phenomenon of response to a perception of rapid cultural change has been described by Karen Stenner in The Authoritarian Dynamic, Jonathan Haidt and Eric Kaufmann.

Both these effects are susceptible to political intervention.  For example in the UK, the current delivery mechanisms of government policy on resettlement of aslum seekers and refugees leads to them mostly being sent to poorer areas, which are already stressed by multiple disadvantages causing insecurity. In these areas job prospects are usually worse than in richer areas and social housing is inadequate, and the so the very communities most likely to experience an authoritarian response are also being challenged to accommodate cultural change.  (Of course most immigrants are not refugees but policy influences often have similar effects for them too).

Inglehart notes that in these five European countries, support for xenophobic authoritarian parties fell to a low of 5% in the 1960s but from 1970 as income inequality and economic insecurity increased, ‘the vote for authoritarian parties rose to more than 12% of the total in the 2010s’.  He writes:

Economic growth has continued since 1975, but in high-income countries virtually all of the gains have gone to those at the top  … Cultural backlash explains why given individuals support xenophobic populist authoritarian movements– but declining existential security explains why support for these movements is greater now than it was thirty years ago.

His new book Cultural Backlash: Trump Brexit and Authoritarian Populism written with Pippa Norris, has now been published. Inglehart says it show that this effect ‘explains the rise of Authoritarian Populist parties in dozens of other countries’.  In other words, that immigration/cultural change combines with economic factors which undermine the sense of security and achievement (relative not absolute), to drive an increase in ‘materialist’ values and support for authoritarian populist options.

Both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ need to address the problem of inequalities of opportunity and outcomes between values groups, not just between socio-economic, ethnic, geographic or other divisions traditionally identified in ‘old politics’.  Feelings of unfairness and injustice which coincide with values differences are deeper, more easily polarised and harder to de-escalate than those which cross values differences.  Unfortunately the Remain-Leave divide shows signs of having become just one such, hence the deep sense of unfairness between Remainers who see the referendum as a case of mis-selling by Leave and so illegitimate, and Leavers who see Parliamentary failure to deliver the Brexit they ‘expected’, as a betrayal.

These issues of insecurity intersecting with values differences aren’t going away any time soon and won’t  just affect the poorest and the traditional ‘working class’.  Inglehart goes on to argue that unless checked by policy, the experience of lost job security will soon extend to almost everyone outside the very rich, due to fundamental changes in how economies work.  It has already been driven by the rise of the knowledge economy (favouring the educated), and is now being propelled by automation but will increasingly be caused by the spread of AI, which promises to replace humans in ‘judgement’ and professional roles ranging from medicine to the law.

My next blog will focus on the rise and fall of David Cameron’s green experiment at the hands of British Conservatives Euro- and Climate-sceptics who went on to bring about Brexit, and the role played by values.

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British Politics Is Undergoing A Values Realignment

download as a pdf

The main British political parties, Labour and Conservative, are large ‘broad-church’, ‘catch-all’, or ‘big tent’ parties.  They are now experiencing their first splintering based more on values cleavages than political ideology.  At the time of writing, eight Labour and three Conservative MPs have quit to form a block of ‘Independents’.  Both parties have broken because they have grounded on the rock of ‘Brexit’.

More MPs may or may not follow but thanks to the deep values-based schism created by the EU Referendum, it’s likely that the UK is seeing the start of a significant political realignment.  As the FT said today (20th February 2019), it means, ironically, that Britain’s politics are becoming more like those of Europe.

Here’s what’s going on in values terms, using the simple two-dimensional model of Ron Inglehart of the World Values Survey.  Instead of a one-dimensional political spectrum (as the House of Commons is literally built to accommodate), it’s two dimensional.

(From The Silent Revolution in Reverse, Inglehart et al 2018)

Here’s the same again with my own annotations.

For readers outside the UK, the reason these defections from Labour and Conservative are significant is that they could change the political arithmetic of ‘Brexit’ which is at a crucial stage.

The ERG (European Research Group) is a network of right-wing Eurosceptic and usually climate-sceptic MPs, founded in 1993 to fight against European integration.  The current Chairman is Jacob Rees Mogg MP.  A previous Chairman, Chris Heaton-Harris MP, played a central role in a campaign within the Conservatives to force then-Prime Minister David Cameron to abandon onshore wind farms, the cheapest form of renewable energy and regarded as crucial to decarbonization of the UK.  Heaton-Harris is a devotee of climate sceptic Bjorn Lomborg and now a  Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union.

The ERG has been pulling the Conservatives rightwards and UKIP-wards and exploiting the values overlap between the extreme right voters for the Conservative Party and the anti-Europe pro-coal anti-wind, anti-immigration party UKIP, to do so.  Both renewable energy and the European Union are part of so-called ‘reflexive modernization’, new ways of doing things (eg sustainability) which Cameron tried to promote in his early phase of ‘detoxifying’ the Conservative Party.  He had to abandon that to stop the party splitting over Europe, and to retain his leadership.

The UK voted 48.1% Remain and 51.9% Leave in the 2016 Referendum (margin of 3.8%).  Legally that was only advisory but Cameron (who expected Remain to win) had pledged to act on the result.   He then resigned.  In Parliament the Conservatives and Labour are both split over Europe.  Since July 2017 a majority of the country have swung (increasingly) to be pro-Remain (analysis by the UK’s leading pollster here).  Most if not all the defecting MPs are in favour of a Second Vote, ie putting Brexit back to the people.  The polling shows a lead of 8-10% to Remain, and some of that is due to those who voted Leave changing their minds.

Above: a long running YouGov poll (from August 16 to 4 Feb 19) showing the progressively larger majority against leaving the EU, since July 2017.

This is the immediate reason why these defections are significant (and Theresa may has no majority in Parliament without support of the small Northern Irish DUP which is pro-Leave, although most people in Northern Ireland are pro-Remain).

On 23 June the day of the EU Referendum I tweeted ‘#EUref if Britain votes Remain it will change the political culture. If Leave it will only change the political parties’.   By which I meant that a vote to Remain would be a vote for the future and modernity, and confirm the ‘reflexive’ changes such as towards a clean-tech and open culture, as ‘normal’ but a Leave vote would be a social throwback which would precipitate some sort of reconfiguration of politics.    The tweet was a bit trite perhaps but the underlying social factors driving a slow increase in the percentage of Pioneers with their ‘progressive’ values, have not gone away, and there is a huge skew to younger people favouring Remain.  Many of them assumed that Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn would turn out to be against Brexit but the opposite has proved to be the case.

In short although political change in the UK is a lagging indicator of social change not least because the first-past-the-post-system of geographical constituencies hugely favours and over-represents the two large ‘catch all’ parties, and so anchors most politicians in those parties for fear of losing their jobs, the slow but powerful current of values change will sooner or later prove an irresistible force.  The most dynamic expression of this in the UK right now is support for the school and student strikes over climate change, led almost entirely by young women, most too young to vote.  If it was possible to vote for @gretathunberg she would be likely to get elected.

That may encourage campaigners for ‘progressive’ causes but their greatest challenge in the coming years, and that of politicians who share their values, is going to be to find ways to design campaigns and politics which reaches across rather than entrenching values divides (see for instance why forced PCness is not a good strategy).  As Peter Lilla has argued, it is the politics of the common good, not of identity differences which we need, and that requires acceptance of values diversity.

For more on Brexit and evidence of the values split and dynamics see some of my blogs using the CDSM Cultural Dynamics Strategy and Marketing Values Modes model of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers:

Brexit Values Battle’ (March 2016) showed that security-driven Settlers in the UK, France, Italy and Germany shared a common dislike of the EU and immigration

Brexit Values Story Part 1’ (February 2017) –  my own story of how, it appeared to me, values had helped drive the politics of the Referendum result.  That drew on many sources (blog here, slides with main content here)

Jeremy Corbyn’s dilemma (July 2017) – choosing the old or the young (so far he has opted for the old)

Brexit Values Story 2.1 (August 2017) with values maps and data on how people had voted in the 2017 General Election, comparing this with their Leave/Remain votes in 2016

And Inglehart et al (source of above diagram) using a similar values model but one that does not measure the Prospectors:  The Silent Revolution in Reverse: Trump and the Xenophobic Authoritarian Populist Parties(free pdf) and his 2018 bookCultural Evolution, and forthcoming with Pippa Norris (published already in the US) Cultural Backlash.


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Fighting Mass Extinction in the Heat Age

What do you do about a mass extinction if you are an environmental campaigner, conservation group like WWF, or a politician, or a concerned human being?  I’m not talking about a warning or a threat but an outcome: it’s happening, indeed some of it has already happened.

We are living in the foothills of a new Heat Age and its wiping out the nature we rely on, as David Attenborough warned at the UN Climate Conference in Poland in December.  The cause is climate change.  In the early days of the industrial revolution they took canaries down coal mines and if they died, it was time to stop digging.  Now we’ve taken entire ecosystems ‘into the coalmine’ and thousands, probably millions of species are dying but we’re still digging.

‘98% Of Ground Insects Are Gone’

Yesterday Britain’s Guardian newspaper environment editor reported on a mass disappearance of insects from ancient and ecologically rich rainforest in Puerto Rico.   Scientist Brad Lister returned to the Luquillo rainforest ‘after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished’.  Here’s an extract:

“We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days,” said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.”

