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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

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Ranked: 7 Celebrity Strategies To Make The Climate Inactive Active

7 celebrity strategies for carbon drawdown effective climate activism

Our verdicts on the strategies of 7 iconic figures who’ve tried to get us to change our behaviour – how effective are they in speeding up carbon drawdown?

Greta Thunberg

Strategy: Guilt Shaming

Since hitting the headlines as a 15-year-old schoolgirl protester in 2018, ‘Greta’ has graduated to the single-name status usually enjoyed by global music, fashion or sports stars. 

For better or worse, Greta has become a global eco-standard-bearer, shorthand for whatever hero/villain role her supporters/detractors choose to cast her in.

As she’s matured, Greta has adapted her strategy. Initially a Stat Blaster (see George Monbiot below) with the simple appeal of ‘listen to the scientists’, her approach has become more sophisticated as she’s matured.

Greta’s youth confers a powerful status as ‘the voice of a generation’. Her message, and fundamental strategy, is Guilt Shaming.

From ridiculing government policy (‘Build Back Better. Blah Blah Blah’) to counter-trollling Andrew Tate’s boasts about his car emissions’ (‘, Greta has become one of social media’s most adept and effective operators.

But is she effective? Greta’s critics, like her putdowns, certainly benefit the social media platforms that profit from outraged responses on both sides. But does her Guilt Shaming strategy change any minds?

Rent-a-gob pontificators regularly tackle the issue of Greta’s strategy, but so do academics. A footnote for a chart in a peer-reviewed article published by The Yale Program on Climate Change called The Greta Thunberg Effect includes the following clarification:

Values are unstandardized b-values from moderated mediation analysis. Values for Liberals and Conservatives are conditional unstandardized b-values at mean – 1SD and mean + 1SD of political ideology (measured on a self-placement scale of 1 = Very Liberal to 5 = Very Conservative) respectively. ns.  = p > .05, ** = p < .01, *** = p < .001

Our verdict may be more gut-feeling than this admirable attempt to quantify Greta’s impact, but at least it’s easier to understand.


  • High profile rallying figure with high social media reach & engagement
  • Appeals to science and fact
  • Challenges media ‘balance’, helps move ‘Overton Window’ of public debate


  • Convenient hate figure for opposition
  • Youth can be dismissed as ‘inexperience’ or naivety
  • Bellicose tone can entrench opposition attitudes

See Through Verdict: 5/10

Part of the answer, but not the solution.

Aesop’s Sun

Strategy: Persuasive Nudging

Our first fictional contender. If you’re unfamiliar with the fable, here’s a precis:

The North Wind and The Sun challenge each other to remove the coat from a man.

The North Wind blows icy blasts, the man pulls his coat tighter.

The Sun beams warmth, the man places his coat across his arm.

There are many versions of this story, and strategy, around the world. ‘Wind and Sun’ even has its own category (‘Type 298’) in the Arne-Thompson-Uther category of global folk tales.

Across cultures, centuries, and continents, the moral is clear – persuasion trumps force. Religious, philosophical, moral commentators of all stripes cite this fable as an exemplar of good practice, and effective strategy.

For any given outcome, it’s much better to co-opt the actor into acting in their own interest than to apply force, no matter how shocking or awesome, against the will of the person whose behaviour you’re trying to influence.

The moral of the tale for climate activists appears clear. Sustainability challenges the vested interests of the Three-Headed Beasts of global Government, Business and Media. You will never out-gun or out-spend them, but you have a powerful asymmetry working in your favour – the truth. Play to your strengths.

Don’t engage the enemy where they’re strongest. Attack where you can best deploy your most powerful weapons.

If this is all sounding a bit Art of War, why not mention its author Sunzi? The Chinese military strategist, whose life overlapped with Gautama Buddha, literally wrote the book on effective strategy.

The strategy used by the Sun would have appealed to Sunzi (the spelling of the names are coincidental), though the latter might have added the wisdom of ‘always leaving your enemy a Golden Bridge’ to escape’. 

No one likes admitting they were wrong, so make it as easy as possible for people to do the right thing.


  • Turns perceived weakness into a strength
  • Reduces friction with minimal resources


  • Takes time to work
  • Solutions may less obvious when the problem is more complex

See Through Verdict: 7/10

Go-to strategy, but needs a clear goal to be effective.

