Prince Harry, Greta and cakeism: the cognitive dissonance clouding the climate change debate

Prince Harry, Greta and cakeism: the cognitive dissonance clouding the climate change debate

Written by Evan Byrne, Account Manager in Madano’s Energy practice.

Cakeism – the art of ‘having your cake and eating it too’ – is an excellent term, which has found a brand new application, outside of the UK’s approach to Brexit negotiations. It seems increasingly apparent that public figures concerned about climate change, love a bit of cakeism themselves, (especially it turns out, when it comes to climate change itself).

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have come under justified criticism for speaking about climate change and the need to protect the environment while simultaneously allegedly making liberal use of private jets.

What seems to be the real problem is not rich people using private air travel, but the growth of cognitive dissonance towards climate change within a section of the climate movement.

Elton John defended the use of the private jet (which he paid for) and said he had made the trip carbon neutral by offsetting the emissions with a donation to carbon reduction projects. However, that act of offsetting doesn’t make the emissions that were put out vanish, and the effectiveness of the offsetting is highly questionable.

This entire thought process of offsetting is a workaround – you damage the climate, but then you offset that damage with something that does either less future damage or tries to claw back those emissions in the future.

One cannot help but be reminded of the ‘Indulgence’, in which (rich) Catholics in the Middle Ages could offset their sin tally with donations to the Church. That was one of the practices that led to the Protestant reformation, a backlash against the blatant hypocrisy of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.

The contradictory thought process on display here is very prevalent. Al Gore is well known for his climate activism, and made sure to fly all around the world to tell everyone about it. Every year, the World Economic Forum, based in Davos, warns us about climate change; the same World Economic Forum which is attended by thousands of CEOs and global elites, who fly in on private jets. The recent ‘Camp Google’ in Sicily (one of Prince Harry’s private jet trips), was the same.

It’s just as well then that we now have an example of someone who is attending such a summit to talk about climate change via a low carbon transport method – ‘school striker’ Greta Thunberg, who is giving a talk on climate at the UN in New York.

But the cognitive dissonance is pervasive, and even Greta is guilty.

There have now been several questions raised over how low carbon the boat trip/PR stunt really is, but the news that that the five man crew which will return the yacht will fly to America (and the crew that took Greta on the outbound journey will fly back), is proving to be quite damaging.

You might think at some point someone organising the trip might have asked if this was the best approach, if the aim was to actually limit carbon output, as opposed to amplify media interest.

There is a real risk with these stories seeping into the public consciousness, because there are two damaging consequences.

Firstly, disillusionment. If the people telling us that we must tackle climate change are themselves are seen as guilty of cakeism, then regular people may become indifferent to tackling climate change themselves. There is a risk that what might be cognitive dissonance now could roll over into outright hypocrisy. Offsetting serves to justify this hypocrisy more than anything else. Even if it does work, it only promises to balance out new emissions, not reduce emissions overall.

The other risk is that this is all a distraction from the real challenge anyway. According to varying statistics, aviation emissions only account for something like 2-5 per cent of total emissions globally. Now it is obviously important to tackle these emissions, but if this is the furore over a few flights, it does not bode well for us for when we need to get around to tackling the other 95 per cent. Communicating that challenge to a public so that they truly understand was is at stake, is a real issue.

What we need now is not virtue signalling, but practical solutions for reducing our emissions.

Madano advises clients across the energy and industry sector space – if you’re interested in learning more please drop me or the team a line. You can also follow Madano on Twitter.

Brecon and Radnorshire – a bumpy landing ahead?

Brecon and Radnorshire – a bumpy landing ahead?

If you’ve been listening to the excellent 13 Minutes to the Moon podcast recently about the Apollo programme, you’ll know that one of the biggest challenges was navigation. The challenge, as put by the presenter Kevin Fong, was to “find your way to the moon, across unchartered, featureless space, without magnetic poles, recognisable landmarks or maps to guide you.”

The solution found was inertial navigation – simply put, if you know where you start, how fast you are travelling, and in which exact direction, then you always know where you are.

Politicians rely on their own method of inertial navigation. In planning for election campaigns, politicians know where they are starting from (the result in the last election in each constituency) and can then draw on polls, canvassing and other methods to detect in which direction things are going (whether they are gaining or losing votes) and how fast they are travelling (how many votes they are gaining or losing).

It’s not perfect, and shocks still happen, but usually most politicians have a sense of what is coming, whether to their benefit or not. And that sense allows them to plan, and to try and make adjustments to change course.

But this navigation system works best when there are only two parties. When there are, as now, at least four major parties, then voter shifts becoming immeasurably more complex – and half of the voter shifts which can determine the outcome do not even involve your party. Put another way – it’s very hard for the Conservatives to influence how voters shift between the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

The Brecon and Radnorshire by-election exemplifies this. The Conservatives did well in what they could control – they halved support for the Brexit Party through the leadership of Boris Johnson, which is explicitly aimed at winning those other voters.

But they still lost. The reason is because the Liberal Democrats successfully squeezed Labour’s vote down to its lowest ever share.

Some commentators might see good signs for the Conservatives in this result. It shows they are squeezing down the Brexit Party, while there is little sign of a successful Labour squeeze on the Liberal Democrats (or vice versa). But this is based on national polls only – what they cannot show is how voters are shifting in individual seats, or how they might shift if an election is called.

Boris Johnson may still chance his arm based on national polling, but it’s pretty clear that the Conservative campaign would be flying without guidance. The Eagle might land safely – but it might not. And they will have no way of knowing until it’s too late to change course.

Written by Harry Spencer, Madano