Thursday, July 05, 2007

When it pours, who reigns?

Newsnight has a piece tonight on floods. I thought I'd pre-empt a tad, based on a key comment in their blurb.

'...finding that it's difficult to pin down who out of the agencies and local authorities on the ground is really in charge. '

So the money pours (sorry) in, but no one in government or quango who gets paid (handsomely, to retirement and beyond) to spend it like water (bit of a theme here) can even be identified, much less held to account.

Sums up the way are 'governed' these days pretty well, I'd say.

Ad in£initum

Good question: Will PM Brown cut Labour’s adspend?

Me, the guy with a public service medium: "Gord, I hope not!"

Me, the poor taxpayer: "Gord, I hope so."

Me, the adman/publisher/parent who believes that persuasion is a great thing to invest in... if done well: "Gord. Whatever you do, just make sure the ROI's add up!"

I stand in awe of the sheer amount of guff being funded, by 'us', to persuade 'us' to do stuff. Most makes a lot of sense, though one could argue 'til the cows come home about the ethics of using public money to further certain agendas that may or may not be as in in the public interest as they might.

But where I get very concerned is when the vast amounts splurged seem to be placed with quangos to dispense, and the actual numbers all get a little lost in the wash, along with who is responsible, accountable, etc.

Take my pet area, the environment. We now have literally scores of NGOs, often it seems with overlapping remits, who first of all establish empires of offices, officers and... comms budgets.

Then they blow them. And, speaking personally as a strategist and creative, they blow them on some pretty odd or poor messages.

And even if there is measurement, the measures sometimes don't add up. If I had £20M to spend, I should reckon on a 7% 'increase in awareness', as I think I saw one such quango crow recently, as being pretty average. I only just put down a PR from another, with a vast online budget and lord alone knows how many staff, bigging up a site that has had 7,000 hits! Er... my aunty's has had more.

And then, to add insult to injury, one gets the odd tabloid expose of the sheer number of board members of said quangos whose already multi hundred thou salaries are further boosted by meeting and exceeding targets.

So let me get this straight. Our money is used to punt out endless comms to get us to do more (which may or may not actually help the real issue) to boost rates that help us fork out more in bonuses?

So... let's make that a qualified no to your question.

At least, not until the accountability is improved.

Green Rush

Jumping on the big ‘green’ bandwagon - quite.

We are just at the start of a flood ('scuse the tasteless pun) of 'look how green we are' ads. Most, so far, fill me with dread, simply by the sheer crassness of the message, bolted on top of a usually pretty thin actual initiative.

And it's got me to wondering just how much longer it will... can continue. Because if in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, then if all in the land have gone green, to stand out from the crowd (which, let's face it, is pretty much what A&P is) those in charge of the purse strings may either tire or seek to differentiate. And much as it may seem attractive, I can only see Mutually Assured Greenification as being taken so far.

As one whose philosophy is pretty much predicated on the value of persuasion and seeing good environmental practice as an opportunity to embrace rather than a problem to 'deal with', I nonetheless cannot also help but think what could be DONE to help make this a better planet for future generations with £7.5M, rather than blowing it on a campaign to blow green smoke up various orifices.

No wonder the majority of the consuming public think it's all a bit of a lark.

DEFRA Appoints Heavyweight

In ol' Golden's new team we have a new Environment Minister that we know little about at all, and have so far heard little from at all.

Hoewever, DEFRA appear to have made a significant appointment today. Professor Robert Watson, no less than the one time chair of the IPCC, and currently Chief Scientist and Senior Advisor for Sustainable Development at the World Bank, has been brought in as their new Cheif Scientific Advisor. From the Government News Network.

Let's hope his new role can prove influential in bringing Hilary Benn up to speed in what is surely going to become an increasingly important ministerial position.


I spotted this from BYM News - strange that nobody else seems to have reported Hilary Benn's (aka, in the tabloids now, 'Veggie Benn') comments from the Local Government Associations conference at all.

"Nothing is of greater importance to all of us today than the environment and the future of our planet. As councils and national governments we need to work together with citizens and businesses to provide a clean and green local environment and make sure that we are all tackling climate change and making best use of the world's limited resources. It's a task for all of us, G8 leader and council leader alike, and citizens too. This is the new politics; personal responsibility, not leaving it to others. I am my planet's keeper."

Well, that sounds quite encouraging, Hilary Benn certainly knows how to talk the talk - let's hope he follows up his words with genuine actions.

Houses in order

I'm sorry, I can't let this - In denial - pass unremarked.

Actually a pretty decent article, and the comments in reply will be interesting (not that I can make any, as I seem to have been 'de-listed' as a verified respondent, which is frustrating).


Look at the ad panel at the top. It's for Land Rover. Now I don't have as big an issue as some about 4x4s, but this is about a journey from 3 separate sources in Europe, and I very much doubt most will require four wheel drive.

So who is in denial? The public? Or the media or claim to be promoting good environmental practice whilst unable to resist making a buck or two in any way they can? I have sympathy for such as ourselves, currently subject to an automated system, but this is a major medium well able to decide it can no longer reconcile deeds that do not match words.

At least, if they wish to remain credible in my eyes.

ADDENDUM - I am now back in their good books. Apparently I got 'deleted' from the system because of bouncing emails. Sounds painful.

The delay was worth it, if only for a very interesting insight from a poster about the way the stats were interpreted. Well worth reading to see how what is published can get re-published in a different way entirely.

