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.

Humboldt

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  Some of the sub-atomic particles I learned about in school have been superseded by new, sexier ones which are even less easy to grasp and even more likely to be replaced.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.

arseholes

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.

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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.