‘The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, 80% had vanished. The most likely culprit by far is global warming’.

“It was just astonishing,” Lister said. “Before, both the sticky ground plates and canopy plates would be covered with insects. You’d be there for hours picking them off the plates at night. But now the plates would come down after 12 hours in the tropical forest with a couple of lonely insects trapped or none at all.”

“It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest,” he said. “We began to realise this is terrible – a very, very disturbing result.”

Carrington continued: ‘Earth’s bugs outweigh humans 17 times over and are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon”. When Lister’s study was published in October, one expert called the findings “hyper-alarming”.’

He points out that similar changes have been found in German nature reserves and the ‘virtual disappearance of birds in an Australian eucalyptus forest was blamed on a lack of insects caused by drought and heat’, while ‘Lister and his colleague Andrés García also found that insect numbers in a dry forest in Mexico had fallen 80% since the 1980s’.

“We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet,” said Lister.


Carrington’s report is hard to find in The Guardian.  It’s buried in an obscure ‘environment’ section.  The top 10 most read stories all focus on Brexit. The ‘paper uses ‘Brextinction’ to sum up the implications of an historic Parliamentary vote over ‘Brexit’, and the focus of the press and political classes. One says ‘May’s deal is as dead as a dodo’.

It’s logical to say that are right and there are more important things to focus on than Brexit.  But that doesn’t necessarily help bring about the right changes to limit or maybe one day start to reverse the mass extinction.  Because for that we need the attention of politicians, and for that we need public understanding.  Calling an emergency only has a useful effect if it’s understood.  Otherwise you look like Chicken Little.  Established NGOs should work to explain and support what activists like Extinction Rebellion are doing.

Emergency Action Is Possible

Carrington is spoilt for choice in news from the apocalypse front.   Also yesterday he wrote an article headed ‘Immediate fossil fuel phaseout could arrest climate change – study‘.

The caption explains the story: technically we could quickly replace coal, oil and gas burning by greening our energy systems, and fast enough to stay inside the 1.5C ‘danger level’, although the current 1.0C additional heat is clearly already causing catastrophic change.

Such action is not yet on the radar of most governments.  It calls for what industrial system designers call an ’emergency’ or ‘crash’ shutdown.  In response to this, Nick Mabey, Director of E3G tweeted(@Mabeytweet) last night:

‘This is better news than the headline makes it sound. The lifetime of fossil fuel infrastructure is arbitrary & retiring it early & replacing with negative cost efficiency or low cost renewables would boost the economy. It’s the politics we need to change’ .

Carrington’s article is topped by a photo of wind turbines.  Ironically, I’ve spent the last month or so researching how onshore wind, Britain’s cheapest form of renewable energy, was stifled by a campaign driven by politicians such as Chris Heaton-Harris MP, an arch-Brexiter who to turned the government against wind by playing on the values-driven competition for votes between UKIP and the Conservatives, which also led to the vote for ‘Brexit’.  He’s now a Minister in the ‘Department for Exiting the European Union’.  Politics, pollution and mass extinction of insects, birds and everything that depends on nature, are all intertwined.

Triage and Refuge

Conservation planners can’t cope directly with a mass extinction.  Just a few species can be bred in captivity like canaries.  Only a tiny minority can be saved in seed banks, zoos and by translocation to ‘parks’ and reserves.  But like emergency services arriving at a disaster scene, planners can try to apply triage.  Don’t bother with those who will die anyway.  Give second priority to those who may be suffering but will survive.  Give first priority to those whose life is threatened but who you might save by intervening.

In this case it may mean looking for ‘refugia’, places which may remain cool enough for some tropical ecosystems to survive more or less intact in the Heat Age, just as tropical forests ‘retreated’ to relatively small warm and stable ‘refugia’ in the Ice Age.  But that also requires protecting them from clearance of land for farming, plantations or by logging: a tall order.

It’s the overall stability of tropical conditions which allowed them to evolve into intricate diverse ecosystems which hold most of the world’s diversity of life, and which may (and it seems, does) make them exquisitely vulnerable to that stability being disrupted.  Certainly their species have far more exacting needs than most of those in temperate climes.  The only way to save as much life as possible is to stop the causes of climate change.

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Political Correctness, Brexit, Trump and Campaigns

Rejection of ‘Political Correctness’ played a role in the vote for Brexit and Trump in 2016 but what does it mean for campaigners and ‘progressives’ who are often perceived as standard-bearers for ‘PC’?

Commentators argue over what Political Correctness is but academic research shows it comes in several different forms, including ‘authoritarian’ and ‘egalitarian’ (see below).  As mentioned in The Values Story of the Brexit Split Part 1 it seems to me that in values terms, ‘political correctness’ occurs when one values group projects it’s own values at others who do not share them, along with exhortation or censure in a do /say this – don’t do / say that – think this/ don’t think that way.

Any such projection is designed to be, and if it’s not designed to be it will be anyway taken as, intrusive and controlling at best, and at worst, intrusive, controlling and critical of the target ‘as a person’.   In grand terms you could call it an attempt at ‘values hegemony’, and likely to cause rejection and resentment which can generate a backlash escalating into a ‘culture war’.

Whether that becomes visible as a focused public debate or just smoulders as a resentment depends on the opportunity for it to become organised (as elections and referenda can do). Who ‘wins’ depends on numbers, activation and who controls ‘levers of power’ and influence.  But as a rule, I’d advise against them as a campaign strategy: NGOs would do well to find alternatives to ‘PC’ as a route to change.

In the backwash from the Trump election and the continuing agonies of ‘Brexit’, the dynamics of ‘culture clashes’ have been much discussed. Recent books include National Populism by Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin (2018, about the UK), and Cultural Evolution (2018 with a global perspective and a US slant), the latest values magnum opus by Ron Inglehart of the World Values Survey (his book Cultural Backlash with Pippa Norris is out next year).  Both are worth reading and I’ll return to the wider values issues raised by Brexit in particular in a subsequent blog but in this post shares my personal perspective on ‘political correctness’.  I’m no expert and would welcome comments (see end of post or contact me here).

[long post: download pdf here]

Politically Incorrect Trump   

Shortly before Donald Trump was elected, Aaron Blake wrote in the Washington Post:

If there is one uniting principle the defines Donald Trump’s campaign for president — besides, perhaps, winning and being classy — it is that political correctness is bad.

After Trump got elected, Spencer Greenberg a US political-social analyst at Clearer Thinking correlated 138 variables with voting for Trump, and found that rejection of ‘Political Correctness’ (PC) came second after political affiliation in explaining how likely someone was to vote for him  (study here).

EU FU – PC ? Depends who you were at the time (June 2016, Wells next the Sea – ironically the shellfish facility was largely EU funded)

Copied by Nigel Farage and Arron Banks in Leave.EU, Trump gamed political correctness to signal values- and interest-alignment with an audience. It sucked media attention away from topics he didn’t want to debate, and onto his ground.  Overtly flouting or attacking PC-ness helped Trump frame and control the debate, aided and abetted by the outraged response of ethically-minded ‘progressive’ media, politicians and supporters.  It focussed attention in a similar way to Lynton Crosby’s shock ‘dead dog’ tactic.  It appeared to validate the populist proposition that he was ‘on the side of the people’ against an ‘elite’ because those who denounced him most strongly could be relied upon to turn out to be well-educated, and with better job prospects than most of his base.

Getting people to agree with you by revealing that a problem is caused by an already-unpopular opponent is a tactic that many issue campaigns have used.  It eventually turned around McDonalds on health and environmental campaigns on otherwise esoteric and easily ignored issues such as the fate of rainforests and factory farming.  But for Trump and Leave.EU it worked as a magical simplifier, relegating to the side-lines the ‘serious issues agenda’ which would face any President when elected to run the US as a country, and drowning out the details of the UK’s EU relationships in a chorus of values-dog whistles on immigration and ‘control’.

No Longer Insurgents

Normally these are insurgent tactics of guerilla underdog groups, and one reason the ‘progressives’ reacted so naievely to them may be that for reasons of history, they still think of themselves as the insurgents.  It may seem axiomatic for example that any cause group on the side of ‘minorities’ fits this bill.  Yet by 2016 the Pioneer values group, which skewed to not voting for Brexit or Trump, was now the largest (eclipsing Settlers and Prospectors and loosely equivalent to Inglehart’s ‘post materailists’) in both countries.

A strategic dilemma that Pioneer-dominated cause groups now face is how to adapt their strategies to reflect the fact that although they are still often dwarfed by opponents (eg Greenpeace v oil companies) their ideas have become mainstream, particularly among many political and highly educated ‘elites’ doing well in the information or knowledge economy.  In short, Trump and Brexit turned ‘inter-sectionality’ on its head.  More of that in a subsequent blog.

PC Was Unpopular

Whether by accident or design, the brilliance of the attack by on political correctness by Trump and the pro-Brexit camp was that it was already unpopular, and that dislike even reached across into the enemy camp.

