Welcome to the Big Green Debate! This time we are considering campaigning tactics, with Jacob Williams making the case for direct action, and John Heritage presenting the pro-lobbying lobby!
Please note that there may be a certain level of devil’s advocate in this debate, and the views expressed may not be the real opinions of the writers.
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Sometimes being involved in a campaign can feel like being bullied by the big guy at school. You know it’s not right, and you fell you don’t deserve to be in this situation. Then you realise that you have two options: Report the bully to an adult and hope they will do something, or fight back.
Looking at campaigning, whilst I respect that working through legal channels to pass laws and legislation is often the goal of a campaign, it is incredibly difficult to get Parliament on side. With the amount of money companies with ‘an interest’ can throw at lobbying politicians, they have a massive say into what is passed.
Let’s look at the ‘No Dash for Gas’ example. There is a lot of good work going on in the background with the Energy Bill going through Parliament to prevent a dash for gas by Osborne. But who is aware of this? Why should the Government listen to a small group of educated people, when they should be representing the views of the whole country, as well as companies suggesting what they do over a glass of wine and a steak? This is when direct action plays its part.
When those protesters shut down that power station they achieved two very important victories. One was that they showed the energy companies and the Government that they could not get away with what they were doing, that if they were doing something morally wrong, then there are people out there who will try their hardest to stop them. The second win was that in doing such an impressive and big stunt, they instantly got more media coverage in the national press than most NGO’s could ever dream of. With this they got the whole nation talking about energy generation and created an avenue for other organisations to inform members of the public, who may not have known what is going on in the country.
Money speaks. Actions speak louder than words. The pen is mightier than the sword. Having both trumps all. (Disclaimer: The author does not encourage violence, and is very aware of the cheesiness of the last paragraph.)
The debate about direct action versus more subtle methods is not new. A variety of groups throughout history have tried each tactic, with perhaps the most famous conflict being between the suffragists and suffragettes. In all these cases the question is, what were they trying to achieve? Or, rather, who were they trying to appeal to? This question is important because whichever method is taken, the objective is to convince the other side that your opinion is the correct one, in the hope that your campaign will be acted upon. The environmental movement is certainly not removed from these questions, with organisations such as Greenpeace and P.E.T.A. on the side of direct action and FoE and the WWF focussing more on lobbying.
Greenpeace’s stance appeals strongly to those who already believe in the environmental challenges facing us and their strategy does raise the profile of their organisation internationally. However, as we have seen with the EDF protestors, companies and governments do not react well to direct action, peaceful or not. Nor were the public particularly pleased about Greenpeace’s blockading of petrol stations last year (Guardian, 16/07/12, http://bit.ly/MxXeIk). While public disruptions and subsequent campaigner convictions are normally justified by campaigners as a small price to pay given the risks we face, the public at large often remain unconvinced and refuse their support accordingly.
No, the ruling class and general public deal in facts, hard, cold and on paper. In the current economic climate, the currency of governmental persuasion is currency. We might not like it, but George Osborne is never going to be convinced by a closed power station any more than the EDF directors. He might, however, be convinced by the costs of environmental devastation or benefits of green growth (estimated to have added 0.5% to GDP in 2012 http://bit.ly/PjCyv5). It is in the pursuit of persuasive facts we should be focussing our energies, as it is only through these that the people who (unfortunately) matter will ultimately be convinced.