Changing tack before Copenhagan

By Mark Dowd
October 28, 2009

There's been a sudden sea change in government language regarding the climate crisis.

Last week, the Prime Minister used his own C-word, "Catastrophic" in warning about the likely price of failure at December's UN summit in Copenhagen. Meanwhile a new "Act on Co2" advert has been playing in peak time slots of TV.

It features a little girl being told a bedtime story by her father. Rabbits and other animals are sinking beneath the waves and houses are being flooded because of CO2 emissions. But we're told that humans are also waking up to the fact that 40% of all these gases come from everyday activities like driving a car and heating our homes and so the grown ups realise they have to act quickly. On a big camera close up the girl says to Dad: "But is there a happy ending?" We are left to the voiceover commentator who tells us that "that is essentially up to us."

So what's going on here? Is this a sign of desperation and anxiety because the pre-Copenhagen talks are going so slowly and are riddled with difficulties? Maybe the government has decided with the opinion polls looking so grim some eight months away from an election that it is time to "tell it as it is."

Whatever the reason, this is a marked change of tack and begs a big question: will this spur people on or be counter-productive?

Green types are often lambasted because of their "doom and glooom" tactics. There will be some who will say it is a waste of time. I disagree. There is, I would suggest, a tricky balancing act between avoiding a situation where people are paralysed with fear but also telling folk the plain truth.

We've skirted around this subject for too long and our leaders have rarely used language and images that really communicate to the nation the perilous state of a climate system which appears close to a variety of runaway developments which take this out of human control. Fear is not a bad place to start - as long as you don't get stuck there. If we have to start there to get people's attention, so be it, but let's move on to personal and societal transformation - an agenda that the Christian faith has more than a thing or two to contribute to.


(c) Mark Dowd is campaign strategist for Operation Noah ( He is well-known for his TV documentaries on the environment and other issues.

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