In the US, from the right, a 2017 Cato Institute survey found 71% of Americans agreed that ‘political correctness has done more to silence important discussions our society needs to have’ as opposed to ‘political correctness does more to help people avoid offending others’ (28%).  But a 2016 study by the liberal-leaning Pew Foundation found a similar result.    Most Americans (59%) said “too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use” but only 39% agreed “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

Cato showed 58% of Americans agreed that ‘The political climate these days prevents me from saying things I believe because others might find them offensive’.   Some advocates of political correctness might have seen that as a success but 70% agreed, as Donald Trump said, that America has a ‘big problem’ with Political Correctness.  (Find the full very detailed survey which also covers symbolic actions like flag-burning, here)

The Cato survey and others show that Americans are divided over ‘PC’ attempts to restrict speech by their views of its motivation,  their perception of the effects it has on themselves and others, and what any legal restrictions on ‘hate speech’ might achieve.  On most measures Democrats take a more positive view of PCness than Republicans, as do blacks as opposed to whites, with Latinos sometimes closer to Republicans but it is a fine-grained response across many measures.

Pew also reported ‘substantial partisan, racial and gender differences’: 78% of Republicans said too many people were easily offended, and only 21% that ‘people should be more careful to avoid offending others’. 61% of Democrats, thought people should be more careful while just 37% thought ‘people these days are too easily offended’.  83% of Trump supporters but only 13% of Clinton supporters felt too many people are easily offended.  Black people and women erred towards not giving offence more than Whites or males, with Hispanics in between, older people more concerned about offence than younger ones, and college graduates more concerned than non-graduates.

The UK

PC is not quite such a hot issue in the UK.   ‘Hate speech’ is arguably more curtailed in the UK than in the US and it is not such a political divider.  At any event there are fewer UK surveys.

A 2007 Ipsos survey asked if ‘Political correctness has gone too far ?’, and found 85% agreed, and only 8% disagreed.  In 2018 Prospect and YouGov commissioned a bigger study, which used a similar statement to Pew.  It found 67% of Britons believed ‘too many people are too easily offended these days over the language that others use,’ while only 33% took the view that care with language is needed ‘to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.’

Prospect reported that British Conservatives ‘look a lot like Republicans’: ‘79 per cent of Tories take the “too easily offended” line, as do 79 per cent of “Leavers”’.  But ‘unlike in the US, majorities of generally more liberal groups are also on the “too easily offended” side—Labour voters (57 per cent) and “Remainers” (58 per cent)’.

As in the Cato study, Prospect found younger people were less worried about offence than older ones.    It also noted a Manchester University study which found that ‘primed’ with the thought ‘being positive about diversity was a “politically correct” attitude’, people became ‘somewhat less likely to be warm about [London’s] multiculturalism’, suggesting ‘that “PC” has some charge as an anti-liberal message’.  It also reported that:

‘Focus groups for the think tank Demos found that talk of PC reliably “incensed participants.” They talked of the country being run by too many “do-gooders,” of feeling unable to “stand up” and state their views plainly for fear of being judged, and of feeling like “they are standing on eggshells.”’

But these were white males over 55: a demographic skewed towards Settlers and Golden Dreamer Prospectors.


The Prospect – YouGov survey also asked about leadership style.  Given a choice of a politician who “spoke bluntly, without worrying about who they offend” and one who “spoke carefully” to avoid “unnecessarily offending people”, 45% expressed a preference for the former, and 38% the latter.  EU Remainers split 53% to 33% for the plain speaker but among Leavers it was 62% to 24%.

There are multiple reasons why this might be the case but it has strikingly similar echoes to findings from the US on differences among Trump and Clinton voters on ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’.  Elizabeth Segran found ‘Clinton supporters generally value truth and accuracy, while Trump supporters care about authenticity’.

Compared to Pioneers and to an extent Prospector Now People, Settlers and Golden Dreamer Prospectors have a much stronger inclination to seek certainty rather than complexity, and less appetite for novelty and experiment.  In times of stress and perceived rapid cultural change, Settlers in particular will also seek a strong leader (Karen Stenner’s ‘authoritarian response’ or reflex – see The Values Story of the Brexit Split (Part 1) slides 44-60).  These reflexes may add to the more widely shared weariness with political ‘spin’ and obsfucation as an additional reason to seek ‘more authentic’ political leaders.

PC Splits Pioneers

Pioneers are themselves split over elements of ‘PCness’, particularly over freedom of speech (ie the Values Modes within Pioneers differ in their ‘instinctive’ priorities).

After the Referendum and the Trump election, Harvard researcher Moira Weigel wrote a great account of the development of political correctness ‘Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy’ in The Guardian.  She explained that an early example of the current ‘rightwing’ critique of political correctness at US Universities was Richard Bernstein’s 1990 “The Rising Hegemony of the Politically Correct” in the New York Times.  At this point it was clearly about attitudes and not just language.

“Biodegradable garbage bags get the PC seal of approval” wrote Bernstein, “Exxon does not.”  Such critiques posed a dilemma for ‘progressives’ pitting their Pioneer or ‘post material’ causes such as environmentalism, against their strong reflex in favour of freedom of speech.

Different Forms of Political Correctness

In 2017 Christine Brophy and Jordan Peterson of Toronto University (see their video here) reported that they had separated two different forms or ‘personalities’ of political correctness: Egalitiarian and Authoritarian.  To do so they use a scale of 192 factors related to language, beliefs, and emotions.  Both showed a high ‘offence sensitivity’ and (in personality terms) an aversion to ‘disgust’, which they attributed to ‘agreeableneness’ derived from (maternal) compassion.

Their results have been summarised like this:

PC Egalitarians

  • Believe cultural forces are responsible for group differences
  • Think differences among groups arise from societal injustice
  • Support policies and ideas that prop up historically disadvantaged groups
  • Show high emotional response to discriminating language
  • Have a higher vocabulary and openness to new experiences
  • Are likely to identify with historically disadvantaged groups
  • Desire a more diverse, democratic governance

PC Authoritarians

  • Believe biological forces are responsible for group differences
  • Demonstrate a lower vocabulary and more likely to be religious
  • Support censorship of offensive material and harsher punitive justice
  • Express a general desire to achieve security for people in distress
  • Show a higher need for order, and a higher sensitivity to disgust
  • Are likely to report a mood or anxiety disorder in themselves or family

Authoritarians, says Brophy, are often assumed to be Conservative but in fact are motivated to pass on strict cultural norms and are intolerant of anything which is not a ‘black and white’ distinction.  This description is very similar to Settlers.   PC Egalitarians in contrast, are ‘classic Liberals’, and often create post-hoc justifications because they feel the need to help the helpless and disadvantaged, treating adults as children because compassion springs from the unbreakable mother-child bond.  That sounds like Pioneers but they too can become authoritarian, only authoritarian ethicals.

Both right and left wing Authoritarian groups, says Peterson, desire homogeniety but whereas the right wing seek to achieve it through exclusion and purity, the left seek it through inclusion and eqality.

On the basis of statistical analysis, Brophy and Peterson argue that PC-ness is a ‘real thing’.

So what might PC look like in motivational  values terms?

PC Across Motivational Values

What now follows is my personal take on the history of ‘PC’ related to CDSM (Cultural Dynamics) Motivational Values (download the slides here).  It also draws on the studies mentioned earlier.

While CDSM do not have any survey data based on asking direct questions about political correctness, a number of the of their Attribute statements relate to aspects of the ‘PC issue’.

These ‘Attributes’ are plotted on the Cultural Dynamics ‘values Map’:

And for reference, the positions of the Values Modes:

Some Attributes relevant to political correctness:

Setting aside earlier usages, ‘political correctness’ started life in early-mid C20th authoritarian regimes (Nazis, Communists) as an exploitation of Settler and Golden Dreamer values (such as power over others).   Two relevant Attributes from the CDSM (British) Values Map are ‘Power’ and ‘Conformity’, measured by testing the statements:

Conformity = Rules + Propriety

‘They believe that people should do what they are told. They think people should follow rules at all times, even when no-one is watching. It is important to them always to behave properly. They want to avoid doing anything people would say is wrong’. 

Power = Material Wealth + Control Others

‘It is important for them to be rich. They want to have lots of money and expensive things. It is important for them to be in charge and tell others what to do. They want people to do what they tell them’.

(I am presenting these as indicative, not as ‘explanations’ of the Nazi state or various authoritarian Communist states.  For example, CDSM has also correlated values measurements with the ‘dark triad’ of narcissism, machiavellinism and psycopathy – to discuss, contact Pat Dade.  See also Inglehart’s book Cultural Evolution).

This plays no direct role in the current ‘PC Wars’ but is the historical reference point used by 1960s radicals to refer to ‘Political Correctness’ in an ironic put-down of over-zealous, over-doctrinaire or self-righteous fellow travelers.

As described in political histories of ‘PC’, from the 1960s-1980s use of the term remained largely confined to ‘leftish’ radical thinkers and movements.  This included as a joke by various left-wing political intellectuals, and within feminism (such as over a dispute about BDSM and sexuality, featuring an early use of organizing around [against] PC in a 1982 “Speakout on Politically Incorrect Sex” in New York).  These relatively esoteric uses of PC gradually gained more attention as the term was applied to counter discrimination on grounds of race, gender and sexuality but were initially driven by Pioneer-centred values such as Creativity, Conscience and Self-Choice.  CDSM measures them with these statements (genderzied in the surveys):

Creativity:  ‘Thinking up new ideas and being creative is important to him.  He likes doing things his own original way’.

