Christian Aid is lobbying for the wrong things

The Christian Aid charity is campaigning about climate change. There are advertisements in glossy magazines (I saw one in the Sky magazine) depicting poor southern Asians being flooded out of their homes by dirty flood water, with a call for readers to contact their MP to ask him to increase the emissions reductions in the Climate change bill from 60% to 80% in many years time.

The charity is clearly motivated to do their best to help the world’s poor who will be the first to suffer if the pace of climate change increases, as it seems to be. They have identified carbon emissions as the likely cause of rapid climate change, but unfortunately present emissions as the only cause, and I think that is a mistake. Over simplification is misleading.

The Christian Aid website also has a striking picture and a call to toughen up the Climate change bill, in this case by making companies report their carbon emissions. If you want you can see what I mean by clicking on http://www.christianaid.org.uk/stoppoverty/climatechange/actions/email_your_mp.aspx   

I do not think that reporting emissions is useful; the companies who create vast emissions only do so because ordinary people buy their goods. If people refused to buy goods that were made mindless of the eco provenance of the goods, the companies would stop making them. They are merely responding to what we want, what we desire and what we with our labour buy.

Of course we can be manipulated by advertising into wanting or desiring an object, and some of us are, but we have to take responsibility for what we ourselves do, and in the developed world it is the behaviour and demands of the ordinary people that are creating excessive emissions, not that of companies or governments. We all know enough now to modify our behaviour, but we don’t.

But the biggest mistake the Christian Aid advertisements make is to suggest solutions which are not really solutions at all. Let us imagine that as a result of the advertising everyone emails their Member of Parliament (very unlikely) and as a result the distant emissions reduction target is changed (also very unlikely) to 80% and there is a statutory basis for companies reporting emissions.

I really doubt whether this will actually help reduce carbon emissions. We have had a statutory target to abolish fuel poverty in the United Kingdom for many years; it will not be achieved.  In my view targets and reporting simply are short term politically expedients; they are not measures.

The campaign should not be about whether a figure is right or wrong – that simply supports the view that a target can achieve an emission reduction. I think it is time to stop talking about targets and start to implement measures. The Government are mistaken in their view that targets will achieve anything; they do not need a statutory target as a justification for introducing measures in the future. In fact the target rather disguises the fact that very little is being done in actual measures and the case for measures is overwhelming.

Governments do not create the bulk of the emissions – people do by their behaviour and their purchasing habits. It is no use in blaming an industry for creating heavy emissions – we have to blame the customers who ultimately buy the goods made with those emissions.

Of course Governments have a role, but fiddling the numbers and future obligations on a piece of legislation which does not introduce any carbon reduction real life real time measures will not make any difference and I regret that Christian Aid has missed the target by such a wide distance.

I think that Christian Aid would make a better difference if it pushed for measures, not figures. It is a bit like trying to end poverty by measuring economic growth – it does not work.

Finally ,I looked to see whether Christian Aid report their own carbon emissions. They have rather hidden their own light under a bushel because their own carbon footprint is hidden away on their website at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/aboutus/who/publications/carbon_footprint_0607.aspx. They do not just show emissions estimates but give a useful picture of an organisation that is trying to limit its own emissions, and the information is presented in a meaningful way.

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