||modest suggestions for anyone trying to save the world|
Changing times, changing strategies
by Chris Rose
(This article is to be published in the Green Alliance newsletter, Inside Track. See http://www.green-alliance.org.uk)
Since the '9/11' watershed it's been easy to forget that, until the Twin Towers were struck, the defining event of the Bush Presidency was the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.
We now know that the Bush move didn't kill Kyoto. In fact it fanned, rather than dampened, international efforts to save the climate. Yet, his decision could be a sign of political climate change and NGOs need to adapt their strategies accordingly.
Two significant political currents came together in America in 2001 and prompted Bush to try and sink Kyoto. First, political psychology: a new American unilateralism, also expressed in US conduct of war.
Bush shares the instincts of those Americans who are psychologically security-driven, conservative, xenophobic, and happiest with continuation of the past, including the use of fossil fuels.
Key Bush strategists are very different: people of vision, neo-conservative global crusaders, externally focused on protecting American interests. Terror and oil-dependence are the logical pins connecting Bush's domestic mandate to hegemonic foreign policy.
When Bush was elected, this joined a second current: the professionalisation and corporatisation of politics. While this is as important as the move in political psychology, it is far less discussed by existing political players - maybe they're all implicated ?
Professionalisation means the political dialogue becomes politician-with-media rather than politician-with-people, and in first past the post systems, political offers shrink to the few deciding issues for a handful of swing voters. Other groups and issues just get lip-service, hence NGO issue-based politics flourishes, while trust in politicians spirals down.
Corporatisation means politics connects to business rather than the public or ideas. Governments retreat to facilitating commerce and cede delivery to markets. Their role becomes as competing managers of business-parks.
Politicians rising to government find reward not for public service, now seen as quaint, but through the revolving door of corporate appointment. The rejection of Kyoto revealed the control of US climate policy by Exxon, right down to the removal of Bob Watson as Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
To fight global warming, NGOs staked almost everything on the Climate Convention. NGOs relied on government action in an era of dwindling government leadership. Strategically they have failed to capitalise on the fact that NGOs, not professionalised politicians are now the trusted guardians of the public interest.
Families Against Bush or FAB Climate was set up to use brand war in the climate war. FAB Climate created a guided-shopping mechanism to help consumers 'vote' for or against a brand, depending on corporate attitudes to the Bush stance on Kyoto. Its selective boycott call was designed to unpick the supposed solid business support for Bush. After months of persistent faxing and phoning to companies, and publicity for its red (no buy) and green (buy) shopping baskets in the Wall Street Journal, and on the BBC, FAB, with very limited resources, managed to get six companies with a significant US profile to oppose or dissociate from the Bush line. These were Dow Corning, Shell Oil, BP Amoco, Colgate-Palmolive, Cartier of New York and Bank of America.
FAB worked to expose fault-lines between corporations, to help drive politics. FAB was for shoppers, of whom there will always be millions, not protestors or activists. FAB exploited the global brand market to influence politics irrespective of borders. 9/11 ended FAB's shopping days.
Since then, the Enron collapse and growing actions on climate by individual US States, have moderated the Bush Administration's stance on climate but the fundamentals remain. The window for another FAB-type operation has re-opened. More widely, if NGOs want to work the new politics effectively, they too need to change with the times.
Key to this is to have transparent dialogue with companies and consumers, forcing them out as public players in a political arena where politicians claim the public interest is good for business.
Campaigners need mechanisms to tip the rewards of markets towards change in the public interest e.g. to speed the market to switch from fossil fuels to renewables.
Once, this was a practical impossibility - products changed too quickly, communication costs were too high - but the internet has changed that. Business really is running the world, and it sets the pace that politicians follow. Campaigners should make business work for the world.
Details of FAB are available at www.fabclimate.org