George Monbiot

Strategy: Campaigning Stat-blasting

George Monbiot is probably the least widely-known of our seven strategy samurai. Given the number of vested interests he exposes with his trademark excoriating contempt, including the media, it may be remarkable that we know him at all.

Monbiot is an prolific, relentless, detailed journalist, author, researcher and campaigner. The breadth and depth of his knowledge imbues every article Monbiot has written, over decades, on a remarkably broad range of topics. He writes with incision, style and clarity, mostly on environmental topics, and usually addressing the intersection of scientific fact with political reality.

Whatever his subject, Monbiot pulls no punches in naming names and picking fights. He calls out hypocrisy, exposes corruption, and spotlights negligence, wherever his conscience, and research, sees it. He demands proof from his foes, and provides detailed evidence, sources and references for any assertions he makes himself. 

Most of Monbiot’s many enemies acknowledge the power of his intellect and appeal to reason, logic and humanity, but these qualities also have a downside. Monbiot’s universal, passionate contempt for any abuse of power can challenge even his admirers. This is where his strategy’s effectiveness can be questioned as it can dilute the potency of his calls to action.

Most of us have neither the time nor the resources to follow every thread, still less to pull on each thread to test their integrity to destruction. Somehow, Monbiot does. 

Most of us outsource our research and opinion to trusted champions like Monbiot – but Monbiot doesn’t. Most of us rely on our preferred champions to cite in pub and dinner party arguments when we can’t remember all the details ourselves. Monbiot may be ‘your guy’, but he places no one on any such pedestal. You may agree with everything he says, but the reverse is almost certainly not true.

This makes Monbiot a challenge for anyone who nails their colours to anyone’s mast before carefully examining both their chosen proxies and themselves for any inconsistency or impurity. 

Monbiot’s equal-opportunity critiques, combined with his relentless polemic tone, can lose him a lot of support. Many who’ve cheered George on as he pillories 99% of his targets with his hyper-rational strategy, suddenly baulk when he starts pelting the 1% to which they’re emotionally attached. 

Animal-lovers who applaud Monbiot’s battle with Big Meat can suddenly get queasy when, on a TV documentary, he shoots a deer that’s preventing moorland from re-wilding. Monbiot felt queasy too, as he confronted the logical tension between holding these two positions, but still went ahead and pulled the trigger, after a forensic examination of his own logic.

Leading by example doesn’t always work.


  • Respect for science, logic and evidence
  • Contempt for bluster, spin, and falsehoods


  • Polemic tone can be exhausting, even for those who agree
  • Too many targets dilutes any one message and deflects calls to action

See Through Verdict:  6/10

A paragon of fact-based campaigning activism, but if science and facts were enough to convince us to change, we wouldn’t be in such trouble.

David Attenborough

Strategy: Authoritative Urging

Since he first appeared on the BBC presenting Zoo Quest in 1954, to have watched TV is to know David Attenborough. 

Approaching 100, Attenborough’s unique career, presenting authoritative, engaging, moving documentaries about the natural world, have granted him a unique authority on all things natural.

Over decades, generations have grown to associate Attenborough’s avuncular demeanour and considered narration with our understanding of life on our planet home. Attenborough weilds the greatest credibility on the subject of life on Earth any non-deity is likely to attain. Credibility is a mighty weapon when it comes to inspiring people to change their behaviour.

Attenborough’s gravitas has grown with age, but he has undergone a major change of heart, as he’s re-cast himself from Science Uncle to Activist Grandfather, adjusting his strategy accordingly.

Attenborough’s life on air has coincided with the gradual unfolding of our understanding of the devastating consequences of our fossil fuel addiction on our climate, human civilisation, and ecosystem. Attenborough admits that as evidence of human-induced climate change mounted, he was slow to publicly share his personal alarm.

Around the turn of the millennia – too late, argue his critics – Attenborough transitioned from nature documentarian to environmental activist.

Activist Attenborough acknowledges this about-turn was partly to make reparations for his role in encouraging our complacency about the unchanging nature of the natural world, and our reluctance to accept the devastating impact our species is having on thin green smear of life on our particularly rocky ball hanging in space.

After decades of framing out any sign of human habitation or incursion from his films, Attenborough finally started placing homo Sapiens impact on the natural world front and centre. He no longer hints, alludes, or appends remarks about human’s impact on nature. Now, he talks of little else.

Attenborough has leveraged his celebrity with all the savvy you might expect from such an experienced public figure and broadcaster. As well as inserting increasingly urgent calls to action in his documentaries, he’s migrated to different stages too, directly addressing our power brokers.