Conscience:  ‘I believe that, to be a decent human being, I should follow my conscience regardless of the law.  I think that nothing is more immoral than blind obedience’.

Self-choice: ‘It is important to him to make his own decisions about what he does.  He likes to be free to plan and choose his activities for himself’.

Stage 3 saw activation of further Pioneer centred values in more organized advocacy and campaigns which set out to challenge homophobia, racism and other discrimination or repression: the emergence of the ‘isms’.  Being ‘PC’ now became a positive requirement.

Motivated by values such as Justice, Benevolence, Open-ness, Caring and Universalism, mainly Pioneer activists started directing messages about how they should talk and act at ‘non PC’ people.   By this time, Settlers were starting to feel a minority in their own land, which indeed, numerically, they had become.

Over the next decades, Pioneer-led campaigns brought about changes in laws, for instance on ‘gay marriage’, partly made possible by shifting psycho-demographics (ie more Pioneers, more Now People Prospectors).

CDSM test statements:

Benevolence: = Caring + Loyalty

‘It’s very important to them to help people around them. They want to care for other people. It is important to them to be loyal to their friends. They want to devote themselves to people close to them’.

Caring: ‘It is very important to him to help people around him.  He wants to care for other people.’

Openness: ‘It is important for him to listen to people who are different than himself.  Even if he disagrees with the other person, he still wants to understand them.’

Justice: ‘He thinks it is important that every person in the world be treated equally.  He wants justice for everybody, even people he doesn’t know.’

Universalism: Justice + Openness + Nature

‘They think it is important that every person in the world be treated equally. They want justice for everybody, even people they don’t know. It is important for them to listen to people who are different than themselves. Even if they disagree with the other person, they still want to understand them. They strongly believe that people should care for nature. Looking after the environment is important to them’.

A debate now began within Pioneers, between the ethical warriors (such as the Concerned Ethicals who seek ethical clarity), and the Flexible Individualists who are strongly driven by self-reflexivity and freedom of expression.

CDSM’s Attribute ‘Free’, tests agreement with this statement:

Free:  I want complete openness and freedom for the whole of society, so that everyone can express themselves.  I really enjoy the feeling of walking around with no clothes on.

Well at least the first part applies … although Arron Banks does describe his experiences of swimming naked with Nigel Farage, in The Bad Boys of Brexit.

As champions of free expression, Libertarian intellectuals (probably all Pioneers) denounced suppression of free-speech on ethical grounds as illiberal.  For example, says Weigel,  Allan Bloom’s attack on “cultural relativism” in  The Closing of the American Mind,  Roger Kimball in April 1990 in The New Criterion (Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted our Higher Education), and Dinesh D’Souza in June 1991 with Illiberal Education: the Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, attacking “liberal fascism”.

Politicians and neocon political backers exploited this intellectual dilemma and gave it political form.  They appealed to the fears of Settlers which included a perceived threat to their way of life and identity, and to Golden Dreamer Prospectors who in particular feared a loss of the prospects of success in a zero-sum world in which more ‘rights’ for others meant less for them.

As well as Conformity and Power mentioned earlier, CDSM Attributes relevant to the mobilisation of the GD-Settler base include Material Wealth and Patriarchy:

Material Wealth: ‘It is important for him to be rich.  He wants to have lots of money and expensive things.’

Patriarchy: ‘For me, a man’s place is at work and a woman’s place is in the home.  I believe men are naturally superior to women.’

A succession of right-wing politicians -some ‘true’ liberatrians of various stripes, others not – have subsequently used ‘Political Correctness’ as a ‘dog-whistle’ to appeal to a mixture of fearful, angry, bewildered and resentful people, especially Settlers and Golden Dreamers, by identifying an ‘enemy within’ which is changing our world (ie our country) for the worst.

The values anatgonism this sets up is escalated when ‘right-wing’ authoritarianism clashes with ‘left-wing’ authoritarian PCness.  Rather than an ideological left-right difference this is perhaps more accurately described as Golden Dreamer-Brave New World authoritarianism, versus Concerned Ethical authoritarianism.  With its unmet need for ethical clarity, the CE Values Mode is attracted to seek and promote ethical multipliers such as intersectionality.

[Golden Dreamers and Brave New Worlds are two adjacent Prospector and Settler Values Modes, primarily driven by unmet needs for esteem of others (GD) and identity (BNW)].

As Pat Dade says, these “dogmatic stances” are two forms of “absolutism”: “My or the highway”.

What started as egalitarian PCness tolerant of difference (Transcender Values Mode) has become more authoritarian, trying to suppress ‘wrong’ terms of speech or behaviour.  The GD /BNW (aka right wing) and CE (aka left wing) PC ness are trying to suppress expression of each other’s values (as Brophy and Peterson observed, both seeking homogeneity but different of types).

It seems to me that the net effect of the campaigns run in the 2016 US election and the 2016 EU Referendum in the UK was to activate this divide (see Brexit blog part 1), hence the role that ‘isms’ and ‘PCness’ played in the post-match political analysis.

It should be noted that the drive of Pioneers to self expression made it much easier for the Trump and Leave campaigns to game the system, both by splitting the ‘Pioneer vote’ (some liberatrians voted against EU membership because they believed strongly in ‘freer trade’ or because they saw it as government oppression) and, distracting the Remain camp by creating a side-debate over whether or not Leavers should be ‘allowed’ to make ‘racist’ remarks, for example around immigration.

As many commentators have said, Donald Trump took this to new heights by deliberately dismissing ‘PCness’,   and co-opting the position of disadvantaged minority, now oppressed by a ‘PC-elite’.  Trump and his imitators ‘flipped’ the role of the offended, for example by not just demanding freedom to give-offence but also a counter-right not to be offended by contrary expressions of values, such as flag-burning, ‘kneeling’ protests by American footballers against racism, or the ‘mixed marriage’ of Miss Piggy and Kermit The Frog in The Muppets (subsequently termed ‘Populitst Correctness’).

Trump super-charged the emotional profile of his campaign by overtly nodding to values which previous right-wing American Presidential candidates had kept covert or eschewed.  For example the CDSM Attributes ‘Two classes’ and ‘Unobliged’:

Two classes: ‘I believe that people can be divided into two classes – the weak and the strong.  I think that issues of societal advantage or disadvantage are spurious.’

Unobliged:  ‘I feel that people who meet with misfortune have brought it on themselves.  I see no reason why rich people should feel obliged to help poor people.’

Loss of Moderation

In addition, in both the 2016 EU referendum and the 2016 US election, as well as in the 2017 UK General Election, the much increased role of social media sidelined the former role of press, tv and radio in providing a ‘moderating’ function.  With the media no longer able to control the ‘news agenda’ but committed to chasing social media for ‘news’, ‘debates’ became polarised and brittle as politicians gained airtime or column inches in proportion to the differences of their views.   Attention focused on the extremes, and Pioneers who had enjoyed greater influence in many media organisations, lost some of that influence.

In 2016 and 2017 US and UK ‘progressives’ were left in a state of PTSD, and at the extremes the opposing forms of authoritarian political correctness denounced one another.

By 2018, mainstream politics had moved on, leaving a tail of persistent but mainly intra-Pioneer debates about free speech and political correctness.

At least in rhetoric, Theresa May’s government became more interventionist and attentive, if only in a fumbling, groping way, to the Settler (and especially white) minority than previous recent governments had been.   In particular it alluded to the need to listen to those social parts of the UK population suffering deprivation or lack of opportunity, which were seen to have voted Brexit  (termed ‘Somewheres’ by David Goodhart).   The broad support for Metoo# and in the UK, for achieving as opposed to just legislating for more equal pay for women, showed that despite the ‘retro’ signal sent by electing Trump and opting for Brexit, Pioneer-led values slowly continued to normalise.

This has left us with a confusing array of types of PCness and an ongoing multi-cornered values war in which parties compete to gain legitimacy as the truly oppressed.


Some have argued that the term ‘political correctness’ is so debased that it means nothing, or more often, is now a confection created for political ends.  They say that despite all the attacks on ‘PC’ nobody actually espouses it.   A few brave souls do still lay claim to it as upholding important moral and ethical principles.

In campaign terms I would argue that it definitely does mean something: intrusive values projection.  This is not an inevitability arising from an inescapable ‘debate of ideas’ or ‘struggle of interests’ because an alternative is available, at least to Pioneers bent on spreading their ideas to Prospectors and Settlers.  [In countries with a large majority of Settlers or Prospectors you may also find values-projection from those groups to one another or to Pioneers – I will discuss that in another blog].  This means campaigns can be designed to avoid it, and they should be, wherever possible.

The CDSM values model has two dynamics (see more in my book What Makes People Tick’).  This is why CDSM call their company ‘Cultural Dynamics’.

In one, people may move between values sets of Settler to Prospector to Pioneer as and if they meet their ‘unmet needs’ (the so-called ‘transitions’ – see ‘101’ slides at Brexit Part 1).

In the other, change in the form of adopting a new behaviour or attitude, starts with the Pioneers and if it looks successful (eg by being adopted by people already regarded as successful), it may be taken up by the Prospectors through emulation.  If it becomes sufficiently widely adopted, it defines a new ‘normal’, at which point Settlers adopt it in order to stay in step with what constitutes being ‘normal’ (a strong Settler driver): in other words it spreads to Settlers as ‘norming’.

