Climate change is a thing. Crikey. Who knew?

I’m writing this on the day when the IPCC has issued its latest report to tell us that it is beyond doubt that human activity is driving climate change.

It makes grim reading.

As the Guardian puts it:

“Eight years in the making, authored by the world’s leading climate scientists and approved by 195 national governments, the report confirmed the meaning of the evidence before our eyes: the cumulative impact of human activity since the Industrial Revolution is “unequivocally” causing rapid and potentially catastrophic changes to the climate.”

No shit Sherlock?

Here’s an excerpt from a speech I read recently:

“The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising,and the temperature of the earth’s surface is increasing.

“There is now an effective consensus among the world’s leading scientists and serious and well informed people outside the scientific community that there is a discernible human influence on the climate, and a link between the concentration of carbon dioxide and the increase in temperature.”

“Over the next century temperatures might rise by a further 1 to 3.5 degrees centigrade, and that sea levels might rise by between 15 and 95 centimetres. Some of that impact is probably unavoidable, because it results from current emissions.”

“It is an important moment for us. A moment when analysis demonstrates the need for action and solutions.

“If we are all to take responsibility for the future of our planet, then it falls to us to begin to take precautionary action now.”

Who gave this speech? Who could this visionary be?

Was it the view of a politician jumping on the bandwagon in summer 2021 as we head for the COP21 talks in Scotland? An eco-warrior splinter group, demonstrating on the streets? A Think Tank? University research body?

Strangely, no.

It was a speech given by the Chairman of Oil Major BP, at Stanford University in – and this is the good bit – May 1997.

That’s twenty four years ago.

It was followed by a global advertising campaign and lobbying of governments all over the world – not just by enlightened energy companies but by NGOs, science bodies and campaigners of all kinds. For twenty four years.

We have known all of this for decades. Of course we have.

The only people who didn’t know this, were paid not to know it.

That’s what really makes you despair. Because that hasn’t changed either.

Isn’t technology great? (we’re doomed)

Er no.
I started keeping a record.
My office uses a wizzy video conferencing suite called Zoom for a regular Monday morning process meeting. It works approximately two-thirds of the time. When it doesn’t, we resort to a smart phone on speaker or a land line.
On iPhone, Siri recognises my command and gives me a useful solution less than a quarter of the time.  It would be particularly helpful if it could give me directions when I’m driving (‘hey Siri, open Google Maps and get me directions to home‘).  This has never yet worked.
The wi-fi on South Western Railways will connect to my phone once in every eight attempts.
You know what this means?
It means I need some more interesting and important stuff to worry about.

Like David Wallace-Wells‘ new book on climate change.  He opens the story with the immortal opening lines “it’s worse, much worse than you think”.  if you’re me, that’s quite grim, because I already thought it was terrible.  My big corporate energy company client described me as ‘him with the doomsday scenario’.

Wallace-Wells is accused of Armaggeddonising– surely the best new verb to have been created in recent times.

Now that’s better.

Well what do you know?

When I was a child, I thought my Dad literally knew everything.  “I know everything” he said, on countless occasions.  Others have proposed that the naturalist, Alexander Von Humboldt, was the last man actually to know everything, and he died in 1859.  The ‘last man to know everything’ mantle has also been attributed to a number of others, from Aristotle to Francis Bacon.


Needless to say, in the modern world it’s impossible for any one of us to know everything, nor even a large part of the body of human knowledge.  We can’t even know everything about the many things that affect us directly on a daily basis.  And that’s a problem.

Even the things we do know, we don’t really know.  We believe them, but what’s the basis of that? Without going all epistemological, sometimes it’s through empirical evidence, but mostly it’s because we learned it from a source which we trust.

It’s increasingly a problem, because trusting others has become a risky business.  Well, actually it always was.  Take any piece of supposed knowledge you have and really interrogate it.  Take the laws of physics.  Some of the sub-atomic particles I learned about in school have been superseded by new, sexier ones which are even less easy to grasp and even more likely to be replaced. And those are the very foundations of matter.

