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Home > Legal & Financial > Shoot the messenger

Shoot the messenger

The Earth’s warming climate is a problem for everybody. It might be an obvious thing to say given the fact that we, and most other species on the face of the planet seems to be facing an existential threat in the not so distant future, but inexplicably the message seems to be getting a little lost, to the extent that there is an increasing movement against tackling the single most important issue we are ever likely to encounter.

The science is not new, in fact it is more than a century since it was postulated that human beings insatiable demand for burning fossil fuels was contributing to the warming of the planet. Research continued, and the term ‘greenhouse’ for the effect was coined as early as 1901. It was not until the mid 70’s that the weight of scientific opinion more or less fully moved behind the theory, and in the intervening four decades observations and predictions have been finessed, doubters rebuffed and corrective measures proposed. So why are we all not running around in a flat panic? Instead we seem to be buying ever larger vehicles to drive the recycling to the bins at the end of the road.

There are dissenting voices of course, there always are in science. Those who proposed that the Earth was a sphere and went around the sun, or that humans had evolved from primitive apes were branded as heretical loonies, but eventually the strength of their arguments and weight of evidence won almost everyone around, except for a few sceptics who found themselves inheriting the label of heretical loonies.

Why, when the science seems so overwhelming and the consequences so apparently dire is there a growing movement of those animatedly opposed to the concept of climate change?. From the US President, who claimed that the noise from wind farms gives you cancer! To prominent newspaper columnists, and the usual slew of websites and conspiracy theorists.

The answer seems to be not in the message that is being delivered, but how, and by whom it is being delivered. The latest big name in the battle against climate change is Extinction Rebellion. Established only last year by a group of around 100 prominent academics in the field, the group has quickly expanded globally, with disparate organisations rebranding behind the name. Their modus operandi so far is disruptive direct action, protests and hyperbole. Lately there have been actions in the UK, USA, Australia, Spain and many more. In London the tactic has been to shut down city centres with sit down protests, activists have vandalised buildings, and climbed on top of aircraft. There have been threats to close major airports by overflying the airspace with drones. One of their stated plans it to have thousands of people arrested, and hundreds imprisoned, to gain attention to their message. The way you do that of course is for a lot of people to break the law, repeatedly. There have been scenes of half naked hippies dancing around candles in city centres while the rest of the population sit and seeth in the resulting chaos, and therein lies the problem. This is just preaching to the converted, and turning everyone else against you. The movement is failing to sell the most easily sellable message in history, literally all 7 billion souls on the planet have a vested interest.

Ask any successful politician and they will tell you the secret to winning votes and backing is to convince the middle ground, the undecided, the floating voter. You need to speak their language, look like them, talk like them and walk like them, you need to tailor your message to push all of their empathy buttons and they will flock behind you in their droves. Many of the most successful countries on earth have a neat system for expressing the changing views of their populations. It’s called democracy, and while it isn’t perfect, it does appear to be the best system we have devised so far. In the US the billionaire son of a millionaire and possibly the most out of touch human many of us have seen has used a suit and tie, a ballot box and an election campaign to convince the working classes that he is their champion. In the UK those opposed to Britain’s membership of the European Union have taken an issue that frankly ninety percent of the population didn’t give two hoots about and put it right at the top of everyone’s agenda and narrowly won the day. While you may vehemently disagree with those people and their political movements and ideals, it is hard not to be impressed by how they have played the system to their advantage.

If the worst predictions of climate change are true then there really is very little time to change human behaviour to keep the place safe for us, our children, and this apparently unique and beautiful planet. If we can get worked into a frenzy by Brexit, or immigrants, or border walls, or the temerity of 16 year old Greta Thunberg telling us we need to be a bit more responsible, then surely we can get worked up into a frenzy about the wellbeing of our only home. But please, put down the bongos, get a haircut, put on a suit and get yourself elected before it’s too late. I’ll vote for you.


By Phill McCoffers

The Islander Economics Correspondent