Tremendous traction was gained in the calls for a fair, ambitious and binding deal at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen. A hundred thousand people demonstrated on the streets of the Danish capital while millions voiced their hope online. Against odds, I'd say, because climate change is a complex issue and more people than ever are couch potatoes.
Now it's 2010, the year of biodiversity and UN Millennium Development Goal review summit. To goad some commitment into the world leaders another round of citizen lobbyism, viral awareness creation and movement team building is needed.
Why not just continue where we left off? Reboot those parts of the climate change movement that could be interested in the more general development aspects and have it team up with the dedicated MDG movements? After all, the COP15 momentum was just another iteration of “the movement of movements”.
#Journalismgate: Learning from the media coverage
Looking back at the media frenzy leading up to COP15 one of the things I come to think of myself is the difference in attention created by the various science articles I wrote. The articles that directly addressed one of the more or less contested climatological topics were the most successful: write about facts that go against the denier spin and get attacked immediately. Write about anything else and get a bit of attention here and there.
In other words: one of the main reasons climate change seems like an easier topic to create a buzz around is the existence of the organized denial. The conspiracy theorists, the misled half-educated know-it-alls, the freaks and the outright liars were a gift to the climate change buzz creators. Of course, while the frenzied debate wouldn't have been there we'd still be better off without them.
But the existence of climate change denialism creates a situation the media loves: conflict. In fact, conflict is one of the few existing prerequisites for getting any media attention at all. Without it a situation is hard pressed to get press at all and risk spin for fake conflict if it does get it.
Another ticket to the front page is scandal. Again the climate change pre-COP15 buzz provides good examples: 'Climategate', 'Glaziergate' and 'Amazongate' combined the conflict with scandal and added spin with the -gate postfix for Watergate association. But any brief look at a newspaper stand will confirm scandals are popular (often for good reason).
And no wonder. Because scandal and conflict is what sells. It's what people want to read about. But regarding conflict the deniers also short-wired something every journalist is hard coded to do: present both sides of each issue. Always both sides – even if one is absurd.
What the media hasn't been able to sell is down-to-earth rationalist conclusions to lengthy, throughout investigations. Even if they go against the very same scandals the same media highlighted only months earlier. Proof: Compare the amount of media attention given the various “climategates” around COP15 to the amount given the retractions and corrections that are out now. A fraction. (But for the record: Michael Mann was cleared of all allegations and Amazongate has been turned upside down, the few sceptic scientists are not really the experts and most of the denial spin can be traced to the same few people and their "think tank".)
Add to the above the closed media environment. It is apparently more important to have friends in the right places than know what you are writing about if you want to get anywhere in journalism. Plus you can't bite the hand that feeds which is a commercial interest. Read more via EJC's own Twitter.
The mechanisms of the media needs to be tricked. And th!nkers have been tricking: When writing about development in the context of the World Cup in South Africa we have been leeching on the traffic for the football championship. The current coverage of football is an example of a third media mechanism: hype. I.e. Danish TV had a Japanese cook produce our starting lineup in symbolic sushi. (In hindsight probably a horrible idea, considering the
0-2 loss.) Evidently, this is idiotic TV. But as long as it's got to do with the World Cup, right now anything will get air.
Learning (and un-learning) from the nutcases
Let us take a look at the Tea Party movement, the Danish People's Party, the climate change deniers, the Dutch Freedom Party. They successfully get millions of people to advocate against their own best interest. How!? I'd forget about left vs. right, this is rationalism vs. spin. The so called “green parties” don't fit on the left-right spectrum and neither does the populism driven paranoid ranters.
One lesson would be: follow causes, don't just advocate your own ideas. OK, don't just follow some -ism blindly but at least don't just show up to educate people about your own genious. Yes, you have probably been doing that. The climate change activism in Copenhagen was perhaps a rare exception.
A lesson to leave with them is the application of incessant misinformation and spin. They think it's just little white lies excused by the greater goal. Well, they are as wrong about that as they are of their goal. Go ahead and lie, spin and misinform - and go with the risk of it all back fireing.