As CO2 builds up in our atmosphere, Attenborough’s keynote speeches at United Nations conferences have dialled down the Hope Bit reassurances, and dialled up the Urgent Action appeals.

It would be a harsh critic that accused this post-Millennial Attenborough strategy of being ineffective. He’s been active, and even as a nonagenarian continues to do his utmost to urge others to action.

But broad-based celebrity is a double-edged sword when it comes to moving large numbers of people from inaction to action.

As movie, sports and music stars have discovered to their cost, endorsing divisive causes comes at the cost of alienating fans who disagree with you. Attenborough may be past caring about what anyone thinks of him, but the rest of us have become accustomed to discounting the views of celebrities we know for one thing, when they opine on another.

Veteran bands trying out new material risk being told to ‘shut up and play the hits’. Attenborough’s urgings for action risk being drowned out by his back catalogue.


  • Feels great responsibility that comes with great power
  • Expert manipulation of mass media to deliver messages


  • Historic complicity in complacency
  • Celebrity status can justify ignoring his words

See Through Verdict: 6/10

However harmonious your new tune, it’s hard to change it.

Bruce Willis

Strategy: Asteroid Busting

We’re using Bruce Willis here not as a personal exemplar, but as a familiar on-screen personification of a strategy that poses as ‘action’, but is in fact an excuse for inaction.

If you’ve not seen the science-fiction disaster movie Armageddon (1998), you should be familiar with the genre. By extension, you’ll be familiar with the kind of silver-bullet, one-shot, hi-tech, cure-all strategy Bruce Willis’s character in this movie exemplifies.

Armageddon follows a group of blue-collar deep-core drillers, lead by Willis in peak action-hero mode, sent by NASA to stop a gigantic asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Armageddon is the Hollywood version of an understandable human yearning for simple solutions to complex problems. 

Subsequent disaster movies, like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) directly addressed climate change. They follow the same plot as old-school disaster movies, substituting climate change for infernos, evil corporations, radioactive dinosaurs, or megalomaniacal villains. 

More recently, Don’t Look Up (2021) examined Hollywood’s own blindness and deafness to the climate crisis. 

Even Don’t Look Up, however, suffers from the same basic problem facing all movie treatments of the climate crisis – it ain’t that simple. Complex problems demand complex solutions. It may be possible to address both in a cinema, but the movie industry mitigates against it.

From 12 Angry Men to The Big Short, Hollywood directors have proved themselves adept at finding creative ways to tell complex legal and financial stories, with clarity and emotive power.

Once you cast climate change as the Bad Guy, however, you have a big problem – how to personify it.

Casting James Bond’s adversary post-Cold-War, Cubby Broccoli could simply substitute North Korea baddies for Russian ones. The Axis of Evil behind our addiction to fossil fuel, however, includes too broad a cast of characters – including many that finance movies – to provide an antagonist that is both narratively satisfying and financially viable.

Armageddon made an asteroid – essentially, Godzilla in space – the antagonist. We can all boo an evil asteroid. Cheering on the Good Guys against the Bad Guys is less straightforward when the audience is Bad-Guy complicit, and either deluding themselves that they’re ‘doing their bit’, or feeling powerless to do anything to reverse the slow-motion, self-inflicted collapse of human civilisation.

And that’s just characterising the Problem. Solutions to our climate crisis are even challenging. One thing we can be confident of is that it won’t be as simple as blowing something up with a nuke.

Fixing things by blowing them up with nuclear weapons is a simple strategy. So is geo-engineering the atmosphere, capturing current carbon with imaginary future machines, and a raft of other fantasy ‘silver-bullet’ future-tech answers.

All can be summarised as ‘wait for the cavalry’. Silver-bullet solutions require only passive faith that despite the apparently overwhelming and insuperable odds, somehow, at the last moment Bruce Willis/James Bond/Elon Musk/AI/some boffin will arrive on a white horse.

The familiarity of such stories makes them easy to sell, but sometimes stories are just stories – fantasies may nourish the soul, but false hope has no real-world impact.

Bruce Willis-type ‘action hero’ solutions are easy to sell precisely because they absolve us from taking any meaningful action.


  • Can simplify complex problems


  • Simplifies complex solutions

See Through Verdict: 1/10

Any benefit of high-profile ‘awareness-raising’ is largely offset by encouraging the wrong kind of response.

