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4 Oct 2010

That 10:10 film… not in my name….

Oh dear, oh dear. I had seen Frannie Armstrong’s newsletters talking about a forthcoming promo film for 10:10 being made by Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Love Actually etc), but actually got to sit down and watch it last night. I have to say I am shocked, and appalled by this, and I’m on their side! The reaction to it has been largely negative and the whole saga entirely self defeating, the very people it was presumably meant to invite to be part of 10:10 feeling understandably judged, revolted and assaulted by it. If you haven’t seen it, here it is, you’ll need to have seen it for what I am going to write to make any sense….

So what is this film trying to say? Is it that if you aren’t willing to get involved in 10:10 we are entitled to blow you up because you clearly don’t care about anyone else so we might as well get in there first? Or that the lives of people who don’t care about climate change are worth less than those who do? Or that people ought to feel such pressure to get involved with 10:10 that they should feel as though their lives depended on it? This film falls back into 14 year-old angry activist mode, trying to shock people into action, and it backfires horribly.  It is meant to be funny.  It isn’t.  And having discussed it with several people, I am still unable to see how it was even actually meant to be funny….

Let’s just pause that film in our heads. In the classroom, the teacher finds that two of the students are intending not to get involved in 10:10 actions at the school. Would the film not have had greater resonance, greater relevance, and been infinitely more skillful, if the teacher had, I don’t know, perhaps asked them why not? Approaches such as Carbon Conversations work in this way, creating a space in which people can reflect on why they don’t act in spite of knowing about climate change. Might it be because they are scared of change, feel they can’t afford to make any changes, feel they will be laughed at by friends and family, or that they don’t know what to do? These are common responses, even among people who are trying to do something.  It is not that such people are ‘the enemy’, they are our friends and family, our work colleagues and next door neighbours.  I find myself vastly puzzled by the logic of this message…

A film maker such as Richard Curtis, so good at capturing emotional turmoil in a way that resonates for millions of people (call me a softy but ‘Love Actually’ makes me cry everytime, although I fully accept that many people see it as syruppy schlop) could have explored that really powerfully.  Perhaps the teacher might have invited them to say why they didn’t want to engage, and they could have aired some of the very reasons that emerge in countless surveys on the subject: “I don’t trust/understand the science, I am just too busy, its for governments to do stuff not us”…. .

Perhaps David Ginola might have opened up and talked about how footballers are too macho to care about the planet, or how he is so wealthy that he feels cushioned from caring about the planet. Perhaps in the office, the people might have talked about how they fear being the laughing stock of their colleagues, how they struggled as it was to balance work and home time and something has to give. Perhaps they might have thrown it back at the boss and said “well compared to you, my lifestyle is already low carbon”.  It could have been an emotional catharsis, like in Mike Leigh’s brillliant ‘Secrets and Lies’, when Timothy Spall does his ‘secrets and lies’ speech (here, at around 5.30), where people speak their minds and reach some kind of understanding.   Certainly in our everyday lives the approach we seek is dialogue and discussion, showing what’s possible by example and so on, so why, in a short film, does exploding people become an acceptable form of engagement?  Why this retreat into puerile humour?

This sends me back to thinking about change, how it happens, and how it definitely doesn’t happen. One of the most common, and yet the most discredited, approaches to enabling change, is called the ‘information deficit model’. This assumes that people would act if only they had enough information, so therefore the way to solve this is by providing enough information. Also known as A-I-D-A (Awareness-Information-Decision-Action), this approach assumes that the more information you give people, the more likely they are to act. However, time and again this has been shown not to work, climate change being a key example of this. Some studies even show that it is an approach which leads to increases in apathy, the more information people are given, the less inclined they are to take action. In reality, the factors affecting peoples’ choices are far more complex.

In a review of the science on the subject, Maxine Holdsworth(1) suggests that “consumers are generally happy to act sustainably where it does not impinge on their key priorities and cause them inconvenience”. The more recent research indicates that the reasons why people change, or don’t change, are far more complex, influenced by a wide range of factors. This film doesn’t even get as far as A-I-D-A, it retreats to some adolescent idea of the need to shock people into action, offering no information at all. It speaks volumes of the frustration felt by some in the climate change movement after such a vital issue has been rubbished and sidelined over the past year, of how as the lines on the graph keep accelerating upwards, public interest in the issue continues to fall. But this ‘shock and awe’ approach is a spectacular own goal. The right wing press have naturally had a field day.  James Delingbole, writing in the Telegraph, wrote, “you have just released a video which has entered history as the most emetic, ugly, counterproductive eco-propaganda movie ever made”.  For once in my life (and almost certainly for the last time), I have to say I agree with him. 

10:10 is a brilliant initiative, engaging people and organisations in practical carbon reduction, in a positive and engaging way. It has engaged schools, football clubs, Councils, businesses, in taking practical steps to reduce carbon. In the build up to its 10:10:10 day of action in a few days time, this film couldn’t have been worse judged nor worse timed. Indeed, I have heard that some groups are now pulling out of the 10:10:10 day precisely because of this film, feeling unable to be associated with it.  10:10 have now withdrawn the film from their website (it has subsequently been posted all over YouTube), and issued the following ‘apology’:

Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn’t and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended. As a result of these concerns we’ve taken it off our website. We won’t be making any attempt to censor or remove other versions currently in circulation on the internet.

Hardly an apology, more like a lament that not everyone ‘got the joke’.  This feels to me like an in-joke between Frannie Armstrong and Richard Curtis that they should have laughed about in an early meeting and then discarded, rather than saying “you know what, I think it might work”. 

I have supported 10:10 and will continue to do so, but with regards this film I have to say, not in my name.  This does not represent the movement against climate change of which I count myself as a part.  I think that this film produces nothing of any benefit to anyone, it was spectacularly misjudged, in appalling taste, and was an own goal probably unparalleled in the history of the environmental movement.  Imagine if UKIP had made a film where people who believe that being part of the Europeean Union were blown up …. “the UK should leave the EU… no pressure”.  They would be rightly lampooned, derided and abandoned in droves. 

For me, the response to climate change needs to be based on values of respect, decency, compassion and reaching across divides.  It is a movement I am proud to contribute to which has generated much insightful thinking about how to engage people by presenting the shift to a low carbon world as a step forward, as progress, as creating a culture which better meets our needs as individuals and communities.  This moment of madness runs counter to all that.  I’ll say it again.  Not in my name. 


1. Holdsworth, M. (2003) Green Choice: what choice? Summary of NCC research into consumer attitudes to sustainable consumption.  London, National Consumer Council.

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6 Nov 11:04pm

I suspect a vast majority of us find virtue in living lightly upon the earth. Sadly divisive efforts, such as this video, pollute and politicize this issue. This video only serves to drive the wedge deeper. Too bad the talent and resources were not spent on a more unifying message.