Remember how most of their main talking points have all crumbled in time: smoking does cause lung cancer, CFC-gasses do cause the hole in the ozone layer et cetera, et cetera. But don't hold your hopes too high: to some degree the various denier types are impervious to their own arguments crumbling to dust. For example, little attention was given when arch denier Anthony Watts' spin of mass destruction disintegrated.
For a similar discussion see George Monbiot's Bogus and misdirected, yes. But the Tea Party has a lot to teach the left. Better yet, watch this clip of Bill Maher discussing both the nutcases and the incompetent media:
Found at Green Blog. Best quotes:
"There is no debate here — just scientists vs. non-scientists, and since the topic is science, the non-scientists don’t get a vote. [...] Media, could you please stop pitting the ignorant vs. the educated and framing it as a 'debate'."
"Just because most people believe something doesn’t make it true. This is the fallacy called argumentum ad numerum: [...] As in: Eat shit, 20 trillion flies can’t be wrong."
Learning from permaculture
I recently came across two different articles about organizing an organization: 20 Principles for Successful Community Organizing and How to Use 12 Principles of Permaculture to Grow Sustainable Organizations. Below is a re-mix of those articles applied to the task at hand: moving from climate change to biodiversity and poverty, from COP to MDG, from TH!NK2 to TH!NK3.
Observe, interact; design from patterns to details
How do we get from what we have to what we want - working with what we have? To frame and ask questions in ways that make people not only want to answer them, but also to think deeply, and in unexpected ways, about what the answers might be is a good question for an organizer to ask.
The climate campaign educated a lot of people just a little on climatology. It raised awareness of such diverse issues as drinking water shortage, sea level rise, over population, drought and much more. This patchwork of interests brought together a lot of different people. For example, at the big demonstration in Copenhagen, December 2009, I saw a group of Korean women dressed as shrimps and other sea animals.
So, which questions could we ask these crowds to make their members realize they should rally behind the MDGs also? Suggestions gladly accepted in the comments but actually, this time we have the less tricky work: it should be easier “reassigning” activists to individual MDGs rather than the other way around. The hard part was calling to protest under not just the abstract term “climate change” but under the measure of acceptable CO2 in the atmosphere: “350”.
For the more “hard core” climate change activists who - like myself - didn't join in from just one of the causes of vegetarianism, sustainable food, endangered species or whatever I believe it is worth while pointing out how much climate change is actually entangled in the rest of the world's problems. That was the treatment I took myself writing up The COP in the MDGs (TH!NK2½ part II).
Integrate rather than segregate; apply self-regulation & accept feedback
An important aspect is to figure out people’s common self-interest and then build community on that. As opposed to compartmentalizing it in “vegetarians”, “wild life”, “poverty” et cetera. Something brought together many of these people in 2009, and something could bring them together in 2010 too.
Anti-bureaucracy is key. Open-book accounting and collective goal-setting are examples of practices that can help create a resilient, shock-proof organization capable of decentralized decision making and action.
Analyze the effects of actions to take even more effective action in the future. Boils down to everyone pausing to evaluate now and then: is this particular activity productive for the movement or not? The movement is more unruly than a garden. A top-to-bottom approach is bound to fail while creativity will seep through the network.
Produce no waste; use & value renewable resources and services
Hope is a renewable resource. It is incredible but people continue to produce it. Let us live off our income, not our savings. Perhaps some people feel like they lent out a little too much hope lately (Barack “Hope” Obama, Hopenhagen)?
One side-effect was the sudden rise in people who didn't “believe” in climate change. For example see Change.org / Why Don't Americans Believe in Climate Change? While, of course, mostly because of fierce and well oiled industry campaigns I fear people brought on board by i.e. posters of cute animals being killed by climate change are a lot more susceptible to changing sides than people who have been educated in the science behind the campaign. I personally have second thoughts regarding backlashes from people who perhaps was brought on board using a little too liberal doses of emotionally charged ads.
Let us try picking up some of the souls lost to denial and eternal skepticism, let us try and make up for the mishandled hope. Laughter really is therapeutic, and hope does heal. Be cheerful in the face of adversity. For example, much of what needs to be said about climate change is in this one-frame COP15 cartoon.