Sam Bankman-Fried

Strategy: Bait Switching

The convicted criminal behind the world’s biggest Ponzi scheme may seem to be an unlikely source of inspiration for effective climate activism strategy, but hear us out.

We ignore the lessons from our greatest charlatans, con artists and cult leaders at our peril. To reach their peak, they must have got something right. Is there nothing we can learn from their ascent that can’t be discounted by their fall from grace?

Like all great con-artists, Sam Bankman-Fried was – is – a great storyteller.

Ignore, for the moment, the story he was telling – his FTX crypto-scam. Focus instead on the way he told it, and how he got so many people to believe it.

Not just ‘ordinary’ people, either, but the kind of people who are usually considered, and consider themselves, to be prudent, smart, and good judges or character.

Bankman-Fried dealt not in crypto, but in greed. A strategy of his that merits our attention was they way he subtly bought credibility for his criminal enterprise by co-opting a group of super-smart people whose public mission was to do maximum good in the world – Effective Altruism (EA). By association, they endorsed the story he was telling.

Like Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes, Bernie Madoff and all successful con artists, Bankman-Fried knew the most effective way to hide in plain sight was to find the right stooges.

The best stooges are the ones who don’t even realise they’re being fooled. The more sincere they are, the more they’ll convince the rest of the crowd that the guy doing conjuring tricks is a magician and not a fraudster.

Go back and read the pre-fall articles on ‘financial genius’ Bankman-Fried, and you can admire his artistry. EA did a great job of covering his tracks, when it appeared that he was the one doing them a favour.

Bankman-Fried showered this philanthropic ‘movement’, incubated by hot-shot philosophy professors at Oxford University, and adopted by highly-educated, public-spirited young people around the world, with what seemed like extraordinary donations, but were cheap at the price.

The $190M he claimed to have ‘given away’ seemed like a lot. Even if it was true, it was 7% of his peak net worth of £26Bn. When it was only credibility, faith and trust that sustained the entire Ponzi scheme, 7% is a steal.

EA’s brainy top management found FTX’s sponsorship bounty as easy to spend as any previous useful fool in history.

They paid themselves handsome salaries. They spaffed $4.5M on a castle in Czechia, and nearly $20M on Wytham Abbey, a 15th century estate near Oxford. Bankman-Fried’s millions subsidised a series of conferences around the world, raising their profile while buttressing his image as a philanthropist who only made money in order to give it away to good causes. 

See Through News wasn’t the only observer to find the impact of Bankman-Fried’s largesse on EA disturbing before the FTX house of cards collapsed, but an embarrassing proportion of the media, academic, business and political community were hoodwinked. 

So what’s the effective strategy lesson for climate activists? Searching this cesspit for gold nuggets may feel icky, but might be worth holding your nose for, if there’s something of value that can be transferred to non-fraudulent causes like measurably reducing carbon.

The nugget is what fairground hucksters, and utilities suppliers, call ‘Bait-and-switch’. A finance website defines bait-and-switch as follows: 

‘a morally suspect sales tactic that lures customers in with specific claims about the quality or low prices on items that turn out to be unavailable in order to upsell them on a similar, pricier item.

For dodgy mobile phone vendors, this may be attracting customers with an unmissable giveaway, only to end up saddling them with an extortionate contract.

For Bankman-Fried, it was dressing up his donations as philanthropy, when they were tools of gaslighting distraction.

Ignore the ends, but learn from the means. Whatever else you might say about Bankman-Fried, he was a genius at getting large numbers of people to move from inaction to action.

Admittedly, this is much easier when the human urge you’re leveraging is greed, but greed isn’t the only motivating force with the power to move people. Love, hope, concern for your children, morality also work too. If bait-and-switch works for Ponzi schemes, might it work for carbon drawdown too?

If the outcome is carbon reduction, rather than self-enrichment, sociopathy or ego-massage, it’s worth learning from the best.

If you can convince people to take good actions, does it matter if they’re doing them for the ‘wrong’ reasons?


  • Manipulating behavioural psychology is probably more effective than stat-bashing or appealing to reason
  • If you forge an emotional connection, people can be very forgiving about tactics


  • The less transparent you are, the greater the gap for your opponents to exploit
  • People don’t like finding out they’ve been fooled

See Through Verdict: 3/10

Smart tactic, but only when the transparent ends justify the Trojan Horse means. 

Tom Sawyer 

Strategy: Aspiration Reframing

Tom Sawyer is our second fictional candidate on this activist icon shortlist.

