A bedtime story: DECC’s new climate ad

This blog was originally posted on Identity Campaigning.

A couple of weeks ago a new ad started being shown on television in the UK highlighting the need to act on CO2. In the light of how many of the posts here touch on advertising, I would be interested in identity campaigners’ views on it. It’s at the bottom of DECC’s homepage. It’s had a number of complaints, some for it being scary, but most from people disagreeing with the science. Well for me the science is pretty much certain, and it’s much scarier than this ad. However I do have deep problems with this ad. It was summed up by someone commenting online as ‘turn off your lights or you’ll drown your children’. But where is the awareness of identity in this ad? Will anyone really change their behaviour with this approach?

It’s a classic double bind for the well meaning people behind this. They have to get the message out there but are caught into a single focus of climate change, and even narrower, reducing CO2 emissions. Reducing emissions related to lighting and heating houses could be viewed as one of the lesser problems we face, a lot could be done with a proper government insulation programme and rolling out these promised smart meters. What about the impact of consumption? Isn’t this easier to change? A decision simply not to buy something you don’t really need is easier to make than asking for people to cut back on things they view as essential.

But of course you will never see a government-led ad focusing on reducing consumption, especially not while we are in a recession and tied to growth as the magic bullet to slay all evil. And although an ad along similar lines (think the bedtime story mixed with the Story of Stuff) would be better, it’s going to be very unlikely to happen. The best and more positive approach would be to promote the type of lifestyle and identity that relates to pro-environmental behaviours. Get outside, buy local, slow food, time with family and friends, community: quality of life. Do some of these things and your children will start thanking you today as well as when they are too old for bedtime stories.

Jim MitchellA bedtime story: DECC’s new climate ad


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  • Ian Preston - October 29, 2009 reply

    It’s a shame we have spent £6 million pounds on an advert that lacks imagination and runs contrary to all the advice on climate change engagement. Perhaps DECC thought they could translate the age of stupid to a TV advert. If so, then this was never going to work as film audiences are used to the narrative of a big shock disaster & the target audience for that film were more likely to already be aligned to the message.

    It’s easy for me to criticise but of course harder to come up with something more engaging and thoughtful. So here goes, why not run a competition with Blue Peter to give 5 primary schools an energy efficiency makeover. The press release could say we thought about commissioning an advert and decided to save some carbon instead.

    For me TV adverts are expensive and in today’s world carry less impact than many of the funny clips that spread across social networking sites. I wanted to try and get Duncan Goodhew and some other bald celebs to help make a clip about loft insulation.
    “On a winter’s day would they go out without a woolly hat on. Don’t leave your house exposed….” Add some thermal imagery and maybe a free hat designed by some famous fashion person for every loft insulated (as I am devoid of all fashion sense I can’t add a name here but you get the idea).

    As you can tell I like insulation but it’s ultimately what we need people to do.

  • Joe Brewer - October 30, 2009 reply

    Hi Jim,

    You’ve hit on one of the big challenges we face – the great elephant in the room – which is perpetual pressure for economic growth. Government officials hesitate to suggest any reductions in consumption for two reasons:

    First, they are subservient to economic advisers. There is considerable professional pressure to defer judgments to economists, very nearly all of whom have been taught the principles of neoclassical economics and rational choice theory. These people have strong ideological biases toward status quo institutions that drive many of the consumption processes. Their theories fail time and time again (like they did in the financial meltdown last year) but a viable alternative paradigm is absent.

    (As a side note, I’m working to develop an alternative economic paradigm based on real human nature, as opposed to the faulty theories developed in the middle of the 20th Century and remain dominant today)

    The second is a system-level problem rooted in a faulty paradigm of monetary theory. Our global economy is based on debt (money is created when banks issue loans). Interest is charged on these loans. This creates a system that not only must grow but it accelerates at an exponential rate! So basically, we are slaves to a system that cannot possibly become sustainable because there is constant pressure each and every financial quarter for revenues at all levels to grow.

    As you might imagine, this kind of system-level problem leads to many conflicting motives that government officials bump up against. They need to promote action to stave off climate disruption, but hesitate to recommend reductions in consumption because our financial systems have a fatal design flaw that causes them to stall (and collapse) if they cease to grow.

    We have some big challenges before us, no doubt about it.



  • Jim Mitchell - October 30, 2009 reply

    Joe, maybe you can answer this as I am not an economist, but is the economy totally dependant on consumption? I suppose I should have said in the post that I meant reducing material consumption. Is it possible to have an economy based on growth but with a steady state ‘sustainable’ level of material consumption (ignoring how difficult in practice this would be). The growth would then be based on ‘skills’? Is this something you are looking into in the alternative paradigm?

  • Joe Brewer - October 30, 2009 reply

    Hi Jim,

    For the record, I’m not an economist either. So I will defer to an expert monetary theorist by suggesting that you watch the video, Money as Debt to learn how loans with interest rates compel the economy to grow at an exponential rate.

    As for the role of consumption, I know that our current debtor system requires that consumption increase because many essential services (like teaching in public education) grow with population and technology, yet are relatively stable with respect to inflation – so the driving problem is in important ways pushed elsewhere in our markets.

    Shifting from manufactured goods to “information services” and other less tangible forms of consumption don’t alter the fact that we have an exponentially growing financial system. The pressures to grow economically remain as an inherent instability of the system’s dynamics.

    One question that springs to my mind is how alternative corporate structures (like the experimental “B-Corp” or “Benefit Corporation” here in the US) might get around the inflationary drive of capital in our debt-based system. Muhammad Yunus (founder of Grameen Bank) has a framework he calls social business that utilizes very innovative revenue models that tie the wealth and capital of a company to the people it serves. It is certainly possible to alter the flow of capital into alternative configurations, where in Yunus’ case investors do not receive interest on their investments, that reduce the inflationary pressure of our current system.

    How we go about doing this is very difficult to say, of course. The global economy is incredibly complex.

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