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The 10% Solution

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

At its best, British humour — the Monty Python dead parrot sketch, for instance — is almost unbearably funny. At its worst, British humour is flat, vulgar, and nasty. An example of that? The video recently released by 10:10.org, under the title “No Pressure” or “There Will Be Blood.”

In the video, climate-change evangelists urge groups of school children, football players and office workers to pledge that they will reduce their carbon footprints. No pressure, of course. But when the unwilling identify themselves, the advocates push a red detonator button, and the laggards are blown into strawberry jam.

And that’s it. That’s all that happens in the video. Loaded with laughs, eh?

The 10:10 carbon-reduction campaign was launched in September last year, based on a Climate Safety report’s claim that a 10% annual cut in the developed world’s emissions would give the planet a fighting chance of avoiding runaway warming. The plan was devised by Franny Armstrong, the director of the innovative environmental docudrama, The Age of Stupid. The idea was to sign up individuals, schools, companies and other groups to commit to reducing their carbon use by 10% by 2010 — and in doing so, to put pressure on governments to take action on climate change.

It was a brilliant idea, and it won the enthusiastic support of numerous major organizations, including Microsoft, Sony, the Tottenham Hotspurs, Adidas, the British Fashion Council, the Methodist Church, several universities and the Royal Mail. The organization also launched a “Lighter Later” campaign to advance British clocks by an hour permanently, giving more daylight at the end of the day, when people are awake, rather than early in the morning when many are still asleep.

The Guardian newspaper became a partner of 10:10, and over the ensuing months ran a series of stories about people who had taken up the challenge, and how they were coping. Its “1010 Honour Roll” describes a great array of actions taken by individuals and organizations — the London Underground turning off escalators late at night, a local council giving a discount on parking to hybrid car owners, Kyocera reducing its paper use by 29%, an historic steam train in Orkney converting from coal to wood waste.

By the beginning of October, more than 96,000 people in 44 countries had signed up, and more than 3000 organizations — including the new British government. And then came the “No Pressure” video, written by Richard Curtis, arguably Britain’s top comedy writer (Mr. Bean, Blackadder, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary) and by Franny Armstrong, the fireball writer and film-maker behind the whole idea.

The film was released on the morning of October 1 — and withdrawn, with apologies, that afternoon. In the wake of the fiasco, Sony and Kyocera withdrew from 10:10, as did 350.org, the climate-change organization headed by respected author Bill McKibben. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, right-wing columnist James Delinpole called the film “ugly, counterproductive eco-propaganda” in which “the environmental movement has revealed the snarling, wicked, homicidal misanthropy beneath its cloak of gentle, bunny-hugging righteousness”.

So there.

There’s some truth in what Delingpole says. The environmental movement does have an element of misanthropy and authoritarianism. But so do some of its critics. Why are we surprised? From al-Queda to Dick Cheney, from Nazism to Stalinism, from the Crusaders to Nova Scotia’s own Governor Cornwallis, lots of people have believed that they have The Answer, that the end justifies the means, and that the people who oppose them are less than fully human.

Agreed, the video was a horrible blunder that played right into the hands of the environmental movement’s opponents. But here’s the irony: I hadn’t heard of 10:10 before the video. I think it’s a great idea, however, so — in the face of the video — I joined, just in time for the big event of 10:10′s first year.

Today is October 10, 2010 — 10/10/10. At 10:00 this morning I’ll be at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, ready to start on one of 6300 Climate Change Work Parties in 187 countries around the world. Want to be part of a team of wicked, homicidal misanthropes viciously planting trees around the city? Come and join us.

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