Above: normal spread or contagion of new ideas or behaviours across values groups (see slide 12 from Brexit Part 1) – by emulation and norming.

The default reason Pioneers are the instigators of new things is (a) because they have a greater sense of self-agency and uncommitted psychological space to ‘explore’, and (b) because they are not restrained by a risk-minimizing desire to avoid change, as Settlers tend to be, and not so held back by a need to avoid the risk of failure in eyes of others, as the success-oriented Prospectors are.

There are many examples of this process happening.   What Makes People Tick’  took the politically inconsequential example of a fashion for decoration of wellington boots at Glastonbury Festival.  Another is the spread of rooftop solar pv in the UK, which I will discuss in a subsequent blog.  Key to the contagion is that people adopt the new behaviour or idea for their own reasons (values).

[I’m often asked (by Pioneers) if it can apply to ideas as well as behaviours but the two are closely linked.  Many ‘ideas’, especially socially disputed ones which therefore ‘matter’ in campaigns, come with embedded assumptions about desirable or undesirable behaviours.  And as people rationalize their own behaviours as ‘making sense’, behaviour generates ideas in the shape of ‘opinions’ – see this on VBCOP.]

This implies campaigners at least recognizing and accepting values diversity, along with other forms of ‘diversity’.  It may also require reaching across values divides to build movements or alliances with people unlike yourselves (I will give an example in a subsequent blog) and politically, building on the common interest, rather than ‘identity politics’.

Attempts to short-circuit the emulation-norming process (above) are likely to come unstuck in the long-term, and may exacerbate values cleavages which can be opened by accident or by deliberate gaming of values differences for political ends.  Political correctness is just the most obvious example of approaches that run this risk.  More conventional campaigns can also do so, often without their proponents realizing it.








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Plastics Strategy Presentation

This presentation was first given at a Bristol ‘Communicate/ Thinking Beyond Plastic’ Conference in June 2018. It summarizes the development of the “plastics issue” and argues that the relevant ie effective and evidence-based framing is of plastic as a pollutant, not litter or recyclable ‘waste’.

Continuing to see plastics through a ‘waste management’ frame will simply guarantee the continued stream of plastic pollution arising from plastic production.

The September 2018 blog Wood v Oil argues that ‘cellulosics’ could pose the end-game for fossil fuel plastic.  The emergence of a ‘solution industry’ can be expected to promote the salience of plastic pollution as it becomes more clearly avoidable, and should be used to leverage policy change to eliminate rather than manage fossil-plastic.

Slides from slideshare:

For more contact: Chris Rose



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Wood v Oil: The End-Game For Fossil-Based Plastics ?

A burgeoning new industry, ‘Ligno-Cellulosics’, has the potential to be for plastics made from oil, what renewable-energy technologies have been to fossil fuels in the field of climate change.  But that potential may yet get diverted or co-opted.  And are campaigners and regulators paying attention?

(download this blog as a pdf)

Metsa’s new Biorefinery in Finland


Earlier this year I did some campaign research on plastic microfibres from textiles for Friends of the Earth in the UK.  FoE have now started running a campaign about microfibres and clothing (here).  What surprised me, aside from the massive potential health threat posed by microplastic fibres on land, was to discover the rapid advancement of a potential ‘category killer’ for oil, gas or coal-based plastic, in the shape of ‘ligno-cellulosics’.

Change The Feedstock – Change The Game

In essence, this technology can replace oil, coal or gas as a chemical feedstock for plastics, with trees, grass, agri-wastes or other sources of cellulose or lignin (which can include algae, and bacteria).  From a substitution point of view, cellulose ought to be environmentally benign, a bit like a leaf.  After all it is the worlds commonest ‘bio-polymer’ and is made up of tens to thousands of units of glucose.  And cellulose ‘polysaccharides’ (chains of sugars) and lignin (the tougher bits of plants such as bark), rot naturally, and the carbon they contain is ‘neutral’, being recycled by living plants, rather than transferred into the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere from stored carbon in ‘fossil fuels’, as happens in all conventional ‘plastic’.

In my view, campaign groups and policy-makers should get to grips with this topic because it could provide the ‘renewables moment’ for oil-based plastics, in the same way that solar, wind and other renewable technologies did for fossil fuels over climate change (and about 8% of oil is used in making plastic).

I Declare An Interest

It’s not a financial interest but being a bit of a geek I have to admit to having had some pre-existing interest in ‘cellulosics’ before I embarked on looking at strategies to eliminate ‘oil-based’ plastic.  This is because they could help nature conservation.  Cellulosics have long been talked about, if only in rather small circles, as ‘second generation’ biofuels.  These create burnable liquid replacements for petrol or diesel but unlike ‘first generation’ biofuels which rely on oils or sugars from the seeds or fruits of food crops like maize or rape, these use non-food parts of plants.  So they do not compete for land which could be growing food.

Instead they can use wood or the stringy bits of plants that are inedible to humans and which farmers and the food industry treat as waste.  Consequently they can also avoid a lot of energy and chemical inputs associated with crops grown for biofuels, such as artificial fertilizers, which have their own ecological and health impacts.

By the same token they can help reduce nitrogen pollution, which causes ‘eutrophication’ or excessive fertility. This is a huge environmental problem in freshwaters, coastal seas (‘dead zones’ and algal blooms), and, as it rains back to earth in acid rain or falls out as ‘dry deposition’ from farm ammonia emissions and fossil fuel burning, it damages nature reserves and forests.  Over-fertilization reduces the variety of life.   It feeds rank growth of a few fast-responding nitrogen loving plants, leading to them out-compete most wildflowers, so robbing insects and other wildlife of their habitats.  Because it’s expensive and difficult to remove vegetation as ‘waste’ with nowhere to go, roadside verges are left to accumulate a mulch of dead plants, and sensitive environments like heaths, fens and moors gradually turn into bland expanses of low-diversity grasses.  So, I thought, if this ‘waste’ had a value that could be realized by land-managers, maybe it would be a way to mitigate this problem.

But for many years the processes necessary to extract cellulose and lignin were difficult, sometimes toxic, and expensive.  Now many of those problems seem to have been solved. New solvents and processes which include pressure, spinning, freezing, ultrasound, exposure to sulphuric acid and micro-grinding can extract cellulose ‘fibrils’ at nano scale, and then reunite them into new substances or ‘bio-materials’.  These have varying degrees of crystallinity, making them soft and flexible (long fibres), or as hard as steel (short crystals).

Not On The Radar ?

Back in spring when I asked around among NGOs working on plastic pollution, and among scientists looking at the environmental and health impacts of plastic, and even, when I could get hold of them, among UK government regulators, I was surprised that they seemed to know little if anything about ‘cellulosics’ (the exception perhaps being WWF).

In a way this is understandable.  Many were running to catch up with the explosion of public concern over plastic, and most were focussed on marine impacts and only beginning to wrestle with the fact that 70% of plastic pollution is in fact on land.  Plus few have much contact with the worlds of materials science and technology where ‘cellulosics’ is a booming area of R & D.  This ought to change, just as climate campaigners had to engage with renewable energy.

On top of this, as  previous blogs explored, the established framing of ‘plastic problem’ was one of waste in which the ‘answer’ was more ‘recycling’ of plastic, and if not that, reduction (less plastic) rather than substitution of feedstocks.  Most NGO campaigns have so far focused on seeking an end to Single Use Plastic, and even the EU’s draft ‘Circular Economy’ strategy on plastics released earlier this year, still promotes plastic recycling and makes little mention of substitution strategies.  Which is strange as the EU has been a major funder of R & D in the cellulosics area.

‘Anything You Can Make From Oil We Can Make From Trees’

The most accessible introduction to the potential of ‘ligno-cellulosics’ is a great little BBC radio programme presented by Tom Heap, called ‘Superwood’ ( an episode of Costing the Earth), which is available online.  Heap traveled to Finland, where at Äänekoski, the world’s biggest ‘Biorefinery’ has been built by pulp mill specialist Metsa, and uses trees to produce an array of lignin and cellulose-based feedstocks.  These in turn can be used to produce yarn for textiles and substitutes for a wide variety of plastics, even transparent screens as used in computers and phones.

That Nordic governments and companies see this as a strategic opportunity is perhaps evidenced by the fact that the two main ‘PR men’ for this and other ‘Biorefineries’ seemed to be former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, and Finland’s former Prime Minister Esko Aho.  They didn’t exactly beat about the bush.  “Everything you can produce based upon oil, you can also produce based upon wood:  wood is renewable, and oil is a disaster”, Persson told Heap.  He saw a new bio-economy: “a  new era emerging”.  Aho declared: “I think we can save the world, we know that our way of life is not sustainable”.

Blessed with a ready supply of lots of trees from forests which are by international standards well-managed (the supply for the new £1bn Biorefinery comes from forests with PEFC or FSC certification), the Nordics presumably sense a major opportunity and even their corporations are playing wood against oil.  Stora Enso, another major player, says ‘We believe that everything that is made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow’.

