After Think & Learn, now Act – how our 3rd video game makes the critical link to effective climate action
On receiving a disappointing response from his local elected representative, a UK-based STN newsletter reader asked See Through News for suggestions on how to follow up.
We share our response here, as a case study in effective v. ineffective climate activism, and how The Act Game will help measurably reduce carbon.
Paul’s Problem – getting a politician to act
Paul from Finchley emailed his local MP about the latter’s stance on the IPCC climate change report. Frustrated by the flaccid response of Michael Freer MP (copied below), Paul sought our advice on how to elicit something more effective with his follow up.
This question has been much on our minds of late. It’s at the heart of what we define as Effective Activism, and is precisely what we’re seeking to gameify in the third of our suite of video games now under development, The Act Game.
Paul’s frustration illustrates the problem with asking general questions and expecting specific replies.
Most ruling-party politicians are essentially happy with the status quo. This makes sense, as the status quo got them elected.
Politicians also know that whatever most people may say about wanting change, we’re instinctively conservative, and fear change. This evolutionary trait has served our species well. Until recently.
It’s logical, therefore, that the sweet spot sought by most politicians, elected or not, is to promise change, and claim to have delivered it, without actually delivering it.
Any broad questions aimed to ‘educate’ or ‘raise awareness’ are therefore easy meat. Lobs.
It’s easy to palm off such missives with the pablum of evasion, irrelevance and misdirection exemplified in Mr. Freer’s reply.
And that’s why we’ve come up with The Act Game.
Paul’s Politician’s Inaction Game
So, how does Michael Freer MP go about appearing to answer Paul’s question, while not actually having to do anything?
Let’s analyse the response from Mr. Freer. Or more likely, from Mr. Freer’s office staff, who having identified Paul’s letter as ‘to do with the environment’ have selected the ‘Green’ template that Mr. Freer might have recently approved. The key features:
- Show You Care : the first 3 paragraphs are a low-key, but accurate, reflection of the latest IPCC report Paul raised in his original email. Reporting this, with the inclusion of non-binding phrases like ‘sobering’ and ‘critical’ Demonstrates Empathy. It suggests Mr. Freer not only ‘gets it’, but is on ‘its’ case.
- Show You’ve Acted: the 4th paragraph consists of boilerplate ‘facts’ cut-and-pasted from party HQ. They make technically correct, but practically misleading, assertions about the UK’s status as a Climate Change leader. Such claims about ‘decarbonising our economy over the past two decades’ have been exhaustively proved to be mainly due to the evisceration of UK manufacturing. The UK now exports its carbon emissions, instead of generating them at home. Mr. Freer seeks credit for the resulting ‘low carbon’ imports of things in clean cardboard boxes that have emitted their CO2 overseas. Unlike politicians, carbon molecules are indifferent to the political jurisdiction under which they were emitted. His 5th paragraph claim that ‘in the last decade the UK has helped 88 million people to cope with the effects of climate change’ contains a precise-looking number, but no verifiable information.
- Wave the Flag: The final two paragraphs, with their ‘wake-up call for the rest of the world’ and ‘the Prime Minister succeeded in securing an agreement’, are a deft conflation of complacency with patriotism, the implication being that we’re already ‘doing our bit’, where ‘we’=the UK=the governing party.
This is the kind of response you can expect from elected representatives from the governing parties in most democracies.
This response took several weeks to arrive. Paul found it so disappointing, his natural inclination was to give up, until he contacted us.
For the politician, this is a splendid outcome. Despair secures the status quo.
The Act Game – our suggestion for effective climate action
Politicians in democracies want to get re-elected. It’s the one thing to which they are exquisitely attuned, and therefore responsive.
Effective activism, therefore, must address what they care about. It should do so in as unambiguous, specific and direct way as possible. This is the concept behind The Act Game.
Don’t seek to raise awareness, educate or persuade. Instead, relay a blunt, specific transactional message.
- If you do A, I may vote for you
- If you don’t do A, I definitely won’t vote for you
This is the essence of The Act Game. It plays upon a universal feature of all elected politicians.
Whether you claim to have voted for them last time, and whether that’s true, is up to you. We guarantee telling them this will sharpen their focus.
But what use is one person’s voice?
None, on its own, but it doesn’t take that many for it to be a lot of use. In fact, if you can persuade your friends and family to follow your example, ideally using their own words and phrases, you can even do it on your own.
In the UK, if the staff of an MP in a marginal constituency receives 10 such emails, they will alert their boss. In a ‘safe’ constituency, 50 such emails may be enough to raise a red flag.
Specificity is the critical aspect of The Act Game. Your email or letter should tell, not ask. The Act Game seeks to remind us all that elected politicians are our servants, and not our masters.