Superficially, Tom may appear to have more in common with fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried than Aesop’s much-cited fable, but we include him because of his very specific superpower.

Tom can get ordinary people to do things that don’t appear to be in their immediate interest. 

Maybe because it’s a book about a child, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1884) used to be taught to young children. Some may remember the book’s maverick tricksterism, but its protagonist’s genius for psychological manipulation is way too sophisticated for most children to appreciate.

The book’s liberal use of what has now become known as ‘the N-word’ means it’s largely absent from classrooms these days. This may be no bad thing, when Tom’s lessons are so easily misunderstood.

The book is full of examples of Tom’s superpower, but the most famous incident introduces him right at the start of the book. 

Chapter 1 establishes Tom’s Endearing Scamp persona, when he fools Aunt Polly into swallowing his tall tale about skipping school, before a hilarious trash-talking fight establishes his status over a newly-arrived boy. 

Chapter 2, famously, described how Tom deals with the punishment Aunt Polly gives him after his tattle-tale half-brother Sidney snitches on him – whitewashing a long stretch of fence.

If you can’t remember, or never read, the full detail of how Tom tricks his playmates into cheerfully executing this punishment for him, we urge you to enjoy it all over again. It’s much more than some Pollyanna morality tale of turning lemons into lemonade, and making the best of a bad situation.

Spoiler alert – his friends, persuaded by subtle implications that the whitewashing was a reward and not a punishment, beg Tom to let them have a go. Tom reluctantly permits them to take over whitewashing duties, but only after they paid for the privilege by emptying their pockets of all their valuables, including such treasures as the core of Ben Roger’s apple, Billie Fisher’s kite, even Johnny Miller’s ‘dead rat and a piece of string to swing it with’.

As they perform his punishment for him, Tom enjoys his bounty, occasionally inspecting the quality of the work to ensure the queue of volunteer whitewashers deserve the faith he’s shown in permitting them to have a go.

So what do climate activists have to learn from Tom Sawyer?

The greatest trick of all would be to induce a climate denier into reducing carbon because they think it will benefit them. In Chapter 2 Tom shows us how.

In the space of a few paragraphs, Tom uses an astonishing range of strategies to flip a desperate situation into a comprehensive victory. 

Wit, guile, seat-of-the-pants strategising, ingenuity, a deep understanding of human psychology, performing skills, linguistic and rhetorical tricks…Tom deploys his bag of tricks seamlessly, in rapid succession, subtly interconnecting them to achieve his objective.

Even better, Tom does all this without outright lying. Instead, he induces people to see what he chooses them to see, and ignore what he wants them to ignore.

Tom turns sacrifice into aspiration. He re-frames a negative thing as a positive one not by deception, fraud or fibs, but by leveraging human curiosity, desire, and urges to a particular purpose.

In constructing his transparent Trojan Horse, Tom hurts no one, and everyone ends up happy.

Tom Sawyer is a win-win engineer, a master re-framer, and one of the greatest storytellers ever imagined by one of the world’s greatest ever storytellers.


  • The model activist, if you replace ‘avoiding Aunt Polly’s wrath’ with ‘speeding up carbon drawdown’


  • He’s fictional.

See Through Verdict: 9/10

The ultimate effective activist – trickster tactics serving good intentions.

Overall Verdict

Climate change is too complex a crisis, and humanity too diverse, for any one strategy to be the sole solution – that would be Bruce Willis thinking.

But even Bruce Willis thinking has its pros, as we’ve listed. Combine a Willis solution with Tom Sawyer storytelling and Aesop’s Sun persuasion, and it might work in one context. A bit of Bankman-Fried bait-and-switch would be a powerful in combination with Monbiot stat-blasting, delivered by Greta to one audience, and Attenborough to another.

And of course there’s no reason to stop at the listicle-friendly prime number of 7. One thing that can be simplified is the goal – carbon drawdown, measured in metric tonnes of CO2e. That’s at the root of the existential crisis we’ve created for our ourselves, and it’s hard to image many contexts in which carbon reduction comes at the cost of our many sub-crises, from biodiversity to indigenous rights.

Which is why the See Through Goal combines the simplicity of physics, with the sophistication of storytelling:

Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

If you’d like to join See Through’s global network of carbon-reducing tricksters, whose climate activism is based on the lessons described in this article, email :

No cores, kites, dead rats or string required, just your time, skills and energy...