The scale of investment and speed of development is remarkable.  Metsä’s mill at Äänekoski in Finland was constructed in just a few years and produced its first million tonnes of pulp in August this year.  It is due to make 1.3mt a year, after starting up a year ago. This Bioproduct Mill is said to be the largest in the Northern Hemisphere, is zero carbon (producing twice the electricity it requires) and very clean.

Not Just The Nordics

According to a recent study by Dublin-based scientists Shady Hassan, Gwilym Williams and Amit Jaiswal,  there are already over 40 lignocellulosic biorefineries operating in Europe (along with 181 ‘first generation’ biorefineries using sugars, starches and oils).     They produce biofuel, electricity, heat, bio-based chemicals, and biomaterials (such as substitute feedstocks for plastics) from non-food crops or plant waste, including wood and grasses. The EU ‘Horizon 2020’ R+D programme is putting 80bn Euros into consolidation of lignocellulosic biorefineries and covers projects in at least eight countries.   Hassan et al state that the EU aims to ‘replace 30% of oil-based chemicals with bio-based chemicals and supplant non-degradable materials with degradable materials’, and for 25% of transportation energy to come from second generation biorefineries by 2030.  One forecast anticipates another 15 biorefineries to be running by 2024.  A blog on Biorefineries around the world, created by engineer Daniel Morán Rodríguez of Universidad de Santiago de Compostela can be found here .

The 2018 Handbook of Nanomaterials for Industrial Applications [1] reported a wide variety of patent applications on nanocellulose including composite materials (38%), nonwoven absorbent webs (18%), paper and boards (16%), food products (13%), paper and board coatings (8%), cosmetics and toiletries (3%), and filter materials (4%)   It found about 10 companies ‘positioned to produce CNF [Cellulose Nano Fibres] at commercial/ precommercial scale, including Paperlogic, Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) (cooperating with the University of Maine), American Process (USA), Borregaard (Norway), Innventia (Sweden), Nippon Paper, Oji Paper (both Japan), CTP/FCBA (France), Holmen Paper (Sweden)’ and that ‘Celluforce is the world’s largest CNC plant, capable of producing 300 tonnes per year’  of CelluForce NCCt in Canada.  It was built in 2011 and is in Quebec, Canada.

The EU’s focus on biorefineries seems to be mainly driven by the initial impetus to get fossil fuels out of transport (and perhaps the disastrous introduction of palm oil from first generation biofuels into EU diesel).   In the Netherlands, interest in cellulosics is motivated by a need to find economically attractive ways to deal with agri-waste problems and get more value out of grass.  (Existing feedstocks for biorefineries include waste cotton cloth, tomato peel, rice husk, old corrugated containers, old newspapers, hibiscus leaf, soy hulls, garlic straw and oil palm biomass) [2].

Annita Westenbroek, director of the Dutch Biorefinery Cluster makes the case for cellulosics from grass and agri-waste to make farming more economically and environmentally sustainable.  Grass bioferinery systems are being promoted in the Netherlands as a contribution to reducing protein and mineral inputs to cattle, and as a way to reduce ammonia pollution.

Westenbroek argues that ‘the Netherlands can easily produce enough biomass to feed the entire chemical sector. But not to feed the entire energy sector’. Cellulose she says is too valuable to burn as it can be used to make chemical feed-stocks for materials. But subsidies for EU biofuels have been ‘inverting the value pyramid’.  Other European biorefinery R+D projects focus on seaweeds.

Michael Karus, Director of nova-Institut GmbH presented a  ‘biobased‘ scenario for growth in textile fibres at a conference involving WWF in Berlin this May, showing potential for a very large incursion by cellulosics at the expense of fossil fuels.   He has also criticized the EU’s ‘plastics strategy’ for failing to include bio-degradable ‘plastics’ (not all of which are cellulosics).

Michael Karus slide showing cellulosics potential (textiles)

So Just What Are Cellulosics ?

Actual experts will have to forgive me if I’ve got any of this wrong but ‘cellulosic fibres’ are found in woody plant material, embedded in lignin and hemicellulose.   Cellulose and lignin plant fibres have long been used in strawboard, paper, cardboard and cotton, hemp and linen fabrics.   It has also been known since the 1940s that pure cellulose can be extracted from plants and for example,  processed to produce a yarn to make synthetic but cellulose-based cloth.  This is where ‘viscose’ comes from but the process requires toxic chemicals and has been abandoned in many countries.  Lyocell is a newer cellulose based yarn process without the main toxic chemical and in which the solvent is recycled.  It’s produced by Lenzing from Austria as ‘Tencel’, and was originally made in Hull in the UK by Courtauld.


Much of the drive to exploit cellulose as a feedstock rather than a source of fuel has come from wood-industry chemists.  In a 2016 article in the online Bio-based News, Diederik van der Hoeven explained  ‘almost all major pulp companies now intensely research wood biorefinery: Stora Enso, Borregaard, Metsä, UPM, Mondi, Sappi’.  They all ‘have extensive knowledge of wood chemistry and develop many new applications starting from cellulose. The mere fact that we hear very little about this research … testifies to its promising nature: very competitive product developments’.

He added:  ‘The real breakthrough in wood biorefinery is that we can now dissolve cellulose in innovative liquids that are cheaper and more environmentally friendly … once dissolved, it can be spun into textile fibres or chemically reacted to produce derivatised celluloses and cellulose-based plastics … researchers have succeeded in decomposing cellulose from wood into fibrils, and binding them together again; different ways of reuniting the fibrils will determine the properties of the new product: soft as cotton, or hard as steel’.

Indeed in May 2018 Science Daily reported that through this recombining of nano-sized particles, a team led by Daniel Söderberg from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm had created the ‘world’s strongest bio-material’ in the form of ‘artificial but biodegradable cellulose fibers … stronger than steel and even than dragline spider silk, which is usually considered the strongest bio-based material’.

It added: ‘Using a novel production method, the researchers have successfully transferred the unique mechanical properties of these nanofibres to a macroscopic, lightweight material that could be used as an eco-friendly alternative for plastic in airplanes, cars, furniture and other products’. “Our new material even has potential for biomedicine since cellulose is not rejected by your body” said Söderberg.

The process took commercially available cellulose nanofibres and used jets of water to pack them into threads.  This is called ‘hydrodynamic focusing’ and requires no additives. Science Daily says it mimicks ‘nature’s ability to accumulate cellulose nanofibres into almost perfect macroscale arrangements, like in wood’, and can in principle create bio-degradable components.

Types of nanocellulose, divide into two broad groups: CNFs (fibres) and CNCs (crystals). CNFs are mainly produced by mechanical treatment like grinding or homogenization and are flexible fibers.  CNCs are produced by chemical treatment with acid hydrolysis [3].


Existing applications of nano-cellulose and lignin fibres and crystals include [4] pulp and paper, plastics (eg foams), automotive, food industry, building (eg strengthening concrete), barrier/coating applications (eg food packaging), food additives, in medicine, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals (eg, drug delivery and implants), and future applications based on their electrical and light transmitting properties, may include organic LEDs, flexible electronics, photovoltaics, 3D-printing, and recyclable electronics.

Environmental Implications

Given that these are fundamentally biodegradable feedstocks and can be used to make materials which perform like plastic, there is plainly a potential for large scale substitution of fossil-based plastics, not only in obvious places like bottles and packaging but across the range including in clothing, carpets and cosmetics, as well as car bodies and building materials.  Compared to fossil-based plastic, materials made from cellulose and lignin should be far less persistent if they end up in the environment.

In addition, unlike many fossil-based plastics, these materials appear not to require toxic chemicals in order to maintain their physical properties (and which are then lost to the environment from conventional plastics as the polymers break up), and the building-block monomers are non-toxic (unlike eg styrene).  Also unlike fossil-based plastic, cellulose attracts rather than repels water, so is unlikely to attract, concentrate and carry Persistent Organic Pollutants, which is a major reason why conventional microplastic is a serious health and ecological problem.

Too Good To Be True ?

So far so good but anything ‘nano’ can ring alarm bells, as the biological behaviour of very small fibres or particles can be quite different from ‘macroscale’ versions of the same substance.  Moreover, the water-attracting properties of cellulosics, while good for some uses, is a problem for others.  Consequently materials chemists have developed ways to manipulate the surfaces of nano-cellulose, or coat cellulose fibres with lignin, and potentially with other substances, to make it more ‘waterproof’.  The question then is, how safe are such modified nano-crystals or fibres for health or for nature?

Numerous ‘occupational health’ type studies appear to show they are fairly benign in the workplace, certainly compared to many petrochemicals and some minerals, for example as dusts.  But these are mainly ‘cradle to gate’ Life Cycle Anlayses (LCAs).  There are far fewer ‘Cradle to Grave’ LCAs which would take into account any impacts in the environment of nano-lignin/ cellulosic substances.  Because of this, as a 2018 review article in the journal Cellulose noted [5], ‘almost none of the studies are fully ISO-compliant’.  This is an essential question for regulators to resolve, not least because the market for lignocellulosics is growing rapidly.  The same paper notes that it is expected to surpass US$60bn in 2020.