So the more specific your are regarding the conditionality of your future electoral support, the more effective it will be. If you add broader pensées about The Planet, The Human Condition, Our Moral Duty, it risks them not getting the message as their eyes glaze over.
For example, in this case we recommended that Paul writes something like this (based on our Act Game prototype):
Dear [insert name of your MP here, copy email to responsible Minister],
Thanks for your email.
I’ll pay close attention to your parliamentary voting record to check it matches the urgency of the IPCC report that your government commissioned.
I will encourage my friends and family to do the same.
When any Bill resulting from your government’s Energy Strategy comes to a vote in Parliament, I want you to insist on lifting local planning restrictions on onshore wind, to remove NIMBY-based objections to onshore wind farms.
On this point, I agree with 80% of the UK electorate.
- If you vote for such legislation, I’ll consider voting for you again at the next opportunity.
- If you don’t, I definitely won’t.
Please reply to this email to acknowledge your receipt and understanding of this voter’s instructions.
And that’s the power of The Act Game.
- It’s specific
- It’s measurable
- It’s accountable
But maybe even more importantly, The Act Game provides a template for effective climate activism, a means of actually using the systems of democratic representation as they were intended, rather than the corrupted version co-opted by those benefitting from the status quo to suppress any opposition.
Act Game Challenges
While relatively simple to code, The Act Game presents the challenge of creating, maintaining, updating and evaluating a complex database of proposed clauses.
To measure up to STN’s claim of measurably reducing carbon, the Act Game also has to provide a rational calculation estimate of the amount of carbon each clause might result it, and audit the real-world consequences.
If within a year or so adoption of the clause had not resulted in the predicted carbon reduction, The Act Game also has to understand and demonstrate why.
- Was the clause poorly worded, leaving loopholes for carbon addicts to exploit? If so, The Act Game should propose a tighter amended version.
- Or was it due to inadequate enforcement, allowing carbon addicts to ignore it? If so, The Act Game should propose specific measures to ensure enforcement.
This then, presents a very different set of challenges from the other two games in the STN suite.
The Think Game is relatively technically complex to code, requiring excellent data protection and analysis, and visualisation.
The Learn Game requires less maintenance, as the Right and Wrong answers are all provided by Project Drawdown, but also demands excellent data analysis to make the most of the data generated.
The Act Game is the simplest to code, but demands the most maintenance. This is not just to maintain up-to-date proposed legislation in many different jurisdictions, but to follow up on their impact, and keep the players motivated, now that they’ve made the transition from Unwilling Inactivists to Effect Activists.
* [Paul’s MP’s email]
Thank you for contacting me about the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment report on climate change.
The publication of the IPCC’s report makes for very sobering reading, laying clear the stark consequences climate change is having on our planet and what will happen if decisive action is not taken now. The report warns that climate change is already affecting every single region across the globe and without urgent action warming, heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and loss of Arctic Sea ice, snow cover and permafrost, will all increase.
In addition, the report highlights that immediate action is required to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 to give a good chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C in the long-term and help to avoid the worst effects of climate change. More specifically, the Mitigation of Climate Change report highlights how critical the next few years are for slowing down global warming, in particular the report shows the need to at least halve emissions by 2030. The report also focuses on key areas such as closing investment gaps and achieving sustainable development goals.
I am glad that the UK Government is already taking the issue of climate change incredibly seriously and we have decarbonised our economy faster than any country in the G20 over the last two decades. In addition, ambitious targets such as a 68 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, and a 78 per cent reduction in emissions by 2035, also compared to 1990 levels have been enshrined in law.
The report also highlights that progress on adapting countries to global warming is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations. The Government recognises that we urgently need climate adaptation to save vulnerable communities. That is why I welcome that the last decade the UK has helped 88 million people to cope with the effects of climate change.
The IPCC report must be a wake-up call for the rest of the world to take action now. While welcome progress has been made, for example when the UK took on the COP Presidency 2 years ago, 30 percent of world GDP was covered by a net zero target and that is now at around 90 per cent. Over the same period, 154 countries have submitted new national targets, representing 80 per cent of global emissions.
The next decade will be decisive and I look forward to seeing further global ambition to tackle this issue which is the greatest threat facing our planet. I was encouraged that at COP26, the Prime Minister succeeded in securing an agreement which requires countries to return this year with a more ambitious 2030 emissions reductions target in line with the 1.5C target.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Mike Freer MP
Conservative Member of Parliament for Finchley and Golders Green
Minister for Exports at the Department of International Trade
020 7219 7071 (Westminster)020 8445 5875 (Finchley)