Freesteel Blog » Serious Change cannot happen without serious tactics

Serious Change cannot happen without serious tactics

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009 at 10:31 pm Written by:

Several days ago I woke up with an awful hangover from ranting all night in the pub atwith Francis, a founder of Serious Change, some kind of campaign action group attempting to get the government and the public to take serious action about converting to a low-carbon economy without mentioning “climate change”, which they have deemed as a green lefty political turn-off.

The theory goes that because the issue gets pigeonholed by people as some sort of hippy-eyed woolly-left-wing radical idea, they then ignore it. So if you try and press the idea of the need for a low-carbon economy from within some other harder category (eg national security), then it might get taken seriously, and may even be adopted by right wing groups who get a lot of media coverage, like The Taxpayers Alliance — whom I think are just there to echo-chamber the extremist views of the newspaper proprietors whose media outlets cite them and lie about their credibility.

Now, I think I remember saying that I thought he had this whole thing backwards. The media and the public don’t categorize the existential threat of climate change as an environmental issue, and then ignore it. What they do is first choose to ignore it, and then categorize it as an environmental issue.

Consequently, it makes no odds what people or politicians say they categorize it as. You can bust your ass getting it out of that category, and they’ll put it into another one equally false and equally ignorable. This happens with all political issues, from financial policy to the procurement of weapons systems for so-called defence. It’s called lying. It sends you away on a wild goose chase for a while so you stop bothering them. Don’t fall for it.

The real way to win a political debate is to split the opposition — which is best done by dividing those who occasionally think from those who are idiots and can’t. In other words, cause them to argue with each other.

I suggested taking on the car drivers.

No. Don’t do that. We don’t want to offend them. Everyone loves their cars. We need them on our side. We won’t get anywhere if we attack them.

Listen, I said, you know all those rows of streetlights on the motorways and places where no pedestrian can walk? Well I want every last one of them off. They burn a huge amount of energy and they do absolutely nothing useful because all cars already have frigging headlights, don’t they?

But they’re good for driving at night when you’re tired, they’re not so hard on your eyes, etc.


Why do we put up with pandering to the comfort of car drivers all the time? Why do only they count? You’ve got David MacKay’s Without Hot Air publication. In the future there will be no streetlights on highways at all. You know that. I know that. And this is something we can do today without any added infrastructure, because all cars have headlights!

I want you to calculate how much energy will be saved by doing this immediately.

And for the rest of the streetlights where people walk about, you can put in this Dial4Light scheme. Here’s the Daily Mail report on this story:

In Britain the Highway Agency has already warned it is researching the safest areas to implement a nighttime black-out which will be launched next year as part of an energy efficiency strategy.

Local authorities including West Sussex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Essex and Powys are also bringing in similar initiatives – despite motoring groups warning of an increased risk of accidents.

Regarding the motorway lights, it seems I am already behind the times:

That Times article says:

Lighting will be turned off late at night on hundreds of miles of motorway despite an admission from the Highways Agency that a small increase in crashes is the likely result.

The measure is being introduced primarily to reduce carbon emissions but it will also save the agency several million pounds a year in electricity costs…

The agency has reassessed the benefits of motorway lighting and found that they were exaggerated. Research 20 years ago calculated that lighting cut crashes by 30 per cent, but the revised estimate argues a 10 per cent reduction.

Convinced yet that this is an issue that can be used to split car-driving-should-be-as-comfortable-and-safe-as-possible-above-all-else lobby?

No point in me putting this idea in a long rambley email which will get ignored, when it can go on a blog for future reference after it gets ignored.

You’re going to have to get all the figures. The only legitimate case people can make against switching off all streetlights that are beneficial only to headlamp wielding cars is the quantifiable increase in safety case. [Get hold of that Highways Agency reassessment and use it]

Fine, you say. If you want to use safety as an argument, and you’re happy with it as it is now, we’ll balance out the extra danger by a reduction in the speed limit to 55 miles per hour on all highways where streetlights have been turned off.

How would you like that!

Get the speed limit reduction safety trade-off numbers from the Highways Agency and use them to split the car driving lobby from their plain and simple love of driving their cars fast and in comfort at all times of the day and night. I guarantee they will shut up about this minuscule crash accident rate increase when faced with a trade-off against their precious danger-inducing speed.

Get them arguing too much about safety and danger on the roads, and the speed limit comes down. They would be wise to keep quiet as we turn off all their unnecessary motorway lamps. Of course, many of the loud-mouth petrol-heads won’t get the message and go on about safety, while the more clever ones among them try to shut them up.

Maybe if driving was less pleasurable, smooth, quick, easy, low-risk and well-lit, fewer people would choose to drive — often to somewhere that they are only going to drive back from after a few hours — and therefore fewer people would die from driving.

Just how do they highway safety these days? Is it deaths per mile per person driven, or is it deaths per day per person, whether or not they choose to drive?

It’s lucky that health statistics work like that — number of people who die per year from smoking related deaths, as opposed to the number of deaths per cigarette smoked — or there would be no point in encouraging people to stop smoking, would there?

Oh, and Cory Doctorow, don’t think I’m off your case, now that I’ve seen you’ve reviewed David MacKay’s without hot air book. How many hundreds of thousands of air-miles did you fly last year to avoid doing book signings over the internet, then?


  • 1. Lisa Evans replies at 4th May 2009, 12:52 pm :

    As this is a blog entry for future reference, I would like to take credit for the backwards Serious Change idea you outlined.

    To be clear, the aim of this Serious Change project is to put together on the Internet good evidence that low carbon energy and technology has advantages. This involves thinking through the details of applying the David MacKay energy plans in terms of economic benefits to the country. This is useful information.

    If we can present this in journalist size pieces, which is something we could learn from the The Taxpayers Alliance and other such groups, then all the better.

    Maybe you are right, and the media won’t bite, or they will distort. But at the very least it will be useful to have for future reference.

  • 2. Lisa Evans replies at 5th May 2009, 10:28 am :

    Anyway, could you explain what you mean by ‘split the opposition’ in a bit more detail, and if it happens what will it achieve to help us switch to low carbon energy?

  • 3. Julian Todd replies at 7th May 2009, 8:37 am :

    I thought it was obvious. As every child knows, they’re more likely to get what they want if they can get a different promise from each of their parents and then play them off against one another.

    If the motorists are no longer united behind Clarkson or the taxpayers alliance or whatever front group is claiming to speak for them, then they’ll not be able to be an effective opposition against the necessary changes.

    All changes in position require a transitional period where the political opinion is divided and then renegotiated around the new position.

    I do not mean that the motoring interests should remain in a position of division permanently. I mean that there will not be a new message from them unless there is an act of a splitting at some point. They can unify later around something else.

    The current position that must be split are that car driver’s wishes are supreme and are not to be compromised for anything, and that any give back must be adequately compensated.

    Here’s another example.

    In the Iraq war debate, the pro-war people pressed for a split in the anti-war people by arguing a divide between those who were pacifists and those who believed that there could sometimes be cases for military action. They did this by talking about all sorts of hypothetical examples that had nothing to do with the case at hand. And they won the debate where it mattered (in Parliament).

    With cars and highway lighting, here is a case where you can split between those drivers who believe their ease and comfort are non-negotiable, and those who believe that there has got to be some compromises.

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