ADDENDUM 2 - Having been, possibly with reason, ignored for trying to raise the issue of media hypocrisy, I have decided to try a new tack to see if I can tweak a scientist to reply:

Some smart cookies here. So I'll ask a question I asked at the Venturefest in Harwell, with another bunch of very smart cookies (boffin and banker variety) all trying to figure out how to make money from climate change (there didn't seem much doubt it was happening, or that meddling with man's contribution was going to be BIG!).

What about deforestation?

A wee while ago I saw a small piece on Newsnight that had the loss of carbon sink from this as being in excess of the output of CO2 from the US.

Now it seems to me that, if we are worried about timescales and immediate enviROIs, sweating the trivia (plastic bags and 4x4s and even budget flights) pales into insignificance in importance to simply stopping the erosion of a mature, active and operational mitigation system.

Now I know the UK is but an acorn the great 'may contain nuts' collection of intolerances that make up our global Caesar's salad. But surely, with the power and influence of our City and high powered diplomats like Air Blair and David Miliband, we can devote some effort, with some degree of success, in tackling an immediate and real issue as a matter of priority? As opposed to, say, offsetting tomorrow's concert by paying for a fir being whacked in the firmament, hoping it doesn't croak and gets to do its job in a decade. Or trading some family's holiday allowance with a German construction company to help fund the subsidy for them to plant a wind farm that may not be quite as efficient, as often as the press release claims.

Ok, you can now all go back to squabbling over whether anything is happening or not.


I'm stumped. I've been it before. I will be again. And I certainly am now. And it is epitomised by this: MEP HITS OUT AT MEDIA OVER CLIMATE CHANGE DOUBT...

... from a press release which I print in full here:

LUCAS LIKENS CLIMATE SCEPTICISM TO HOLOCAUST DENIAL - GREEN MEP Caroline Lucas has hit out at the media after a poll revealed that a majority of people in the UK believe that scientists aren’t agreed about the facts of climate change – or that it is being caused by human activity. According to latest figures by pollsters Ipsos-MORI, some 56 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Many leading experts still question if human activity is contributing to climate change”. Just 22 per cent disagreed. Dr Lucas, who is a member of the European Parliament’s Environment and Climate Change committees, said: “This is very worrying. Politicians will never take the steps necessary to cut emissions unless voters demand that they do so, and they won’t demand it if they remain sceptical about their role in changing the climate in the first place. “The media are, at least in part, to blame: their obsession with appearing to be balanced means discussions of climate change tend to have a naysayer arguing either that climate change isn’t happening, or that it isn’t manmade, as though there is a serious ongoing scientific debate about this. “But the fact is that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change: almost every scientist in the world agrees that climate change is happening, that it is being fuelled by human activity, and that our best chance of ameliorating its worst impacts lies in dramatically cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. “By suggesting otherwise the media is, albeit inadvertently, promoting dangerous scepticism about climate change – and undermining our chances of doing anything about it.” Dr Lucas, who was named Politician of the Year in the recent Observer Ethical Awards 2007, likened climate change scepticism to holocaust denial. “The media’s attempt to seem balanced is in fact distorting the public’s understanding of perhaps the most pressing issue facing us all today – and it’s tragic. It doesn’t make any sense: would the media insist on having a holocaust-denier to balance any report about the second word war? Of course not - but by insisting on giving so much airtime to climate change deniers, it is doing exactly the same thing.”

This is yet another, oddly familiar salvo, that can be added to the exchanges noted of late, including some we've had most latterly on these very pages just yesterday.

Here I am, trying to do my best to do what's best for my kids' futures on this planet, and I seem to have found myself in the BOFDi camp.

Let me be clear. I think the evidence for climate change (Global warming is getting pretty discredited as a term , at least to use in public debate, as low temperatures and flash floods are hard to reconcile with the term) is pretty clear. I also believe that, at best, what mankind is doing sure isn't helping. So anything we do... now... in mitigation to slow, halt and reverse the process is a priority, especially as, to this 'live for tomorrow' society, we are talking efforts that equate to turning a supertanker, inasmuch as what we do today won't get noticed - good or bad - for several decades.


I simply cannot go along with the notion that 'green is always good', and in the name of climate change action all manner of statements and/or initiatives can be allowed to go undebated as to validity and value. I guess it is one of the greater failings of the democratic process, especially when time is of the essence.

But while I have great respect for Dr. Lucas, when I see such as this '...their obsession with appearing to be balanced means discussions of climate change tend to have a naysayer arguing either that climate change isn’t happening...' I have to fall on the side of a much maligned (usually by me) media.

What is she saying? That 'we' shouldn't try to be balanced? There is an inherent arrogance here, that the majority are not to fit to make up their own minds up, and need to have only what is fit to shape them spoonfed by independent sources, such (well, within certain boundaries of credibility) as the media.

If the naysayers are holding sway, why are the majority of people accepting their stances? This is what needs to be addressed, and in ways civilised society is used to and must expect: debate and persuasion.

I simply can't accept you 'rig' it to suit your point of view prevailing, not matter how urgent the need to get moving.

And let's not forget, as noted also on these pages, climate change is also being used as a very convenient tool to excuse, distract from or otherwise promote activities that do still bear scrutiny, along with the agendas of those making the most noise, and with the most to profit from ROI over enviROI, especially if... when... they become the Gods of Green, whose word is taken as gospel with no naysaying permitted.

I'd hate to get to a situation similar to the one often found, for instance with Africa, where legitimate concerns on activities conducted and claims made can be easily deflected by accusations of 'racism'.

Please not let's have 'greenism' being bandied about in the same way.