The Climate Campaign v Make Poverty History

CC Bali polar bearsOver on the Political Climate blog, Andrew Pendleton has been musing on the difference between the 2005 ‘make poverty MPH nelsonmandelahistory’ and ‘stop climate chaos’ campaigns. In his view the climate campaigners have failed to break out of the ‘green wedge’ of environmentalists, whereas MPH went mainstream. His explanation for the differences? MPH used one simple and shocking stat – a child dies unnecessarily every three seconds – to devastating effect, whereas the climate debate is a contested statistical porridge of percentages, parts per million and projected temperature rises. “The solutions to climate change are complex, costly and will have a direct impact on the lives of those whom campaign groups need to engage to be successful – i.e. the public in the rich world….. especially in comparison with the links between increasing aid or cutting debts and poverty reduction (even if in reality one does not necessarily beget the other).” “MPH emerged from the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which meant development campaign groups had experience of working together; the environmental campaigning sector is apparently less cohesive.” Andrew concludes “The axioms of popular campaigning usually require there to be a clear victim, a clear villain and a clear solution. We might need to tamper with these for successful climate campaigning. Apparently future generations are too distant as victim and government-set emissions caps and lifestyle changes are not cohesive and appealing enough as solutions. However, the biggest problem is that, much as we can point the finger at big oil, or lambast weak political leadership, climate change is a bugger of a campaign issue because the utlimate villain is…” Interesting, but actually, I think he’s being too kind on MPH, and too hard on the climate change campaign. At least in its topline messaging, MPH reduced a massive challenge (development) to a simple question of cash (the trade reform bit never really got anywhere). In my view, and as Andrew notes in passing, that seriously misrepresented the nature of development, hence the focus in From Poverty to Power on the central role of active citizens and effective states in developing countries. But it made for a great campaign. Political leaders are (or were) always happier to sign a cheque, (or at least promise to put one in the post) than to try and undertake difficult and traumatic systemic change at home. And such systemic change – in technology, energy, transport, land use and even our understanding of growth, prosperity and well-being – is unavoidable if we are to tackle climate change. The climate change campaign is simply orders of magnitude more ambitious than MPH. Other differences? MPH took place in a global economic boom; the climate campaign in a slump. MPH’s target was ‘eight men in a room’ at Gleneagles, while tackling climate change needs action and agreement from the milling hordes of leaders from all countries, or at least many more of them. MPH was perhaps the last gasp of a crude North-South view of the world, and so fitted easily with the political rhetoric of both developed and developing countries, whereas climate science and the hard fact of carbon emissions demand an entirely new geopolitics that is proving hard to construct. Any additions?]]>

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5 Responses to “The Climate Campaign v Make Poverty History”
  1. Eliot Whittington

    Another one for now is the fundamental questions about how to tackle or even talk about climate change that are still going on… and have been given a good airing on political climate. I.e. do we talk about the impacts or the hope of a low-carbon future? Do we cap & trade or tax and invest? Not saying that development is free from these debates but it’s much more homogenous from the point of view of the UK NGOs that lead MPH.
    And also, post Copenhagen I think you have the question of whether or not it would be just climate change, or a wider sustainability question. Do you add in all the other crises (land use, food production, desertification, biodiversity, etc.)…

  2. Nicholas Colloff

    This is probably why we will not get a climate deal (and if we do, it will not be implemented). There is no consensus on what should be done and why and many forces (internal to ourselves, as well as external) are pitched against building any such thing (until perhaps we are confronted with inescapable reality, rather than evidence).
    One counter-productive feature of the environmental movement has been its ‘Peter’ tendency to ‘cry wolf’ and like medieval (and later) apocalypse watchers even set dates (many of which came and went). It is one of the many arguments I had with the lovable infuriating late Teddy Goldsmith!
    Peter, of course, eventually does get eaten (except in more modern pc versions) but has contributed to his own fate by creating prior mistrust in his predictions.

  3. This is getting a bit confused between t’s tricky to compare Make Poverty History – one very specific high-profile campaign that courted celebrity, and was then undone by that same celebrity; with amorphous climate change / environmental campaigns.
    The comparison between MPH & SCC specifically is much more interesting, particularly the opportunity cost of avoiding the Geldof-broadcast model, in favour of attempting a more grassroots mobilisation. SCC delivered the biggest climate change march in the world, and Gordon Brown compared it to MPH, but there was nothing like the numbers.
    I don’t think you’re asking specific enough questions. The questions should be:
    Which campaign was more popular?
    Which campaign had more impact?
    Which campaign faced greater opposition?
    Which campaign really tackles the issue it was setup for?
    For me the more interesting question is should we be moving closer to the climate camp model, or sinking more money into big budget marketing to compete with the corporate campaigns.
    Perhaps there’s a quicker win to be had through tackling corporate lobbying head on?

  4. An interesting post and comments. I think the points about cheques versus change and the concentration of actors really get to the heart of the matter.
    However, another lesson that emerges from the contrast is the framing of the message: moral versus science or moral versus self-interest.
    The messaging in the MPH campaign was stunning in its simplicity: the finger clicks, the white bands etc. There are obvious negative consequences of this in terms of education and a sustainable foundation of support for when poverty isn’t history the following year!
    But the other thing is that the MPH campaign did differently was that it comes across as an overtly moral issue. SCC doesn’t.
    This probably matters. Research carried out with a colleague into what drives UK support for development in 2005 showed that moral concerns were much more likely to generate support for development.
    Link to the paper here:
    If we can assume the same for the environment, which seems reasonable, then SCC needs to find a moral frame. So, er, off the top of my head: what about ‘Stop Killing Gaia’? If you had to, you could have some nice SKG bands, perhaps blue, green with flecks of brown and white to symbolise earth from space?

  5. I think the original article misses two points:
    1. There was no real opposition to the MPH campaign. Even the most exploitative international corporation or suspect government was going to support the goals of erradicating poverty. There were not vested interests openly stating that third world poverty was a myth or that poverty is essential to preserve our way of life. The “sell” was relatively easy to make – everyone wants to be seen to oppose extreme poverty, even if they then don’t do anything about it.
    2. The MPH was a coalition of groups that were able to be disciplined at high levels, while allowing for a lot of variation at a local level. The coalition element of the MPH campaign I think had a great deal to do with why it was so “successful” – lots of different groups were able to sign on to the goals of the campaign, which were broad and mainstream. Even groups that said the MPH goals were “not enough” were basically agreeing that “something had to be done”.
    –> More here:

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