So far, what studies there are don’t in fact seem to flag any major problems.  For example, a 2018 study [6] of cellulose nanocrystal foam conducted a so-called “block list” scan of input substances which are screened against EU REACH regulations, along with a simplified eco-toxicological test of crystal nanoncellulose, using an OECD standard Zebrafish test, and one with Daphnia magna (waterfleas).  None of these suggested adverse effects.

Similarly, a 2017 toxicity study published in Nano impact [7] on the same test species along with others on algae and bacteria, found ‘virtually no effects’ from cellulose nano fibres and crystals, or their lignin coated versions.  It found faster degradation of nanocellulose than conventional cellulose, probably due to its greater surface area.  It also noted that ‘at this point it is still unclear what types of surface modifications will change the toxicity of nanomaterials’.  (That study appears to have been produced for regulatory purposes by a consultancy, Viero Advisors, for producers American Process Inc.)

So it would be valuable to have more environmental-fate studies of cellulosic alternatives to fossil-plastic, for example in soil, seawater and freshwater, and in urban and household contexts, and across the full range of ambient temperatures.  Given the spread and potential of such materials, this needs doing urgently.

Don’t Leave It To The Market

Left to its own devices, in other words led by whatever decisions make sense on purely commercial grounds, ‘the market’ is unlikely to eliminate fossil-fuel plastic by using ligno-cellulosics or indeed any other substance.

It seems to me there is a significant risk that investment commitments will be made that lock in these new technologies as ‘part of a solution’ for companies wanting to reduce reliance on fossil-fuel-plastic, or simply because it is cheaper and performs better in some applications, rather than being part of a comprehensive phase-out of fossil plastic.

Technologists have experimented with combining polyester and nylon with nanocellulose and it is already used in composites, ie as mixed materials, and in a huge range of applications.  It’s is not a question of ‘if’ the technology is used but how.

The risk of a miss-step is magnified by the fact that many large chemical companies are, as you might expect, playing both games: keeping on producing fossil-polymers and investing in nano ligno-cellulosics.   That way they can delay the day when their fossil-plastic assets finally have to be retired.

The only reliable way to avoid this prospect, which could create a whole new generation of ‘non circular’ materials and possibly a diversion in using nature-based feedstocks akin to the  disastrous EU biofuel palm-oil experiment, is a powerful regulatory signal in favour of non-fossil plastic, with phase-out dates and some ‘essential use’ exceptions.  If that does not happen, the promise of ‘cellulosics’ and other substitution options may be lost.

Without direction, materials scientists will anyway be intrigued to explore the application possibilities of new materials.  Entrepreneurs, investors and companies looking for an edge will always be interested in new market advantages or opportunities.  The lessons of the past tell us that to assume that this always results in products which are in the public interest, and should simply be allowed on the market because they can be invented, is wrong and naieve.  Take the example of inventor Thomas Midgely, the man who brought the world both ‘Freons’ (eg CFCs) and lead in petrol (and himself suffered from lead poisoning).

Thomas Midgley – aka ‘the man who most harmed the planet’ Pic: Wikipedia

It has been said of the free-market that it is the operation of economics without the intervention of human intelligence.  The same applies to the dynamics of technological development.   Those gave us the plastics crisis, and they can now help us cure that problem but unguided by policy,  could also land us with a new problem, and lost opportunities.

The Risks Of Not Getting Involved

Ligno-cellulosics are not sexy, at least not yet but to me they appear candidates to create the ‘renewables moment’ for conventional plastics.  It would be a nice irony if living plants proved to be the nemesis of misused fossil-fuels, made from long dead plants.  Yet to realise that,  policy-makers need to guide their application with a regulatory pincer movement.

So on the one hand, if necessary, regulation must restrict applications of nano-cellulose/ lignin, for example to avoid any major problems like bioaccumulation and persistence if there are grounds for that, and to prevent them being locked-in to mixed applications which extend the use of fossil-plastic.  Plus on the other hand, regulation needs to continually tighten the screw on fossil-plastic so it is rapidly phased out.

Campaigning NGOs and advocacy groups should not ignore this and sit back and wait to see what happens.  It might be easier to stay focused purely on problem-driving by revealing the terrible impacts of plastic and eliminating egregious uses like plastic straws, and that surely needs doing but to deliver an end to fossil-plastic, advocates need to also engage with the solutions.

Who else but campaigners will pressure governments to put in the time and effort needed to understand these blossoming new industries and guide them to an optimal environmental solution, rather than opt for a ‘light touch’ easy option?   The government default is to embrace policies which are easy and leave as much as possible of the technical work to business.  That’s exactly what happened with CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs which could have been eliminated decades earlier.   What corporations say is possible and not possible is then presented as an immutable ‘technical’ or ‘economic’ truth, and this gets rationalised as a social truth, as in “we can’t live without plastic”.

Why We Need Substitution

One Brussels lobbyist familiar with the plastics issue said to me a few days ago: “It’s not been strategic, and maybe because of that it’s been all the more effective but so far, the anti-plastics campaign has won.  It is amazing how rapidly user-companies are backing away from plastic”.

Large companies are looking upstream for ways to avoid fossil-plastic. Unilever for example has announced a three-pronged strategy to move away from fossil-plastic.  It is part of the ‘Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance’ and keen to avoid using anything that gets tarred as ‘greenwash’.  While many regulators and companies now put that label on ‘oxy-biodegradables’ it might soon extend to ‘bio-plastics’ from first generation cellulosics, to combinations of fossil and non fossil plastic, and to conventional polymers (eg polyester) created from bio-sources.

Large users are looking for drop-in solutions to plastic because they need quick and large volume results: aluminum cans instead of plastic bottles for instance.  In terms of setting commitments, governments will titrate public concern against perceived feasibility and deliverability of change.  This is why substitution is important, as well as achieving what can be achieved by personal behaviour change, such as re-use and consumer rejection of plastics where choices exist.   It can show governments that it is possible to progressively abandon fossil-plastic ‘recycling’ in favour of elimination of fossil-plastic.

Economically, the cellulosic train has left the station.  For instance they are the fastest growing sector of environmentally preferred textiles recorded by the cross-industry group Textile Exchange, whose 2017 conference featured 328 companies from 37 countries including Marks and Spencer, Adidas, Nike, IKEA, H&M, Timberland, Patagonia, Walmart, GAP and C&A.

Is Plastic ‘The Problem’ ?

Nevertheless, some environmentalists instinctively reject ‘substitution’.  On 5 September for instance, environment columnist George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian that the ‘the problem is not plastic. It is consumerism’.

Now I am with George on many things – such as rewilding and the evils of Scottish salmon aquaculture – but not this.  Yes ‘consumerism’, if you can actually define it in a meaningful way, is a problem but if you need to design a strategy to get rid of fossil-based plastic, the question is not what is the most perfect imaginable route to do so but which is the best available that can actually work.

George’s plastic example of a non-solution was a disposable corn-starch coffee cup:  first generation cellulosics.  Yet even that is a solution to the narrow problem of fossil-microplastic from a conventional plastic cup, albeit not a good one seeing as a cellulosic/ cellulose cup would be better.  I agree that using a re-usable cup would be better still, which is why I take my own Surfers Against Sewage bamboo cup with me when I buy a coffee when I travel, and now companies like Soho Coffee give me 25p off for doing so, which I consider a good thing.  I have my own beefs with capitalism but I don’t see that as a reason to try and reform the entire economic system in order to solve the particular problem of fossil fuels or fossil-plastic.

My coffee cup (right)

Environmentalists face a real-life choice.  To try and go wide and campaign to change ‘root causes’ to huge and wicked problems such as ‘global capitalism’ or ‘human nature’ or ‘values’,  in which case their campaigns tend to go slowly and not very far: they tend to end up as advocacy with a very limited audience.  Or to be strategic, focused and make change, which should be as ambitious as possible while also being achievable.  For me at least, ending fossil-fuel-based-plastic is pretty ambitious, and cellulose-based materials could help deliver that, fast and at scale.

No, it won’t get rid of consumerism but neither did renewable energy.  Yet that is helping tackle climate change, which seems something worth doing


A nature conservation project to collect waste vegetation and use it in biorefineries is underway in Flanders Belgium and the Netherlands with EU Inter-Reg funding

Chris Rose  chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk  September 2018


[1]  Angeles Blanco et al  Chapter 5 in Section 1, Handbook of Nanomaterials for Industrial Applications. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-813351-4.00005-5: Nanocellulose for Industrial Use: Cellulose Nanofibers (CNF), Cellulose Nanocrystals (CNC), and Bacterial Cellulose (BC)

[2] ref (1) op cit

[3] Advances in cellulose nanomaterials,  Hanieh Kargarzadeh et al, Polish Academy of Sciences,  Cellulose February 2018, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10570-018-1723-5

[4] ref (1) op cit

[5] ref (3) op cit

[6] Lianghui Tan et al,  Combining ex-ante LCA and EHS screening to assist green design: A
case study of cellulose nanocrystal foam,  Journal of Cleaner Production 178 (2018) 494e506

[7] Ong K.J et al, Establishing the safety of novel bio-based cellulose nanomaterials for commercialization  Nano Impact 6 (2017) 19 – 29


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He Had Our Back – Peter Melchett’s Contribution to Greenpeace

(This post first appeared at the blog ‘Celebrating Peter‘ where many other contributions can also be found).