Feel its healing pover
Obtain a yield; catch & store energy
Without the pressure from the people who knows if the world leaders had attended COP15 in Copenhagen at all? Many were probably hoping they could have gotten away with sending a secretary and a diplomat. Even though the hopes of an ambitious deal had dwindled by governments dragging their feet in the months leading up to the summit our world leaders had little choice but to show up and give it one last try. Because the buzz was over whelming.
Also, getting 100,000 people out on the streets of Copenhagen is no little feat. It's historic. And it was an important part of the buzz. Many of these people also attended the alternative summit, Klimaforum09. In short, for two or three weeks Copenhagen was a melting pot of activism, idealism and zeitgeist.
Don’t listen to the communication experts when they say demonstrations were only effective in the 1960s. They are just defending their own new turf, demeaning one they can't control. Even in the Internet age, personal relationships still count. Especially when you’re asking people to do something. If only I could travel back in time and walk with the 99,999 others in the big COP15 demonstration again - just to feel the energy.
Use and Value Diversity, Use Small and Slow Solutions, Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Remember rule no. 1: Diversity gives resilience. It is essential to anything sustainable so leave your stereotypes at the door. Let ideas come together and -isms meet, reinforce unity and compensate for the divisions.
A small, slow approach better lends itself to analysis of feedback, adaptation and corrective action of any adverse impacts than a large and fast. Only with solid experience of a solution should it be scaled up. Changes, unforeseen consequences and other problems will happen. Anything in the new situation that can be turned to an advantage should be.
In the process of strategy development can be imagining that instant just before victory. Then, working backwards, do your best to figure out the steps that will lead to that moment.
They are continually proven wrong. Let them answer to that. People who get caught lying should lose credibility, not get to wiggle off the hook by media tricks. I for one will continue to use new media to call out industry lobbyists and ideological crackpots when proven wrong. There is just one thing: Who are "they" exactly? Who is to the MDGs what the deniers and big oil was to COP15? I have targets myself, but who are yours?
Imagining the moment of "victory"? What would that be - near fulfillment of the eight MDGs? All right: It's 2020, we made it only five years late. Then in 2025 energy prices rocket through the roof because our solutions didn't take peak oil into account. Prices on food and transport follow and to some degree so do prices on medicine, houses, clothes and more. Year 2030 we give up mitigating climate change because it's like waving off the rising tide. Oh wait - I was supposed to work myself backwards!
Keep "leeching" the World Cup hype. Then perhaps even the Tour de France if you can stomach it. Then whatever. But perhaps we should look back and see if anything good comes from it? And perhaps focus a lot on the core topics of the MDGs as the New York summit draws closer!?
And keep using the other media hacks. Crackpots are not held to the same standards as serious debaters? Fine, then remember to point that out every time you debunk one. Don't give up on blogging about the counter-scandals. Perhaps we could also stir up some conflict? Point out people and organizations that really aren't helping progress on the MDGs much and simply attack? Tabloid style smear campaign? Perhaps not.
Then there is the report-both-sides reflex in journalism. It is hard to see how to take advantage of it like the deniers are abusing it regarding climate change. But perhaps it'd be worth reminding journalists - just with short friendly emails - that they should get that valuable other side to the story about little innocent children grieving their parents killed in a car wreck. Just to pick on the idiocy. A postulate that definitely needs another side of the story is the neoliberalist postulate that more coal power will solve climate change issues. Seriously!? We demand it!
Let us not waste the momentum gained in Copenhagen. Write the friends you made during the COP15 buzz. Online or in Copenhagen. Tell them their voices are needed - not just for Cancun but for New York too!
And continue using the new media tools that grew strong recently. If you haven't already then join AVAAZ now. Please. Use Twitter! Use Facebook! If your friends get offended by you interrupting their FarmVille-feed with a story about starving children then so be it. They'll be back when the last free pixel has been harvested. Even use Google Buzz, Yahoo! Buzz, Mixx, Digg... whatever! There is no excuse: they are zero waste, low input attention generators that while also usually having small benefits at the same time offers enormous potential gain.