Films such as Thank You For Smoking have helped expose the undue influence professional lobbyists have had on politicians’ decision making but now the people are getting their own lobbying into gear through organisations such as Avaaz, Occupy and Change.org. It still remains to be seen how much small people will affect the actions of big money when it comes to climate change outcomes.
In Australia, lobby groups such as GetUp (www.getup.org.au) and the keen-as-mustard Australian Youth Climate Coalition (http://aycc.org.au) seem to be getting results. News of campaign success is typically relayed by email to individual members with empowering words such as ‘we won!’ or ‘congratulations!’. Last week both GetUp and AYCC took on independent federal MP Rob Oakeshott’s move to allow the burning of forest biomass (sawdust, shavings and offcuts from sawmilling activities) to count as ‘renewable energy’ under the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme.
AYCC lobbied Oakeshott and his fellow MPs and took out an ad in Oakeshott’s local paper. He didn’t change his mind and he didn’t get the numbers either; AYCC was over the moon that Oakeshott mentioned them and GetUp in his speech to parliament. Naturally enough, the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) has expressed ‘profound disappointment’ at the decision. Sticking points for climate-change groups are that burning biomass – and that includes sugarcane waste – is just another way of creating carbon emissions, and that harvesting wood biomass would also encourage more chipping in native forests, a view Oakeshott disputes.
On Facebook AYCC tells its members: ‘Being mentioned in [Oakeshott’s] speech goes to show that this movement of young people – that’s you – has significant influence!! A pat on the back all around – what a win!’ The more exclamation marks, the bigger the win, I guess, but there’s still a long way to go before lobby groups get all pollies and ordinary punters to change their carbon-consuming ways.
Some of the punters come to their own epiphanies and thus influence the actions of others. One such is Victorian IT professional Gavin Webber, who has just won the green blogger competition staged by the Alternative Technology Association’s (www.ata.org.au/) magazine, ReNew.
Webber’s attractive blog, The Greening of Gavin (www.greeningofgavin.com/), came about after he was struck down on the road to biodeath by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
‘I was a conspicuous consumer before I saw the movie,’ says Gav. ‘It was a wake-up call. Why did I not know more about climate change? I decided to do my own research to understand the politics and human side of it all.’
Gavin’s blog covers topics as diverse as the benefits of backyard chooks and the insidious influence of Big Oil. His quiet humour might change more minds than a handful of strident protesters could.
Not to be outdone by Nature – that mythical beast we regard as somehow separate from ourselves – some scientists have suggested we can get out of our current troubles through geoengineering – placing giant umbrellas in space to ward off the sun, for example, or even releasing sulfur dioxide particles (!) into the upper atmosphere for the same effect. Anything other than cut down on our beloved consumption.
It was only a short hop and a skip to then consider bioengineering, changing ourselves to adapt to the new climate. NYU professor S Matthew Liao (www.smatthewliao.com) raised the idea of downsizing humans in a report in The Atlantic (www.theatlantic.com/):
‘… reduction could be one way to reduce a person’s ecological footprint. For instance if you reduce the average US height by just 15cm, you could reduce body mass by 21 per cent for men and 25 per cent for women, with a corresponding reduction in metabolic rates by some 15 per cent to 18 per cent, because less tissue means lower energy and nutrient needs…’
Smaller people is not a new concept, at least not in fiction. Dean Swift (1667–1745) had the Lilliputians, Scott Carey grows smaller in the film The Incredible Shrinking Man (http://bit.ly/fltrul) and scifi writer Kurt Vonnegut had the Chinese engineer themselves into a miniature race in his novel Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!.
It certainly got the ethicists thinking – see The Guardian’s roundup of the Atlantic story and the vehement reaction to it at http://bit.ly/ytzQME.
Last week the world as we know it was ending, at least according to the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (http://ameg.me). AMEG scientists have done their own lobbying at a meeting of the British All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change.
Group chair, meteorologist Lord (Julian) Hunt, pointed out ‘There is quite a lot of suppression and non-discussion of issues that are difficult, and one of those is in fact methane’. Difficult in that we all might die? Scientists addressing the group also suggested ‘tech fixes’, including pumping cold seawater into the atmosphere. See the BBC report at http://bbc.in/FOSVZ1.