Chris Rose

Peter on a walk round his farm in April this year.  Behind him is a field full of cowslips, part of a new wildlife habitat.

Peter Melchett, who was a Minister in the Northern Ireland office used to dealing with Ian Paisley across the conference table, was never going to be fazed by the 15 years he spent as chair and Executive Director of Greenpeace UK (1985 to 2001).  To supporters, politicians and media in the UK he is best remembered for his part in a white-suited action against GM maize but the greatest contribution he made to Greenpeace was as a leader, and most of that was invisible to the public gaze.

Once Peter put himself at the service of Greenpeace, although he continued to give speeches and interviews, his personal profile was far lower than it had been when he forged the alliance of environment and conservation groups as Wildlife Link and led many political and legislative battles for the environment in Parliament.


By the mid 1980s Greenpeace was already in transformation from a charismatic but chaotic entity often riven by personal rivalries, into an effective international campaign group but Peter guided its UK development into a resilient and stable campaigning machine, and professionalized and grew the organization at the same time.

He brought systems and organization, introducing specialist science, legal, accounts and political units, together with HR policies and management practices drawing on his previous experience in government and the third sector.   Although resented by some campaigners used to a more anarchic environment, he made these changes not just to treat the staff better and improve efficiency but to make Greenpeace harder to infiltrate or attack by government or corporates.


With a background in politics and a family background in business large and small, Peter understood power and influence in a way few other NGO campaigners or leaders did, then or now.  He knew that politicians might never win a popularity contest with Greenpeace, but could disable or sink it through stealthier means such as injunctions, asset seizures or subversion.  As its support grew, it posed a greater challenge to vested interests so the stakes got higher.

Largely un-noticed both inside and outside, Peter set about making Greenpeace’s UK ‘ship’ legally and financially watertight, with reserves to ride out headwinds.  On his watch, it invested in the expertise necessary to locate strategic targets that could change the trajectory of environmental outcomes, and then plan and run high-risk campaigns involving non-violent direct actions, with the optimal chance of living to fight another day.

He Had Our Back

Peter had a massive sense of duty and honour.  He took a personal interest in looking after the volunteers who physically and legally put themselves on the line when he often could not.  So he was always ready to take responsibility and lead from the front when the organisation came under fire.  “He made me feel safe”, said a director who served under him. “As a young campaigner”, an activist said “you knew whatever you did, he’d would support you in public: he had our back”.

Two Jewish friends who worked with me at Greenpeace say they used to call him a a ‘mensch’ – Yiddish – a man of integrity and honour.  “He was so solid, and reliable especially when the shit hit the fan – you could always count on Peter” says one.

In the 1980s he had already been involved in several demonstrations against nuclear weapons.  Just before his time at Greenpeace, he and partner Cass Wedd were arrested on a CND protest at Sculthorpe a USAF base not far from his farm in Norfolk.   It amused him that as he stepped forward to make his symbolic cut in the fence, plummy voice of Lady Olga Maitland (of ‘Women and Families for Defence’) rang out: “Peter, Peter, don’t do it. It’ll ruin your career!”

Once Chair and Executive Director, Peter rarely took a front-line part in Greenpeace actions, not because he didn’t want to but because he felt responsible for remaining available at the helm.  In 1999 he broke with this rule by leading an action to remove a GM maize crop.   A former criminologist, he spent a night in Norwich Jail.  I asked what it was like: “everyone was nice to me” he said, “anyway Eton prepares you for that sort of regime”.   Eventually a jury found all defendants not guilty of criminal damage, agreeing with Greenpeace’s defence of ‘lawful excuse’:  by destroying the crop they had stopped a greater harm of polluting other maize crops with GM pollen.

Peter could be obdurate and domineering as well as avuncular, self-deprecating and charming.  In the 1980s I once described him as more Grizzly than Teddy Bear.  He was also modest, for example rarely mentioning his time as a Minister in which he achieved changes which would have provided most people with a lifetime of stories to dine out on.  I think what drew him to Greenpeace was a combination of its potential to deliver results in terms of outcomes for causes he cared about – more or less Green and Peace – and its way of doing things.

For most people, its principles of non violence and bearing witness, inherited from or inspired by the Quakers in their early protests against nuclear testing in the pacific, were simply historical backdrop but for Peter they were lodestones used in in real-life, on a regular basis, and especially when faced with difficult and testing decisions.  As a personal bonus, in the UK this often meant cajoling, pushing or forcing a political and social Establishment deeply opposed to environmentalism, into change.  Greenpeace campaigns repeated the dynamic of that Olga Maitland moment, in which the establishment tried to stop Peter doing what he thought and felt was right, not just once or twice but over and over.  His principles made him a natural fit with the organisation’s hallmark tactics and worldview.

The Truth

Peter said he left Westminster for NGOs because he was fed up with the “lying game”.  In 1995 after the successful Brent Spar campaign to stop Shell dumping a huge redundant oil storage facility at sea, his sense of honour put him and Greenpeace at the centre of a media firestorm fanned by government ministers enraged at Shell’s capitulation.   Just before Shell gave way, Peter had written to the UK Shell Board laying out Greenpeace’s case and including an estimate that the Spar might still contain thousands of tonnes of oil.   It then realised this was due to a misinterpreted sample from an inspection pipe and the likely figure was far less.  Peter wrote to Shell ‘apologizing’ for potentially misleading them. This apology was misused to attack Greenpeace about the campaign as a whole, which was never about the tonnage of oil on board but oil companies and the government wanting to reopen the debate about dumping waste at sea.

Although not personally to blame for the error, Peter took responsibility.  Earlier this year I talked to Peter and he recalled how he had been “hauled over the coals” by Jeremy Paxman on BBC’s Newsnight.  He said: “after we were off air – I wish this had been recorded – [Paxman] said to me, “I bet you regret telling the truth now don’t you ?”.   I was so gobsmacked, I couldn’t think of a snappy reply.  I mean he just assumed that everyone would normally lie about something like that, and to me it was just unthinkable that an NGO would lie”.

The same year, Greenpeace ‘invaded’ Sellafield and at Aldermaston blocked a pipe discharging radioactivity into the Thames.  Furious Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind sent MoD police to raid Greenpeace’s offices in search of evidence to charge activists with ‘conspiracy’.  Peter responded with an open letter in The Independent ‘J’accuse Malcolm Rifkind’ challenging the minister to come for him rather than ‘scapegoat’ individual activists.

Peter made Greenpeace UK more international, upping its contribution to international operations, and expanded its influence by using his vast network of contacts among more establishment NGOs.  His personal affability and confidence, and his experience of dealing with opponents face-to-face in politics in ways that avoided escalation of differences, were qualities that enabled him to sit down with Greenpeace’s opponents and often talk them into accepting an inevitable change in their ways after a campaign had peaked, rather than continue to opposing it.

Peter’s personal connections came in useful at unexpected moments. Elaine Lawrence, a Campaign Director of Greenpeace remembers:

When we did that die in in front of Downing street by the memorial where we were dressed in nuclear radiation suits [part of a campaign against THORP], Peter and I led the first group around the corner to the site from the House of Commons.  So we were walking at the front of about 30 people trying not to look suspicious when who should come round the corner but Tony Blair who stopped, greeted Peter and started chatting to him.  Everything – every group – was timed down to the last second so this was potentially a disaster.  Peter totally kept his cool and managed to politely get Tony to stop talking – seconds later we round the corner, get in position and put our suits on – it was very funny.

Solutions and Business

I worked closely with Peter as Programme Director responsible to the Board for ‘re-startegizing’ and creating the campaign programmes of Greenpeace UK, and then as his Deputy Executive Director, in the 1990s.  At this time power was shifting from governments to corporates and there was a new demand from the public for practical ‘solutions’ they could buy or adopt in everyday life.  Partly inspired by the example of Greenpeace in Germany, we added to the usual problem-driving element of campaigns, the engineering of solutions.  Today this sounds obvious but at the time it was controversial and counter-intuitive to many activists and environmental groups.

This often meant working with companies doing the right thing or at the least saying “this is a good thing”, and opposing those doing the ‘wrong thing’.  Peter gave businesses what they took to be an ‘establishment figure’ as an interlocutor and his pragmatism played a big role in helping extend the influence of the organization, for example through establishing Greenpeace Business, a newsletter which also ran conferences.  The approach of campaigns plus face to face engagement with corporate CEOs that he helped develop, has been continued and expanded by others in Greenpeace such as its current Executive Director in the UK, John Sauven.

Peter’s love of animals made him a lifelong  passionate anti-whaling campaigner, and played a role in his pursuit of organic farming.  After Greenpeace he returned to the fight against the impact of pesticides which he had first encountered in grey partridge studies on his family farm in Norfolk.  He and Cass were proud of having badgers return to the farm.  Apparently tireless, he was still working as Soil Association Policy Director, only days before he died.

Some people who inherit assets and position become philanthropists and support good causes.  Peter and Cass did indeed support projects with grants from their family Courtyard Trust but his greater contribution was to spend the capital of his inherited privilege (Eton, Cambridge, The Lords, High Office, family businesses, land) like a philanthropist giving away status and opportunity, to make a difference for the environment.  He was a great friend to me and a truly generous man.


(Thanks to current and former staff of Greenpeace for reminding me of things about Peter).

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