When it comes to more mundane stuff, we’re on even dodgier ground.  I worked for many years in the energy business and everything I saw reinforced my belief that climate change is happening, it’s partly induced by man’s activities and that it will likely lead to the end of civilisation.  How long that doomsday scenario will take is uncertain, but probably within a few dozen generations.  However, some people genuinely doubt this.  In response, I commonly cite the fact that all the reputable scientists in the area agree with me.  But, if I’m honest, that’s only hearsay.  I’ve only actually spoken to a handful of scientists.  Anyway, scientific theories evolve and scientists change their prevailing wisdom over time.  That’s the nature of science.

And now, the rest of the world has cottoned on to this Cartesian doubt.  Encouraged by idiots people like Michael Gove (“People in this country has had enough of experts“) it seems anything goes, and authority is history.  Anyone can claim any old nonsense and there’s no requirement for evidence.  And consequently we’re right in the shit.  Because all this plays into the hands of the demagogues and the hate preachers.  Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and The Daily Mail.  And Brexit.


This has implications for brands and businesses too.  Corporate reputation is fundamentally based on trust.  Historically, that trust was built on the behaviour and ‘body language’ of a brand over time.  I think it still is, but the pillars of trust seem to be in flux.  Transparency is the vogue, but that means different things to different people.  One man’s transparency is another man’s clever manipulation.

Indeed the idea of trust itself can become a subject for a new brand promise.  I like the recent campaign for fruit drink Oasis, which takes this and plays games with it.


So there you have it.  Politics, philosophy, climate change and advertising.  Everything I love, all in one place.  We’re completely buggered, but there’s a neat insight for some ironic advertising.

Another great green smokescreen

Lat week the British government, love them, announced they would ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.  On the face of it, that could be the most important headline around the environment in decades.  And so it is.  A very important headline.

I’ll just make two observations:

First – it’s obviously total bollocks. It’s hard to imagine a more cynical measure intended to deflect the public’s attention from the authorities’ abandonment of every green promise they have ever made.

For starters, the announcement was made in the same week the UK government failed, once again to meet its EU targets on pollution.  Funny; no headlines about that.

And it comes a week after the same government cancelled the electrification of three rail lines – so the trains in large parts of Wales, the Midlands and the Lake District will be running not on electricity but, taste the irony, on diesel.

But for the real story of our green government you have to look at pricing.  That’s where – through duty and tax – government has the biggest direct influence.  Over recent years  people have been priced out of public transport and back into their cars.

According to Caroline Lucas (Green Party) writing in The Guardian: To get a real sense of the transport priorities of recent governments it’s worth considering how the cost of getting around has changed. While the real price of travelling by car has plummeted by 16% since 1997, train fares are up 23%, and coaches and buses up 33%. Shockingly, the real cost of domestic flights dropped 16% between 2010 and 2015 too.

So far, so predictably short-term and manipulative.It’s entirely predictable.

Second – it’s an interesting example of what behavioural economists talk about as the immediacy effect or temporal discounting. When the argument for greener energy was focused on climate change – an idea so ‘long-term’ in nature most of us will be dead before it’s really important – the policy response was negligible.  There are no votes in a policy that will be hugely important a hundred years from now.  But now we’re talking about pollution today, here and now in our cities, that’s a different matter.  There could be votes in clean air today where there were none in saving the planet next century.

So we may get some more telling headlines.  Who knows, one day we may even get some policies.  But we’re still doomed.

Climate Who?

Where is climate change in the UK general election campaign, as it enters its latter stages? Apart from occasional mentions by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, our greatest collective threat is conspicuous by its absence.

According to The Guardian, Climate change is not so much the elephant in the room, it’s the elephant in the cellar, stuffed as far away as possible from the debate and ignored by the politicians and the pundits who follow their every  soundbite.

I have some good news and some bad news

First the good news.

According to the Madano consultancy, data just released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that the EU is should exceed its targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  Not just exceed them.  Exceed them by 20% by 2020, eight years before its deadline.  The EEA expects emissions to be 22.5% lower in 2020 than they were in 1990. Hurrah (I’ve been very pessimistic on this for a long time, so I’m swallowing hard and trying not to be churlish).

Meanwhile, as emissions fell across Europe, they rose by 3.2% in the UK. Boo.

Why is this not surprising? Minsters recently blocked a series of new wind farm proposals and the current government has created a landscape of uncertainty which makes it almost impossible to invest in renewable energy.

I wonder if someone somewhere is polishing off David Cameron’s promise to be the greenest government in history, preparing to insert it somewhere meaningful during the next election campaign.