The new promotional video for 10:10, the very respectable and mainstream environmental group, has generated a fair amount of online reaction and discussion in the last day or two. It is perhaps the worst campaign video I've ever seen.
It's already been pulled from 10:10's website, but purely - judging by this half-baked apology - on the grounds of its style offending people. There's no hint of grasping that it's so bad because the politics stink. The problems of form derive from errors in content.
The basic failure here is its perpetuating of the myth that reducing carbon emissions is primarily a matter of individual responsibility, thus depoliticising the whole issue of climate change as well as misrepresenting the reality of what drives it. There's no sense that some forces in society - the aviation industry, say, or oil mutinationals - might perhaps be disproportionately responsible.
We aren't all equally responsible for causing climate change. We aren't all equal in suffering the effects, now or in the future. And we don't share responsibility equally for stalling the destruction of our climate.
There is no indication that we may, in our millions, need to pressure the rich and powerful - and our elected representatives who tend to buckle to their interests - to deliver serious social and political action to avert environmental catastrophe.
What I find especially nauseating is that in a number of the examples it's the higher-status individual - teacher, boss - who is enlightened about climate change while its their 'inferiors' - pupils, workers - who are ignorant and irresponsible. It is deeply snobbish and reinforces the mistaken idea that the elite is already 'on board' with tackling climate change, but now ordinary people need to be similarly convinced.
Not only does it turn climate change into an individual responsibility issue, it reduces it to being simply about awareness. If only people understand the need to reduce their carbon footprint they will do so - and if they don't then they are backward, irrational, selfish. It's as if Richard Dawkins, not Richard Curtis, wrote and directed it.
This is moralistic and judgemental, but it's also missing the point: corporations and governments know about the effects of climate change, and know what can be done in response, but the profit-seeking, competitive logic of the system acts as a massive pressure against them reducing emissions. They aren't willing to pursue actions or policies which conflict with economic interests. They put profit before people or planet.
The deep political conservatism is what gives rise to the appalling smugness and contempt: it's so self-satisfied ('we are enlightended, we do our bit') and scornful ('some people just won't do their bit, the idiots'). This is likely to repel most people, propping up the right-wing climate deniers' steretype of environmentalists as moralising and superior.
In fact it is a gift to the Right, an inexcusable own-goal. We shouldn't defend this patronising silliness, but instead articulate a better political case for climate action - and devise creative methods for persuasively conveying that case to millions of people.
Yes, it is ordinary people who can save our planet, but not in the ways envisaged by 10:10. Collective social and political action, not individual 'solutions', is what we urgently need.
Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union. He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).
More articles from this author
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- Palestinians in Gaza are cannon fodder for Israeli political games
- Apartheid under pressure – weekly briefing
- NEU Conference escalates the fight against the government
- Introduction – A short guide to Israeli apartheid excerpt
- Calling it what it is: Amnesty's bold stand against Israeli apartheid
- The bloody legacy of Bomber Blair